Category: augmented reality

Facebook Finally Unveiled a Standalone VR Headset, And It’s Just $199

At the Oculus Connect 4 keynote, happening now in San Jose, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerburg just unveiled a device that could make virtual reality (VR) technologies more accessible. Introducing the Oculus Go: a standalone VR headset that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

At only $199, Zuckerberg called it “the most accessible VR headset yet.” Compared to the Oculus Rift, which costs about $600, the Oculus Go is undeniably inexpensive. Of course, at that price, it won’t offer you exactly the same VR experience. The Oculus Go will allow you to spin around while in virtual reality but not move around freely.

Image credit: Brad Jones (@Tojiro)/Twitter
Image Credit: Brad Jones (@Tojiro)/Twitter

The Oculus Go is scheduled to ship early next year, but dev kits for VR developers are expected to be available by November — and Facebook is encouraging developers to give it shot. Hugo Barra, Facebook’s VP of VR, said that it’s “hands-down the easiest way for developers to get involved with VR.” The Oculus Go comes with a “fast-switch” WQHD LCD screen, wide-field lenses, and spatial audio. It is lightweight and “feels incredibly soft to wear,” Barra said.

Further details about the device’s specs are still to come, but one thing’s for sure — the Oculus Go could open up VR technology to a wider market, as well as free them from relying on Samsung or others for VR gear.

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A New Snapchat Project Transports Massive Sculptures Worldwide

Snapchat is partnering with artist Jeff Koons to introduce a new augmented reality project this week that will allow its users to project and view his sculptures at various places around the world. These places include Central Park in New York, Roundhouse Park in Canada, and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

The tech behind the project, called Artwork All Around You, is similar to what enables the app’s popular dancing hot dog. As TechCrunch explains, while users are using the Snapchat app and near one of Koons’ virtual pieces, they’ll see a special Snapchat Lens on screen. Users will then be directed to look at a particular spot in the area until the white location marker is on display, which will then be replaced by the art sculpture.

“Discover Koons’ innovative digital installations scattered across the world to experience them for yourself, and learn a little more about them,” reads the Snapchat Art page related to the project. Koons’ art pieces include Balloon Dog, Balloon Rabbit, Balloon Popeye, and Play-Doh.

At Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on October 2, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said he wants to inspire people with the new project, saying, “the fact we can bring these ginormous sculptures anywhere in the world is just the beginning of inspiring young people all over the world to create with our cameras.”

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A Major Manufacturer Has Begun Designing Its Cars Using Augmented Reality

Virtual Vehicles

While virtual reality aims to whisk users away into another world, augmented reality provides an overlay that transformed the world around them. Now, we’re seeing this technology used more and more to help designers visualize their creations.

Auto manufacturer Ford has apparently started outfitting its designers with Microsoft HoloLens headsets. This hardware is used to fine-tune the placements of various elements of the vehicle, after a clay model has been constructed to establish its basic shape and form.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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Designers are able to select anything from the front bumper to a headlight and adjust its size and placement with motion controls. “This ability to mesh digital and physical worlds together is for us the future of designing products,” said Craig Wetzel, Ford’s manager of design technical operations, in an interview with Wired.

Currently, designers have to turn their drawings into a 3D render, which is then sent to engineers, and potentially returned to the design team with notes and requested alterations. Wetzel explains that when engineers and designers work with the same tool set, the process is more efficient, and produces a better end result. It also provides benefits in terms of giving employees situated in geographically distant locations the opportunity to collaborate more effectively.

Digital Design

Ford is by no means the only automotive company looking to integrate augmented reality technology into its design workflow.

Volkswagen uses a set-up known as the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, where multiple room-scale canvases have images projected onto them. However, the company also sees the benefit of physical models that take advantage of augmented reality techniques, much like Ford.

“Real hardware models continue to be used in preference over virtual data in many of the process steps,” reads documentation about its processes from the Volkswagen website. “The reason for this is that forms, curves and geometries can be assessed more effectively using a vehicle model in reality than via a purely virtual display”

Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

Implementing this kind of technology makes it easier for designers to bring their ideas into the real world. There are various different processes required to take a car from the concept stage to manufacturing. Using augmented reality to produce 3D visualizations of the finished product should help ensure that none of the smaller details of the design are lost along the way.

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A New, Artificially Intelligent Hologram Was Just Born

Can I Help You?

VNTANA and Satisfi Labs have announced a new platform that will allow businesses to develop a hologram concierge to be used in business. The project fuses artificial intelligence (AI) with augmented reality (AR) technology to produce a 3D persona that can interact with customers.

“Our hologram technology has helped numerous brands better connect and engage with their consumers, and we are thrilled to offer this new addition on our platform,” said Ashley Crowder, VNTANA’s CEO and co-founder, in a press release.

She continued, “By partnering with Satisfi, we are able to integrate AI and AR for the first time, so our holograms can interact with consumers on a more advanced level, while using our trusted platform to track data to create more personalized experiences and advertising.”

There are companies that already use AI concierge services to field questions and queries from customers. However, this project would pair those natural language processing capabilities with a physical presence.

VNTANA offers up the example of a sports team creating a hologram of their star player to lead fans to their seats on game day. A hotel might create an “employee” that could handle the check-in procedure and make dinner reservations through conversation alone; a “human” interface.

What’s more is that VNTANA’s platform is capable of collecting data from these interactions to produce marketing insights based on the clientele.

Hello, Hologram

When the likes of Siri and Alexa first hit the scene, many users were reticent to speak to their devices. However, just a few years later, this kind of technology is much more widely accepted. VNTANA and Satisfi Labs hope that they can do the same with this hologram concierge service.

