Category: Virtuality

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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First-Ever 360-Degree Video of Spacewalk Lets You Feel Like an ISS Astronaut

Life In the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) is humanity’s home away from home, and has been since its assembly was completed by space agencies from various countries in 2000. For those who want to experience life off-world in the ISS, years of astronaut training and the luck of the draw are significant obstacles. However, technology is now making the ISS feel more accessible in the form of a 360-degree video of a spacewalk.

The film represents the first 360-degree video shot in outer space ever published, allowing the viewer to join Russian cosmonauts on a spacewalk thanks to virtual reality (VR) technology. Released by Russia Today (RT), the video lets viewers see what it’s like to maintain the ISS and release satellites into low-Earth orbit. It provides a unique insight into the international science laboratory that NASA and other space agencies are using to learn more about working and living in space — thereby gaining knowledge we can apply to our future space-exploration missions.

VR Taking Us Everywhere

RT collaborated with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, and spacecraft manufacturer RC Energia to produce the 360-degree video. Just like other 360-degree videos, it is best to watch it using a VR headset; if you don’t have access to one, use a mobile device so you don’t need to click around the screen to see everything.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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This is just the latest example of the many ways that VR is providing us with an entirely new range of experiences. The way students are learning chemistry is being transformed by VR, and artists are tapping into VR’s creative potential. VR technology is being used in medicine, to help cure genetic diseases, and to assist cancer patients in staying comfortable.

From the Olympics to imagined colonies on the surface of Mars — and now on a spacewalk outside the ISS — VR tech is taking us everywhere.

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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
Click to View Full Infographic

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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Nerve-Stimulating Implants May Be the Next Level in Virtual Reality

Experimental Hardware

Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of virtual reality (VR) company Oculus, is exploring the use of nerve-stimulating implants to facilitate more immersive VR experiences.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Speaking on adult VR content at a recent event, Luckey stated, “This is one of the things I’m experimenting with…virtual reality implants that are able to do stimulation into the nervous system to provide a sense of touch and to allow you to move around in virtual reality without actually moving.”

Earlier this year, Luckey alluded to his work in this area on Twitter, venting his frustrations with finding medical professionals willing to implant experimental devices, noting that doing so was “really, really hard.”

Virtual Augmentation

Luckey isn’t the only innovator looking for ways to make VR experiences more immersive. We’ve seen elaborate setups to enhance mobility, along with peripherals to mimic environmental conditions such as wind and temperature. Some have even attempted to bring taste into the virtual world.

Luckey’s implants would completely change how VR systems interact with our bodies, delivering an entirely new level of immersion, but plans to bring brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to fruition are even more ambitious. Elon Musk’s Neuralink and Bryan Johnson’s Kernel are two high-profile examples of brain computer interfaces that would give humans a type of superintelligence previously only seen in the realm of science fiction.

The research on these devices is in its infancy, so their full potential is still unknown. However, several immediate applications have already emerged, including the ability to help disabled persons gain greater mobility or augment the strength of laborers, allowing individuals to do more work in less time.

From healthcare to space exploration, implants could radically transform how humans navigate nearly every industry — a better experience in virtual reality is just the tip of the iceberg.

Disclosure: Bryan Johnson is an investor in Futurism; he does not hold a seat on our editorial board or have any editorial review privileges.

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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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Virtual Reality Headsets Might Help Cure Genetic Diseases

A team of researchers has developed a method of using virtual reality headsets to view 3D models of genetic data. The simulations bring together data from genome sequencing, information about DNA interactions, and microscopy data.

“By combining data on the genome sequence with data on gene interactions we can create a 3-D model that shows where regulatory elements and the genes they control sit relative to each other,” said Prof. Jim Hughes, Associate Professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University, in a press release. “It makes it easier to understand the processes going on within a living cell.”