It seems likely that the success or failure of the project will be in its execution. A hologram that acts like a pushy sales assistant could come off as pushy instead of approachable, creating a bad first impression for holograms. However, this possibility is being taken into account in the technology’s design.

The platform will use a facial recognition system to gauge reactions. VNTANA will offer a sentiment analysis module post-launch that will allow for “distressed” customers to be directed toward a non-hologram contact.

Satisfi Labs’ CEO and co-founder Don White described this is an “unprecedented opportunity” for the development of holograms as well as AI: “Consumers will be transfixed by the technology and will truly appreciate the ease and intelligent interaction they can have with the hologram.”

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Ford is Using Microsoft’s HoloLens to Design Cars in Mixed Reality

Design Made Easier

Making cars isn’t easy, and it starts at the level of design. Usually, design specifications have to be implemented on a physical reconstruction — clay models — of the vehicle being developed. While that’s effective, it takes a lot of time, which is why Ford has partnered with Microsoft to use HoloLens headsets to augment the design process of making cars.

Using the HoloLens, Ford’s team of designers and engineers can quickly model out the changes they make to their vehicles in the virtual world. It’s easier to see the changes, which they view as mixed-reality overlays on top of an existing model.

Image credit: Microsoft
Image credit: Microsoft

“It’s amazing that we can combine the old and new – clay models and holograms in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment and iterate quickly, to dream up even more stylish and clever vehicles,” Moray Callum, VP for Design at Ford, said in a blog post. “Microsoft HoloLens is a powerful tool for designers as we continue to reimagine vehicles and mobility experiences in fast changing times.”

A New Reality

HoloLens is also making it easier for various teams at Ford to collaborate. “Using HoloLens, design and engineering teams across the company can more easily collaborate, without the risk of leaks of highly confidential designs – which happens to be one of the automotive industry’s biggest competitive advantages,” HoloLens general manager Lorraine Bardeen wrote in the blog post.

In short, mixed reality is changing car manufacturing. Indeed, the HoloLens — or virtual/augmented reality (AR/VR) technology, in general — has expanded beyond the world of gaming. Ford isn’t the only one that’s realized its potential. Volvo, Audi, Volkswagen, and even NASA  have also tried out the HoloLens. According to TechCrunch, Tesla competitor Lucid Motors have relied on VR using the HTC Vive in designing their electric cars.

After a successful pilot run, Ford is now looking to expand its use of the HoloLens in its overall design process. Elizabeth Baron, a VR technical specialist at Ford, expressed her happiness in the blog post. “It is exciting because it helps our designers and engineers communicate effectively and ideate to see the future earlier in the process by mixing virtual and physical models.”

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Will AI Blur the Lines Between Physical and Virtual Reality?

The Notion of Reality

As technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), big data, 5G, and the internet of things (IoT) advance over the next generation, they will reinforce and spur one another. One plausible scenario is a physical world so enhanced by personalized, AI-curated digital content (experienced with what we today call augmented reality) that the very notion of reality is called into question.

Immersion can change how we interact with content in fundamental ways. For example, a fully immersive AR environment of the future, achieved with a wide-field-of-view headset and full of live content integrated with the built environment, would be intended by design to create in the user an illusion that everything being sensed was “real.” The evolution toward this kind of environment raises a host of ethical questions, specifically with attention to the AI that would underlie such an intelligent and compelling illusion.

When watching a movie, the viewer is physically separated from the illusion. The screen is framed, explicitly distinct from the viewer. The frame is a part of traditional art forms; from the book to the painting to the skyscraper, each is explicitly separated from the audience. It is bounded and physically defined.

But with digital eyewear, things change. Digital eyewear moves the distance of digital mediation from the screen (approximately 20 feet) to the human face, which is at zero distance, and almost eliminates the frame. It starts raising inevitable questions about what constitutes “reality” when much of one’s sensory input is superimposed on the physical world by AI. At that stage of the technology’s evolution, one could still simply opt out by removing the eyewear. Although almost indistinguishable from the physical world, that near-future world would still be clinging precariously to the human face.

The Top Artificial Intelligence Movies of All Time
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The next step would be moving the source of the digital illusion into the human body – a distance of less than zero – through contact lenses, implants, and ultimately direct communication. At that point, the frame is long gone. The digital source commandeers the senses, and it becomes very hard to argue that the digital content isn’t as “real” as a building on the corner – which, frankly, could be an illusion itself in such an environment. Enthusiasts will probably argue that our perception is already an electrochemical illusion, and implants merely enhance our natural selves. In any case, opting out would become impractical at best. This is the stage of the technology that will raise practical questions we have never had to address before.

What Happens to Individual Choice?

At that point, what is real? How much agency are we humans deprived of when we are making decisions based on AI-generated content and guidance that may or may not be working at cross-purposes to our needs? How would we even know? In the longer term, what happens to our desire to control our own lives when we get better outcomes by letting those decisions be made by AI? What if societal behavior became deliberately manipulated for the greater good, as interpreted by one entity? If efficiency and order were to supersede all other criteria as ideal social values, how could an AI-driven AR capability be dissuaded from manipulating individual behavior to those ends? What happens to individual choice? Is a person capable of being good without the option to be bad?

Perhaps the discussion surrounding the next generation of AI-informed AR could consider the possibility that the ethical questions change as the source of digital content gets closer to the human body and ultimately becomes a part of it. It’s not simply a matter of higher-fidelity visuals. First, the frame disappears, which raises new questions of illusion and identity. Then, the content seems to come from within the body, which diminishes the possibility of opting out and raises further questions about agency and free will.

This combination of next-generation technologies might well find its ultimate expression after we have collectively engaged questions of philosophy and brought them right into the worlds of software development and corporate strategy.