Each of the 37 trillion cells in an adult human body holds two meters of DNA within its nucleus. We’ve had the capability to sequence DNA for a long time, but the way the two-mile strand of DNA is folded up might directly influence gene expression. If we can visualize the specific arrangement, we might be more effective at finding important insights into human genetic disease, because humans are very good at visual pattern recognition.

The researchers are currently using this visualization technique to study diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. The long-term goal is for the project to help with efforts to establish a method of correcting faulty genes and introducing them to the body.

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Google May Be Buying the Company Behind the Vive VR System

Today, pioneering tech brand HTC announced that they will halt trading of their shares tomorrow pending “the release of material information.”

The company has been rumored to be negotiating a takeover with Google, and this announcement may be a sign that such a buyout is happening. HTC’s official response has simply been that they do not “comment on market rumor or speculation.” Why HTC would make an announcement to halt trading is unclear, though, as it could cause stockholders to sustain damage.

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HTC has been operating at a loss for more than a year and was apparently unlikely to survive without outside assistance. Google seems a promising source for this assistance as HTC has already worked with the company on the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones.

Whether Google would be taking over merely the smartphone business of HTC or perhaps only their promising virtual reality (VR) division is unclear, but a source told Bloomberg that a full-company takeover is considered less likely at this point.

We won’t have to wait long for confirmation on the reason for this trade halt, though. The company will likely make the details known tomorrow when trading wraps for the day.

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We are Just Six Months Away from Magic Leap One

Magic Leap is finally ready to make good on all of those lofty promises it’s made, but there’s a catch. The mysterious mixed-reality company has announced plans to release a product to a “small group of users” sometime within the next six months.

We still have no clear idea what the final device will look like, but we do know that it will be expensive. Reports point to the device, dubbed the Magic Leap One, debuting at a price point between $1,500 – $2,000.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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A few weeks ago there were reports on an image from a 2015 patent filing that may have shown a version of the headset Magic Leap was working on. A spokesperson quickly shot down hopes that these images did indeed show the finished product.

The company is reportedly looking to raise even more money with potential investments upward of $500 million, to give Magic Leap an astonishing $6 billion valuation. This is quite the feat for a company as cagey as this, who hasn’t revealed definitive images of their product, let alone a public prototype demonstration.

All of this mystery sure does build excitement for this upcoming release. The company has made some lofty promises of all the ways this tech will change the lives of users, and now the time has come for them to show the world what they’re made of.

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Here’s Everything We Know About RED’s Smartphone With a Holographic Display

The Holographic Future

Cinematic camera developer RED is building a new kind of smartphone. Called the Hydrogen, the $1,200-$1,600 device’s video camera is expected to be top-notch — not surprising given the company’s background. However, what’s really going to set the Hydrogen apart from other phones is the addition of a “holographic display” that looks like something out of a futuristic video game.

Although little is known about the new phone, RED CEO Jim Jannard’s appointing of HP Labs spinoff Leia Inc. as the display tech partner is telling.

Leia employs light field technology, which combines LCD screens with backlights that direct light in different, coalescing directions. When this happens, the angles of the images projected on the screen create a 3D illusion visible to human eyes. Leia’s technology is able to do this without losing traditional 2D capabilities, so that users can alternate between the old school and the new in a flash.

The Problem of Content

This technology does have a drawback. As Jannard explained on a RED website forum thread, the smartphone uses the .h4v format for 4D rendering.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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Developers can capture images with four synchronized cameras from varying angles to map playable holographs, but this is a high standard to expect from amateurs. Meanwhile, directly converting 2D content to 4D is extremely difficult.

On the bright side, the Hydrogen clearly isn’t some cheap gimmick intended to lure in moneyed technophiles — an accusation that has been levied at Amazon’s Fire phone, which was arguably devoid of compelling features. However small Hydrogen’s demographic is likely to be, 3D and 4D interfaces await us in the next generation of mobile communications.

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Facebook Might Be Working on a Virtual Assistant for the Oculus Rift

Facebook could be working on a virtual assistant, along the lines of Siri and Alexa, for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Over the weekend, an anonymous Reddit user posted details of the project, having supposedly been contracted to work as a tester.