Movies, advertising, and broadcasting have always been influential, but there was never a confusion between the content and the self as we will likely see in the next generation. Having these conversations about ethics and thinking through the implications of new technologies early in their development (i.e. right now) could help guide this remarkable convergence in a way that benefits humanity by modeling a world that reflects our best impulses.

Jay Iorio is the Innovation Director for the IEEE Standards Association. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Leak Suggests that New iPhone Could Support Augmented Reality

News about the secret iPhone 8 is leaking, and these details support earlier speculation that Apple is looking to support augmented reality (AR). This will mean that owners of the iPhone 8 would potentially not need other gear — as is the case many AR games in development, like Magic Leap — to play (at least some) AR games.

This intel was released by Gordon Kelly of Forbes, who recently wrote that he obtained files pertaining to the latest iPhone model through the case designer Nodus. He then rendered the information to visualize a design of the phone’s exterior.

The new smartphone will reorient the rear-facing camera to be more friendly to landscape mode by switching from a horizontally aligned camera to a vertically aligned shooter. This could support AR because screens that are in landscape mode are thought to be more effective for AR.

The iPhone 8 will also be bigger than the previous model and will do away with the home button, Kelly reported. This ambitious, sleek design comes as the iPhone’s 10th anniversary approaches.

If the reports are correct, then Apple is staying true to form by staying one step ahead of trendy new technology. Who knows — perhaps this push will prevent a Facebook engineer’s prediction that AR will replace smartphones by 2022 from coming to pass.

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The Smartphone Is Eventually Going to Die, and Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook Are Racing to Kill It

The Rise of Smartphones

These are the quiet times.

From April to June, tech’s biggest companies all held their annual mega-events, laying out their grand visions for the next 12 months or so.

Facebook kicked it off in late April with its F8 conference, followed by Microsoft Build, then the Google I/O conference, and Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference finished things off. Amazon doesn’t really hold events, but it unveiled two new Amazon Echo smart speakers during that period for good measure.

And things will get exciting again, sooner than you know it. This Fall, Apple is expected to reveal a 10th-anniversary iPhone, Google will likely reveal a revamped Pixel smartphone, and Microsoft is expected to hold another one of its regular late-October Surface computer press conferences.

In the meantime, there’s not much to do but reflect on what we’ve learned so far this year about the future of tech. And beyond the hype and the hyperbole, we’re starting to see the very earliest stages of a battle for the next phase of computing.

Because while Apple and Google may dominate the smartphone market today, technologies like augmented reality present whole-new platforms where there’s no clear winner. So Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook, having missed out on owning a mobile platform, are doing their damndest to hasten the end of the smartphone — and the end of Apple and Google’s duopoly, while they’re at it.

Skin in the Game

Every major technological shift has created big opportunities for the few entrepreneurs who see it coming early — in the seventies, Apple and Microsoft made big bets that the PC would be a much bigger market than gigantic room-sized mainframes, while the mainframe industry decried the PC itself as a fad. We see who won that one.

Similarly, Microsoft didn’t fully realize the potential of smartphones, until well after Google and Apple proved them wrong. Now, Google’s Android is the most popular operating system in the world, full stop. And the iPhone has propelled Apple to record profits and to the status as the company to beat in tech.

Well, it seems like time is a flat circle. Right now, we’re seeing the earliest growing pains of augmented reality and virtual reality — tech that overlays the digital world onto our human senses. It means information, projected into your eyes and ears, as you need it. Why carry a phone when Netflix and WhatsApp are floating in front of you?

The Smartphone Is Eventually Going to Die, and Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook Are Racing to Kill It
Apple ARkit allows apps to overlay digital imagery into the real world. Image Source: Made With ARKit

Some call it a fad, or just something that’s too new and untested to be considered a real threat to the smartphone. And yet, there’s a veritable arms race to build these augmented reality platforms of the future.

Amazon’s Alexa is primarily thought of as a digital voice assistant, but having a virtual “person” tell you the time and weather definitely qualifies as augmented reality. Microsoft has its reality-bending HoloLens “hologram” goggles. Facebook and Snapchat have both built augmented reality straight into the camera. Even Google-backed startup Magic Leap thinks its yet-to-released goggles have a shot at becoming a new platform.

The net result is a race to build whatever is going to do the smartphone what the PC did to the mainframe. What these companies all have in common is that they missed the boat on building smartphone operating systems of their own. Now, it’s on them to build whatever comes next.

Defensive Position

Apple and Google are well aware of the threat and are not standing still.

Apple has ARkit, a system for building augmented reality into iPhone apps, using the phone’s built-in camera. It’s technologically robust enough and easy enough to use that developers love it, giving Apple a nice foothold in augmented reality. If and when Apple releases smart glasses, those apps will come right over.

Google has various augmented reality efforts in the works, including Project Tango. And although the first version of the Google Glass headset flopped, if Google figures out how to revamp the device, it will have a vehicle to extend Android into the AR realm.

The Smartphone Is Eventually Going to Die, and Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook Are Racing to Kill It
Microsoft’s HoloLens goggles project three-dimensional imagery into your field of view. Image Source: Microsoft

In a weird way, going on the defensive like this almost gives Apple a perverse incentive to replace the iPhone: If Apple can build the next great hardware platform itself, it means that Amazon can’t do it with Alexa, and Microsoft can’t do it with HoloLens.

In the meantime, as we appreciate all the new hardware and software goodies coming out later this year, keep the perspective that everything we’re seeing now is the first salvo in a computing war that will rage for the next decade and beyond.

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Augmented Reality Is Going to Transform Your Life. Here’s How.

AR In The Workplace

Augmented reality (AR) places digital images into your field of view, giving them a “place” in the real world. Many in big tech, including leaders at Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, think that AR is going to be the next big thing. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, for example, thinks that AR will replace everything we use now that has screens; from smartphones to televisions — why would you need a smartphone if you can see your documents, calls, texts, and emails in your field of vision without one?

Google has Project Tango and Google Glass, and Microsoft has the HoloLens headset. Apple is taking a different approach, offering new ways for developers to create AR apps for the iPhone. Either way, each of the biggest tech companies is working on their AR plan. However, AR technology is already being used in the workplace.

Image Credit: NEXTConf/Flickr
Image Credit: NEXTConf/Flickr
Repair specialists with ThyssenKrupp, a German company that just announced the first successful round of tests for its maglev elevator, use HoloLens and Skype to communicate with in-office experts while performing repairs. The HoloLens’ camera allows those off-site to see exactly what the repair specialists are seeing and advise them accordingly.Stryker is using AR to design tomorrow’s operating rooms. The use of the HoloLens allows hospitals to envision exactly what they’ll need in their operating rooms to ensure that the design meets their specifications. This also allows different possibilities to be visualized in 3D and compared in real time. This process saves time and money, and makes it more likely that the facilities are operating correctly.Companies like GE are testing AR technology at places like power plants. GE is creating exact replicas of its industrial machines that it’s calling “digital twins,” which incorporate all real counterpart data, enabling off-site technicians to examine them virtually, off-site. When technicians visit on-site, they can also use their experience with the twins to identify malfunctions in the real machines.Even retailers like Lowe’s are experimenting with AR, recognizing its potential for use in a retail setting. For example, Lowe’s is using the technology to help shoppers visualize how furniture will look in their homes.

AR Transforming Our Lives

Although multiple companies are using existing AR technology now, and some are even working to create their own AR headsets and other devices, it will likely be years before AR is widely adopted in the workplace. The remaining technical challenges are one reason for the delay. Microsoft’s HoloLens, for example, is a functional, standalone AR headset, but it can work without being connected to anything because its AR viewing areas are tiny and difficult to see. They are only visible when the headset is carefully adjusted, and even then are just a few inches wide. Magic Leap is the other side of the AR coin, promising to produce a headset with a more immersive experience and a wider viewing angle, but that may come with a big tradeoff in size and convenience.

It seems likely that we will continue to see important developments in AR technology within the coming years, many of which will be related to the technology’s use in the workplace. Apple’s ARkit, which enables developers to create AR apps for iPhone and iPad, may be one important source of innovation in this area. For every AR game developed, we are just as likely to see a productivity or creativity app created with workplace applications — something that will take us one step closer to integrating AR as an everyday part of the workplace.

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Magic Leap’s Disruption of the VR and Computing Industry is “Not That Far Away”

What We Learned

At eMerge 2017, Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz gave a number of updates concerning his company’s first product, which is currently in production. He revealed in his speech that the technology is “up and running and live” — it is hands free, does not require looking through a video display, and introduces an entirely new class to the technology which he coined as “spatial computing.”

VR, AR, And MR: What’s The Difference? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Another exciting piece of news is that it is being priced for “affordability” — Abovitz stated “if you’re willing to pay for a premium mass consumer device, you’ll be happy with us.” He also said the “launch is not that far away,” and will focus on the “U.S. first, but definitely not U.S. only.”

Abovitz also said that potential consumers are not the only group enthusiastic about Magic Leap. He has seen an outpouring of people who want to become developers. He stresses that he has an extremely loose definition of the word, which can extend from artists to film-makers to programmers to “kids in garages.” In order to foster this developing community when the release comes, Abovitz says that he and his team “want to make sure we’re learning to serve developers and creators properly first.”

The Potential of Magic Leap

Magic Leap is neither augmented reality or virtual reality but, as Abovitz explained at eMerge, a “Spacial Ambiance, using digital light fields to create a personal computer that is ambient, always around you […] and is always contextually aware.”

While Andre Iguodala gave some vague information about his demo experience — including that the technology is controlled by eye movements and modulates lights in a user’s environment, that it has a voice assistant like siri, and that it takes the form of a belt pack with connected glasses. The company has neither confirmed or denied his claims, nor provided much more information.

What we do know, though, is that it has the potential to change almost any industry in the world. David Erwalt, of Forbes, got a rare interview with the founder and concluded that:

This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core.

While the eMerge announcement gives us just a taste of the technology to come, we hope all of our questions will be answered very soon when we get to try the product for ourselves.

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The Future of Education Can Be Found Within This AR Tablet

Hologram-like 3D images offer new ways to study educational models in science and other subjects. zSpace has built a tablet that uses a stylus and glasses to allow students to have interactive learning experiences. Technology like this not only makes education more immersive and captivating, but also can provide more accurate models for students in professional fields like medicine.

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Soon, You’ll Be Able to Get a Tattoo That “Speaks”

Sound on Skin

Next month, Skin Motion, a new tattoo company, will launch a decidedly different type of body ink: a kind that can be heard. Each of the company’s Soundwave Tattoos can correspond to a minute of audio. By scanning the tattoo using the Skin Motion app, the wearer can hear whatever is represented in their soundwave.

Skin Motion’s website calls its tattoos “a new way to share your most personal self-expression,” and for added creative freedom, the soundwave can even be embedded as negative space within another picture, as shown in the Baci the singing dog example below.

Other Uses of AR

Skin Motion’s technology is an ink-and-needle extension of previous efforts that use transferrable tattoos to interact with smartphones.