The leaker claims that the software can be used to issue voice commands relating to the Rift’s capabilities, as well as Facebook activities like replying to messages or confirming attendance at an event. There’s also support for common virtual assistant functionality, like checking weather reports and sports results.

virtual assistant facebook oculus rift virtual reality
Image Credit: Oculus

Facebook has made no secret of the fact that the endgame of its massive investment in virtual reality is to integrate the technology into its social media platform. A virtual assistant would be a much easier method of navigating Facebook than the current crop of VR controllers.

However, this information comes from an anonymous source on Reddit, so it should be taken with a grain of salt — especially since it references games that not received official Rift support, like Alien: Isolation. The user account, the original post, and a gallery of screenshots submitted as proof have now all been deleted.

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Scientists Have Created a “Holodeck” for Flies, Fish, and Mice

Learning From Star Trek

We now have more proof that yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science fact.

In the world of Star Trek, the “holodeck” is a space capable of simulating any virtual world. It serves as a staging environment for various virtual reality simulations — the Danger Room where the X-men train is very similar. According to University of Freiburg biology professor Andrew Straw, such an environment could be particularly useful at helping us understand how the brain works.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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“Until now, we have envied an invention from the world of science fiction: a holodeck like they have in Star Trek,” Straw said in a press release. “Something like the holodeck from Star Trek would enable key experiments in which we could artificially decouple an animal’s movement from its perception.”

Researchers needn’t envy the USS Enterprise any longer as Straw and his international team of researchers have developed a working model of this holodeck — but it won’t be used by space explorers or even people. The team built their flexible system to be suitable for mice, fish, and flies, the three animals most commonly used in behavior research and neurobiology.

“We created an immersive, 3-D virtual reality in which the animals could move freely,” Straw explained, “because we wanted our visual scenery to tie in naturally with the animal’s own action-perception cycle.” Through their research, which has been published in Nature Methods, the team has been able to study how the brain’s spatial recognition works.

A Different Kind of Interaction

Typically, animals and humans form a mental map of the world around us using every available sensation to make it as accurate as possible. To understand how the brain processes these different bits of information, the researchers had to separate the processes involved in movement from those involved in sensation.

Their holodeck allowed them to do this.

VR arena for freely flying flies. Image Credit: IMP/IMBA Graphics Department, https://strawlab.org/freemovr

Using several high-speed cameras, the team tracked and recorded the precise 3-D position of the animals as they navigated virtual environments featuring everything from pillars and plants to a swarm of video game space invaders. The idea was to test and even control how the animals would interact with the virtual space.

They looked at the flight direction of flies, noted whether mice had a fear of virtual heights, and examined at how fish would move between two different virtual worlds. In one simulation, they even tested how a fish would swim in a swarm of space invaders. The computer-generated and controlled swarm was programmed to interact with the fish as one of their own, which in turn affected how the fish behaved.

By creating this interactive virtual space, the team has found a way to directly manipulate interactions between multiple individuals, solving a fundamental problem in collective behavior research, and they’ve only just begun to tap into the potential of their small-scale holodeck inspired by sci-fi.

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The First Mind-Controlled Virtual Reality Game Has Arrived

Telekinetic Powers

Part of the appeal of virtual reality (VR) is the ability to control the digital world using only your hands and simple movements. Startup company Neurable, in collaboration with the Madrid-based company Estudiofuture, is eliminating controllers and hand movements altogether with their first game: Awakening, which aims to show what it’s like to have telekinetic abilities.

Neurable Vice President Michael Thompson announced the game last week ahead of its appearance at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH. The game, set to be released in VR arcades in 2018, has a story similar to that of the Netflix series Stranger Things: “You are a child held prisoner in a government science laboratory. You discover that experiments have endowed you with telekinetic powers. You must use those powers to escape your cell, defeat the robotic prison guards, and free yourself from the lab.”

Speaking with IEEE Spectrum, Neurable CEO Ramses Alcaide explained that his company’s headset strap, attached to a modified HTC Vive headset, uses several electrodes positioned in specific areas that detect brain signals known as “event-related potentials.” These small electric changes in the brain are tied to movements, sensory experiences, or thoughts as they happen.

More Than Just Gaming

Though Neurable’s technology might be exciting for gamers, such brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are being researched for much more widespread applications: from neuroscience research to mind-controlled web development, to brainwave-based marketing and tracking brain activity the way many track their steps. The technology is also being developed to help those with locked-in syndrome — unable to move or talk — communicate with the outside world.

Some researchers have expressed skepticism that this technology can ever be commercially viable; Jack Gallant, head of UC Berkeley’s Neuroscience Lab, told the Guardian it was “conceptually trivial but just about impossible to do” due to the difficulty of decoding brain signals through the thick human skull. But Alcaide seems to think the ease with which people have used Awakening bodes well for the tech’s future.

“A lot of people come in highly skeptical, because BCI has been a disappointment so many times before,” Alcaide told IEEE. “But as soon as they grab an object, there’s a smile that comes over their faces. You can see the satisfaction that it really works.”

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Is Investing in Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies Worth the Gamble?

The Technology Behind Cryptocurrencies

The creation of Bitcoin back in 2008 fueled the exponential growth of the cryptocurrency ecosystem, facilitating the creation of a rich diversity of coins and applications that many would deem revolutionary. Those who invested in cheap coins at the outset are reaping huge returns on their capitals, dwarfing the average returns one can acquire in the stock markets. Think about it; if you had bought $1,000 worth of Bitcoin in 2010, you’d be worth a staggering $35 million now. The possibility of earning colossal returns has attracted many to the arena, and this begs a crucial question: Is the hype on cryptocurrencies warranted or it is just a game of Russian Roulette?

The birth of Bitcoin – the first digital cryptocurrency that is decentralized by design – gave rise to a technology with the potential to redefine the very fabric of our status quo. This technology is called the Blockchain, which underpins Bitcoin’s protocol.

“Every informed person needs to know about Bitcoin because it might be one of the world’s most important developments.” — Leon Luow, Nobel Peace Prize nominee

Blockchain is essentially a distributed, digital ledger where every transaction is broadcasted publicly and recorded chronologically. The database is ever growing, expanding in tandem with the amount of transactions made on the network. The decentralized nature of Blockchain technology ensures that transactions are immutable and thus immune to change, offering full transparency for each and every transaction. Add to that the traits of increased security, higher efficiency, error-resistant and reduced transaction costs, it leaves no doubt as to why many are excited about Blockchain’s possible use cases. The utility of Blockchain technology is endless, with an ever-growing list of governments, industries and companies looking to further explore its usage.

Hotbed for Money Making

The birth of a revolutionary technology would always entail those looking to capitalize on its profitability. Blockchain is no different. Investors, traders and speculators can get in on the action by buying cryptocurrencies, which are digital currencies manifesting as variant applications of the Blockchain technology. There are over 900 coins available, with each offering a slightly different approach to solving a range of problems. Many early adopters have made a great sum of money, by buying the coins cheaply at its outset and realizing them much later on. Based on the statistics provided by ICOSTATS, the return on capital of 40 cryptocurrencies since their inception stands at a staggering 6703%! In order for you to earn similar rates of returns in the stock market, it will take you approximately 957 years.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
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These stellar returns inevitably attract many who are looking to earn multiples over their capital. Given the extreme technicality of cryptocurrencies and the underlying Blockchain technology, many do not fully understand the fundamentals of what they’re investing in. The immaturity of the current infrastructure – stemming from the relative infancy of the cryptocurrency industry — results in an inefficient price discovery mechanism, thereby creating an extremely volatile market environment. This poses huge risks for those looking to invest in a comprehensive list of coins.