Researchers at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, have developed skin-worn “buttons” called SkinMarks that allow wearers to control their smartphone. The temporary devices are also electroluminescent, which means they light up when an electrical current is passed through them. DuoSkin is another example. The prototype developed by Microsoft and MIT Research in 2016 uses a transferable gold leaf pattern to allow the wearer to control a smartphone, store data, and communicate with other devices via near field communication (NFC).

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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Augmented reality (AR) technology that imposes computer-generated media over the real world isn’t just limited to tattoos — it’s also being integrated into other aspects of our lives.

In April, Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus Research, claimed that AR glasses could replace smartphones in the next five years. These glasses could potentially allow us to see notifications, read information about the world around us, and take videos or photographs using embedded cameras. Lightform, due to ship in late 2017, can be used in conjunction with projectors to superimpose pictures all around you, essentially turning your home into a huge controllable screen.

Whether it’s through our phones and glasses or our homes and even our skin, augmented reality is changing how we interact with the world around us. Before long, these augmentations will blend seamlessly with everything else, forever changing what it means to experience “the real world.”

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This App Lets You Preview an Entire Restaurant Menu in 3D

Augmented reality lets you see how your next purchase might look in real life through the screen of a smartphone or tablet. KabaQ is one startup developing AR restaurant menus that preview meals, display ingredients, portion size, and even take online orders.

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Facebook Engineer Asserts That Augmented Reality Will Replace Smartphones in 5 Years

Augmenting Technologies

Last week, Facebook’s annual developer conference (FB8) gave us a glimpse of the future. While most of the announcements made during the event were meant for developers, it doesn’t take a techie to understand how they will impact the lives of Facebook’s more than 90 million consumers.

VR, AR, And MR: What’s The Difference? [INFOGRAPHIC]
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One of the most interesting project announcements came from Facebook’s uber-secretive Building 8 (B8). The division is currently working on a top-secret brain-computer interface (BCI) similar to Elon Musk’s neuralink, but that BCI project isn’t the only “future tech” Facebook currently has in the works.

According to Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Facebook-owned Oculus Research, super augmented reality (AR) glasses could replace smartphones as the everyday computing gadget in the next five years.

Augmenting Realities

It’s definitely not an outlandish prediction. Abrash explained that despite all the current hype around AR, the tech hasn’t yet reached its defining moment. “[I]t will be five years at best before we’re really at the start of the ramp to widespread, glasses-based augmented reality, before AR has its Macintosh moment,” he said on Day 2 of FB8.

Widespread adoption, however, would take a few more years. “20 or 30 years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we’ll wear stylish glasses,” claimed Abrash. “Those glasses will offer [virtual reality], AR, and everything in between, and we’ll use them all day.”

Image credit: Facebook, screenshot
Image credit: Facebook, screenshot

If Facebook’s Oculus team has any say, these super AR glasses would be capable of far more than just augmenting reality. They could give the user “superpowers” by enhancing the wearer’s memory, providing them with instant foreign and sign language translation, and isolating and muting distracting sounds and noise.

Facebook isn’t the only company invested in AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also been rather bullish about AR as the technology of the future, and with so many tech behemoths involved, five years seems like a completely realistic timeline for tech that will change everything about reality as we know it. After that, it’ll be on to combining these AR glasses with BCI, and that’s a truly high-tech future worth waiting for.

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The Smurfs Are Headed to Augmented Reality

Your nostalgic Smurfs are now getting a holographic rendition in a new augmented reality game. Smurfs: The Lost Village is a Microsoft Hololens game where you explore different locations from the series and battle the villain Gargamel. Microsoft helped create the game to promote the new Smurfs: The Lost Village film.

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An NBA Star Says Magic Leap’s AR Device Will Disrupt Your Life

Enter Magic Leap

If you haven’t heard of Magic Leap, it’s probably not your fault, the company might just want it that way. The Florida-based augmented reality (AR) company, which has raised over $1 billion from backers like Google, has been very reluctant to release any information about their future product. But NBA star Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors might have just narrowly missed violating the non-disclosure agreement he signed with Magic Leap by talking about the company’s progress.

But first, what exactly is Magic Leap trying to accomplish? Similar to the Microsoft Hololens, Magic Leap is working hard to bring mixed reality into consumer markets. The company promises an AR experience unlike any other by delivering “neurologically true visual perception,” through a headset that overlays the game graphics on top of the real world.

The game designers are working to make sure there is transition so seamless that your brain won’t be able to tell the difference between artificial reality and reality when you’re using Magic Leap’s device. Other than the rumors and the public company patent, not much is known about the device’s capabilities — that is, until now.

Secrets Revealed?

Iguodala’s remarks to CNET gave us a glimpse at what secrets Magic Leap’s upcoming device might have in store for consumers:

  • The interface is controlled by eye movements that modulate items in a user’s environment (turning off lights, adjusting the temperature in your home).
  • Characters can appear on your arms at will when you stick them out.
  • The device has a digital assistant similar to Apple’s Siri.
  • The device will be far smaller than the competing devices.
  • The device might come with a belt pack that stores the computing power and battery for the glasses.

You might be wondering why an NBA all-star knows so much about Magic Leap’s upcoming product. It’s because Magic Leap is “interested in doing some stuff with sports,” as Iguodala put it. The device is intended to disrupt life and change everything, so you can’t help but be excited with each new piece of information that comes out, especially since it feels more like Magic Leap contraband than a news update.

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New VR Ads Know If You’re Watching or Ignoring Commercials

VR Ad Service

HTC’s new virtual reality (VR) platform now allows brands to identify whether or not a user has already seen an ad via its VR headsets.

Our Virtual Future: The Virtual Reality Headsets of Today and Tomorrow
Click to View Full Infographic

This new strictly opt-in VR Ad Service — where ads will only show in content that developers have specified to include them in — means advertisers will only have to pay for an ad after a user has seen it. The platform is capable of carrying ad formats like scene banners, 2D and 3D in-app placements, and app recommendation banners.

According to their website:

Ads that appear in immersive VR environments can not only provide more effective impressions, they can also track whether the users have viewed them or have turned away their gaze.

This technology aims to give advertisers the means to effectively reach and pique the interest of their audience while simultaneously enhancing brand image, and attracting more users to directly download their apps in the VR environment.

The technology was launched at the 2017 VIVE Ecosystem Conference.

Advertising in the Age of VR

In-game advertisement, even in the traditional sense, offers a lot of incentive for developers to support the development of their games. But ads are also something that viewers naturally try to avoid. With VR gaining a strong foothold in mainstream media, companies are now trying to monetize the platform by introducing VR ads — a concept, while fascinating, is also slightly disconcerting for some.

On one hand, ads viewed within HTC’s immersive VR environment are based on precise re-targeting, which means advertisers can ensure that they are actually showing ads relevant to its viewers. But, since the payout is linked to people actually viewing the ads, the tech must verify this  — which it does, by tracking the viewer’s gaze. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a future where people are already wearing VR or augmented reality (AR) equipment on a daily basis (perhaps in the form of contact lenses), meaning they quite literally could not look away from a commercials — or any other content for that matter. That hypothesis aside, HTC points out that their aim for VR advertising isn’t meant to be an interruption of the VR or AR experience — it’s actually designed to complement it.

Only time will tell if it will succeed from a consumer perspective. Until then, we can only hope that VR and AR companies find the right balance between creating a viable advertising revenue stream and ensuring a great AR and VR user experience. Ideally, one that doesn’t force us to consume media, commercials or otherwise.

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Apple Is Working to Augment Reality

Potential Game Changer

The past couple of years have been smooth sailing for Apple. The company has encountered a few minor bumps, but sales and earnings were on the rise by the end of 2016. Some critics say, however, that the Cupertino-based tech giant’s been sailing too smoothly, forgoing its traditional penchant for disruption and innovation. Those critics may have been heard as Apple is turning its attention toward a tech with a high potential for disruption: augmented reality (AR).

VR, AR, And MR: What’s The Difference? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been quite vocal and rather bullish about AR, virtual reality’s (VR) cousin technology. On more than one occasion, he has expressed his excitement over AR and what it could do for consumers. In July 2016, Cook told journalists during a press call that Apple is “high on AR in the long run.” He added, “We have been and continue to invest a lot in this … we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”

During an event in October, Cook reiterated what he sees as the future role of AR. “It is likely that AR […] is the one that the largest number of people will engage with,” he said, comparing it to VR. Most people will “have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you,” according to Cook. He has said he expects AR to be a game changer on par with the smartphone.

Apple’s Foray Into AR

Toward the end of 2016, reports circulated about a new Apple product that would put AR directly into the hands of consumers. According to insiders, Apple has plans to develop AR glasses that connect wirelessly to iPhones. Reportedly, the glasses would be ready to hit the market in 2018.

Now, more details have surfaced. Bloomberg reports that anonymous sources from inside Apple told them the company has put together a team of hardware and software experts to bring AR to the masses. The group comprises people with AR and VR backgrounds, including engineers from Oculus and HoloLens, and digital-effects experts from Hollywood.

Heading up this team is Mike Rockwell, a former executive from Dolby Laboratories. “He’s a really sharp guy,” Oculus co-founder Jack McCauley told Bloomberg. “He could certainly put a team together that could get an Apple AR project going.” In addition to bringing on Rockwell, Apple also acquired several companies in 2016 that could help develop its AR tech.

AR is an industry on the rise, with a potential $90 million global market by 2020 that could surge up to $165 million by 2024. If Apple wants a major slice of that pie, they’ll need to move fast. To that end, some think that Apple will introduce AR-capable cameras into the next iPhone while continuing to perfect its AR glasses. As Apple analyst Gene Munster told Bloomberg, “It’s something they need to do to continue to grow and defend against the shift in how people use hardware.”

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Inside Building 8, Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon

Facebook’s Building 8

In April 2016, Facebook announced the launch of Building 8, a research lab to develop hardware projects in the style of DARPA. The internet behemoth even enlisted former DARPA executive Regina Dugan to head up the division. Dugan, who was part of Google’s advanced projects division before taking on Building 8, has been leading an “all-star roster of tech veterans” since the project started.

*2* Building 8: Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon
CLICK TO VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHIC

Currently, Building 8 has four projects underway, and they touch upon cameras and augmented reality, devices that fly, and even brain-scanning technology. According to Business Insider, the technical lead for each project functions as a mini-CEO for the team, which has two years to produce a proof of concept.

None of these new products have been released yet, but Facebook’s developer conference, FB8, takes place in San Jose, California, on April 18 and 19, and Building 8’s new toys could play a central role at the event, though nothing on the schedule explicitly mentions the division.

A Range of Innovation

With Building 8, Facebook took a risk, stepping into hardware development despite a lack of experience in that realm, and they’re now competing against giants like Google and Apple. The new division is even structured very similarly to Google’s ATAP and X moonshot lab, and teams are conducting research in some of the same areas.

A Facebook that can read your mind has been on Mark Zuckerberg’s mind for a while now, and Building 8’s team includes a neuroscientist, formerly of Johns Hopkins, who was part of the team that developed a mind-controlled prosthetic arm. This scientist now leads the brain-scanning tech project for Building 8.