Simply entering the market with the hopes of massive short-term gains without understanding the coins and their technology is akin to playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette. The radical volatility of the coins’ prices may significantly put your capital at risk. Just to draw a picture, Bitcoin’s price lost 40% of its value in a matter of days in December 2013, and at the start of this year, Bitcoin lost approximately 34% of its value in a week. While this can spell doom for many, there are those that find gratification by profiting from the intense gyration of prices.

The Verdict?

Nine years after Bitcoin kickstarted the technological revolution, the ecosystem centered around Blockchain technology has flourished and is looking ever so promising. New coins solving real world problems are launched at a tremendous pace, with new functionalities and applications pushing the boundaries of this nascent technology. With increasing user adoption and a keen interest by nations and corporations, it is only a matter of time before Blockchain technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives.

A flip side of this emergent technology is the great risks associated with investing in cryptocurrencies, especially for those with a short-term horizon and an absence of understanding in the coins they have invested in. Truly, the extraordinary volatility unique to cryptocurrencies creates a superficial impression of high stakes gambling in the eyes of many. Armed with the right understanding and knowledge of Blockchain technology, you would begin to appreciate its innate beauty.

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

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Bitcoin Swings Ahead of Tuesday’s Big Decision

Bitcoin traders are on edge as they await the outcome of the civil war that will decide the fate of the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin is trading up 0.52% at near $2,773 a coin.

On Tuesday, core developers and miners will decide whether bitcoin remains as is, or if there will be a hard fork that splinters the cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin developers want to keep the blocks that make up bitcoin’s network limited in their size to 1 megabyte per block while miners want to make the blocks bigger to improve the network’s speed.

Up until recently, it looked like everyone was on board with SegWit2x, a proposal that, according to bitcoin evangelist Paul McNeal, moves the threshold for implementation down to 80% and also allows for a small increase in the size of blocks on the chain to 2 MBs. That was until bitcoin cash, an alternative to both bitcoin and the SegWit2x version, entered the picture.

“Bitcoin cash basically came out of nowhere,” Charlie Morris, the chief investment officer of NextBlock Global, an investment firm with digital assets, told Business Insider.” A group of miners who didn’t like SegWit2x are going to opt for this new software that will increase the size of blocks from the current 1 megabyte to 8.”

For what it’s worth, the majority of bets placed in the gambling markets aren’t predicting a good outcome for bitcoin. Accroding to Ed Pownell, a company spokesperson at Bodog, of the 470 people who have wagered on the event, “310 people think the price will dip below $2,000 per coin.”

Bitcoin is up 186% in 2017.

Bitcoin Swings Ahead of Tuesday’s Big Decision

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Neuroreality: The New Reality is Coming. And It’s a Brain Computer Interface.

The Virtual World

With the release of the Oculus Rift in March 2016, the age of virtual reality (VR) truly began. VR tech had been generating buzz since the 1990s, but the Rift was the first high-end VR system to reach the consumer market, and early reviews confirmed that it delivered the kind of experience users had been hoping for.

Virtual reality was finally real.

Research into VR exploded in this new era, and experts soon started to find innovative ways to make virtual experiences more immersive…more real. To date, VR technologies have moved beyond just sight and sound. We’ve developed technologies that let users touch virtual objects, feel changes in wind and temperature, and even taste food in VR.

The World’s First Virtual Reality Headset [INFOGRAPHIC]
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However, despite all this progress, no one would mistake a virtual environment for the real world. The technology simply isn’t advanced enough, and as long as we rely solely on traditional headsets and other wearables, it never will be.

Before we can create a world that is truly indistinguishable from the real one, we will need to leave the age of virtual reality behind and enter a new era — the era of neuroreality.

Reality 2.0

Neuroreality refers to a reality that is driven by technologies that interface directly with the human brain. While traditional VR depends on a user physically reacting to external stimuli (for example, swinging a controller to wield a virtual sword on a screen) a neuroreality system interfaces directly with the user’s biology through a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Notably, this technology isn’t some far-flung sci-fi vision. It’s very real.