Introducing both virtual and augmented reality into the Facebook world has also been an interest of Zuckerberg’s, and another current Building 8 project involves cameras and augmented reality.

*2* Building 8: Facebook’s Secret Innovation Weapon
Image Credit: Facebook

A third project with medical applications is being led by a Stanford interventional cardiologist with expertise in the development of early stage medical devices. These academic collaborations are also a part of the Facebook long game, which culminated with the launch of SARA, the “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement,” in December 2016.

Building 8 is also taking to the air with the help of Frank Dellaert, a computer vision and robotics expert leading what appears to be a consumer drone project. Dellaert was previously the chief scientist at Skydio, a drone startup, and that company’s former head of hardware, Stephen McClure, has also signed on to Building 8. They are joined by several former GoPro employees. Dugan wrote of Dellaert, “He’s going to help us make things fly … when he’s not guarding the door.”

Building 8 is reportedly planning to jumpstart a fifth project, as yet unspecified and leaderless.

Based on the highly qualified hires for Building 8, Facebook appears to view the division as a long-term investment and is quite serious about manufacturing and selling its own devices — whatever they turn out to be.

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The Projector That Turns Every Surface Into a Touchscreen Arrives This Year

Xperia Touch

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Sony unveiled the Xperia Touch, a portable, short throw projector that can turn any flat surface into a 23-inch, high definition touchscreen. First unveiled as an experimental concept at SXSW last year, the device is now expected to hit the market in Europe by Spring 2017, retailing at $1,583 (€1,499)

The Xperia Touch is able to detect users’ gestures and taps through a combination of infrared sensors and a 60 frames per second (fps) camera. The camera turns the beamed image into a virtual screen, allowing users to control it on tables or walls. The touch sensitivity is activated through the infrared sensors, which detect when users are touching the display. In a demonstration video from Verge, the interactive projector’s interface appears to be fast, fluid, and responsive to physical touch.

Interactive Projection

8-everyday-items-reinvented-by-new-technology_home_v1
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The Xperia Touch’s ability to project two dimensional images that users can seamlessly interact with sans headsets sets it apart from already available devices like the HoloLens.

The Xperia Touch is essentially an Android tablet that you can project onto any surface. By putting everything — calendar events, weather data, notes, video chats, etc. — in a single, easily accessible digital pinboard that’s equipped with multimedia capabilities for videos, app downloads, and web surfing, it can serve as a central, digital hub for its users.

That said, while it’s being positioned as a digital family device, the Xperia Touch could very well have applications outside of entertainment, similar to how augmented-reality devices are already expanding outside of gaming. With its ability to project interactive images and impressive sensor architecture, Sony hopes that it will provide developers with a new and innovative platform to build and create upon. Eventually, it could be used as a tool for education or in industries like design and architecture.

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Augmented Reality Is Bringing The Internet To Life

In the early 90’s the World Wide Web came online and with it came most people’s introduction to the internet.

CLICK TO VIEW THE FULL INFOGRAPHIC
CLICK TO VIEW THE FULL INFOGRAPHIC

At first, it was just this thing that existed on the fringes of society, used by a select few who were mostly captivated by the novelty of being able to beam information around the world instantly. It only had a few sites, and there really wasn’t much to do. Eventually, as more and more content was created, it sucked everyone in. Now, it has become impossible for anyone to live in society without a connection.

The internet is taking its next steps through AR, augmented reality, and its more popular cousin, virtual reality. What they allow users to do is rather than interacting with the internet through a screen, they place the user inside the internet and allow them to interact with it in a three-dimensional space. Where virtual reality plunges users inside new worlds, augmented reality plasters the digital world over top of the real world.

Seeing is believing. If you get the chance, give it a shot, till then watch this demonstration of Microsoft’s Hololens to get a sense of what it will enable you to do.

It is still early days, the hardware is not quite there yet and the applications are still very limited. But as you read this there are people all over the world working to populate our world with AR applications that will leave the real world looking empty and dull.

There is virtually no part of life that AR will not impact. Education, art, business, sports, travel, entertainment, all will be enhanced by the introduction and application of AR to them, just as they were by the internet. Imagine sitting across the table in a meeting with someone, and beside them, as you are looking at them, an info-graphic pops open telling you everything you need to know about them. Or traveling to the Amazon and instantly seeing everything you want to know about every plant and animal you look at. Or sparing with Muhammad Ali and playing 1 on 1 with Michael Jordan.

The biggest application will probably be in how we educate kids. Let’s face it, the online world is more captivating than anything going on inside a classroom. To compete for their attention, we are going to need to bring the digital world into the classroom and AR provides an ideal tool for doing that. Rather than having kids squint at blackboard and projectors, they will have interactive lessons rendered in front of them.

Another term you might hear is MR, mixed reality. The line between MR and AR is a little blurry as they both lack clear definitions. The most hyped piece of MR is from a company called Magic Leap. They have managed to raise 1.4 billion dollars in funding to keep their super secretive project going. All we have are a few leaked videos of what it could do two years ago.

 Where is This Going?

It has been just over 20 years since the internet was introduced to the masses through the world wide web and look at all that is has done in that time. Nothing has ever had a greater impact on as many people in such a short amount of time. And it is rapidly evolving. The pace at which it is progressing is itself accelerating meaning the next 20 years will see far more change than the last 20 years did.

VR, AR, and MR (someone needs to come up with a catchy name for calling all three) are the next set of tools that will push the digital world forward. The devices will get better and more content will be created, eventually allowing the internet to jump from the screen to the world. It will be all around us, digitally populating our world while also giving us whole new worlds to step into.

The bigger question may not be what we are going to do with it but what it is going to do to us.

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Now You Can Feel Wind and Temperature While in Virtual Reality

Realistic visuals and audio are essential to shaping an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience. But these researchers from the National University of Singapore believe VR shouldn’t just cater to sight and sound. For the ultimate VR experience, other senses should come into play as well.

Things To Come
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Last year, Nimesha Ranasinghe and his team demonstrated how electrodes can be used to add a sense of taste to VR. Their latest accessory, Ambiotherm, adds another element of realism to the experience: atmosphere.

The add-on contains two features. One is a a wind module attached to the bottom of the headset that uses two fans to simulate wind blowing in the wearer’s face. The other is a temperature module that attaches to the back of the wearer’s neck to simulate heat. Various experiments show that gradual application of each module can mimic how the whole body would actually feel if, for example, the wearer was walking through a desert under the scorching sun or skiing down a mountain slope.

Previous attempts to recreate environmental conditions required fans and heat lamps, so being able to scale this down to something compact is a significant achievement. Next up for the team? Amping up the VR experience via smell and vibrations, as well as learning how human emotion can be augmented and applied to multi-sensory VR.

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A Leak Has Finally Revealed What Magic Leap Is Working On

Welcome To A New World

Some time back, Magic Leap raised a staggering $1.4 billion in venture capital in order to make mixed reality our new reality. Since then, a proverbial firestorm of media coverage has swarmed around them. Part of this stems from the secretive nature of the company.

Part of this firestorm stems from the secretive nature of the company. Few people have tried the tech (and ever fewer journalists), so no one really knows what to expect; however, if the teasers are any indication, whatever they develop is going to be pretty fantastic.

Take A Real, Hard Look

Now, it seems that we may finally be seeing what Magic Leap has really been up to. Business Insider asserts that an image of a prototype was just leaked to them. Their source said that the device is known as “PEQ0,” which is a stand-in name that was derived from an internal “prototype naming scheme” that Magic Leap uses.

Business Insider tried to reach out to the company for comment and to verify the information, but they didn’t hear anything back by the time the article was released. As you can see in the below image, the prototype

As you can see in the below image, the prototype definitely looks like a prototype. And this is a bit of a problem.

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The issue with this is that, in recent months, Magic Leap has been accused of using erroneous and misleading marketing material to make the public (and reporters) believe that the technology is a lot farther along than it truly is.

Specifically, Reed Albergotti published an article in which he alleged that Magic Leap had “oversold” its system, using different tech for the demo than what will be used in the final product. In response, in a memo to employees, CEO Rony Abovitz stated that the company shouldn’t be sidetracked: “Ignore all of this. Focus on what we are doing, and we ship a great product. That will speak loudly and reverberate for many years.”

This leak also comes at a prime time, as there is a board meeting next week that is generally seen as “a milestone in the product’s development.” In short, it is a chance to show, once and for all, that Magic Leap can truly do all that they claim—shrink augmented reality tech so that it is truly portable.

If this prototype is any indication, they have a lot of work to do before next week.

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Our 3D Holographic Technologies Just Got 2,600 Times Better

From entertainment to healthcare, the possible applications of 3D digital holograms are numerous. Unfortunately, current holographic displays are nowhere near as advanced as science fiction movies have led us to believe.

Right now, most virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) setups simulate a 3D viewing experience by projecting two separate 2D images that are viewed using special glasses.

It is possible to create 3D holograms that can be viewed without glasses by using wavefront modulators, which control the direction of the light, and deformable mirrors (DMs). The problem, however, is that even our highest resolution displays don’t have enough pixels to produce a 3D image. This means that we are only capable of creating a hologram about a centimeter (.4 inches) big with a viewing angle of three degrees.

Credit: KAIST

That may not be the case for long. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has managed to improve the quality of 3D holograms significantly using a DM and additional diffusers to scatter light. Scattering the light allows for wider viewing angles and a larger projected image. It also results in unwanted volume speckle fields, which they addressed by using a wavefront-shaping technique to control the fields.

KAIST’s technique produced a bigger 3D holographic image: two centimeters (.8 inches) in length, width, and height, with a 35-degree viewing angle. That’s an almost 2,600 times improvement in quality over any existing holographic technology. If they can continue to scale up this technique, it would spur further advancements in holography and improved AR and VR technology.

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Technology and Privacy Forecast 2017

Technology & Privacy

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Augmented (Un)Reality? CEO of Magic Leap Calls Out “Grumpy” Tech Bloggers

While today’s virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) systems continue to fall short of expectations, one mysterious startup has been circling the waters, poised to bring to life the mind-blowing VR/AR experience many of us have been anticipating since we were kids.

That company, Magic Leap, released a demo video last year that came as close to meeting those expectations as any had ever done. Since then, millions of dollars have been invested in the Florida-based startup, but we’ve yet to get word on a release date for an actual system, and most of those who’ve tried out what Magic Leap does have ready for use have been required to sign confidentiality agreements.

Writer Reed Albergotti has been one of the few exceptions, and yesterday, The Information published an article that he penned alleging that Magic Leap has “oversold” its system, using different tech for the demo than what will be used in the final product. Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz then turned to Twitter to respond — sort of.

Over the course of about 20 hours, he tweeted over two dozen messages about everything from the difficulty of working at a startup to the games that will be played at the Magic Leap launch without ever directly calling out Reed Albergotti or the article. He does, however, refer to “grumpy mouse tech blogger writers” and being a “Veruca Salt,” a reference to the greedy, spoiled character in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Check out the tweets for yourself below, and get hyped, because if Abovitz is to be believed, “What’s coming next for [Magic Leap] is the best part.”

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Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Guide to Urban Living in the 80s [INFOGRAPHIC]

Sweet Dreams

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