To rehash the basics: BCIs are a means of connecting our brains to machines, and they can be either invasive (requiring an implant of some sort) or non-invasive (relying on electrodes or other external tech to detect and direct brain signals). Experts have predicted that advances in BCIs will lead to a new era in human evolution, as these devices have the potential to revolutionize how we treat diseaseslearncommunicate…in short, they are set to utterly transform how we see and interact with the world around us.

In fact, some companies are already innovating in the newly emerging field of neuroreality.

Founded by physicist Dan Cook in 2013, EyeMynd’s goal is to create a VR system that allows the user to navigate a virtual world simply by thought—no immersion-breaking controller required.

“When you’re in the virtual world—whether you’re playing a game or something else—you don’t want to have to keep thinking about what you’re doing with your hands,” Cook told Digital Trends in November. “It’s much better to have pure brainwave control. It will be a much more satisfying experience and will allow for a much greater level of immersion. You can forget about your live human body, and just focus on what’s going on in front of you.”

Cook likens the experience to dreaming. “In a dream, you can run around without moving your physical legs. That dreaming and imagining creates brain signals that we can read,” he told The Guardian. “With what we want to do, you won’t need eyeballs to see, or ears to hear, or hands and feet. We can bypass all of that.”

EyeMynd’s system is non-invasive, meaning it wouldn’t require the user to undergo any sort of device implantation. Instead, they would wear a headset that includes EEG sensors to track their brainwaves.

Cook’s isn’t the only company exploring the use of brainwave-detecting external tech to make the VR experience feel more seamless. Boston-based startup Neurable, bioinformatics company EMOTIV, and social networking giant Facebook are all working on non-invasive devices that would allow users to navigate the virtual world through thought alone.

However, as Joy Lyons, chief technology officer of audio tech startup OSSIC, told Vice at the 2016 VRLA Summer Expo, the ideal hardware for creating a new reality isn’t an external headset, no matter how advanced. It’s “a chip in the brain.”

A World in Your Mind

Earlier this year, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk founded Neuralink, a company with the goal of developing cutting-edge technology that connects a person’s brain to the digital world through an array of implanted electrodes. Shortly before Musk’s announcement, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson announced a similar venture—that he is investing $100 million to unlock the power of the human brain and make our neural code programmable. Johnson’s company, Kernel, is working to create the world’s first neuroprosthesis

Musk himself has predicted that we’ll eventually be able to create computer simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, and if these brain interfaces come to fruition, they could act as the platform through which we experience those simulations, allowing us to not only see a realistic world but touch it and truly feel it.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

In a detailed report announcing the launch of Neuralink, Tim Urban described the potential impact of this proposed tech on our understanding of reality. Instead of relying on external hardware like goggles, gloves, and headphones to trick our senses into believing that what we encounter in the virtual world is real, we could program realities that trigger the same parts of our brains that would be engaged if the experiences actually were real.

“There would be no more need for screens of course — because you could just make a virtual screen appear in your visual cortex. Or jump into a VR movie with all your senses,” asserted Urban. “You’ll be able to actually experience almost anything for free.”

The same part of your brain that is stimulated when you taste pizza could be triggered to engage when you bite into a slice in this new reality, and the same part that lets you smell the ocean air in reality could  be simulated and provide that feeling while standing on the shore of a virtual Atlantic ocean.

The difference between the real world and the virtual one would be undetectable. For all intents and purposes, a difference would not exist.

Figuring out the tech to actually make this happen won’t be easy, and overcoming the non-tech related obstacles will present an additional challenge (such as developing a comprehensive map of the human brain and all our neurons). Elective brain surgery is an extremely controversial subject, and past experiments haven’t yielded such promising results. Neuralink and like-minded companies will need to engage in years of research before their devices will be ready for human implantation, and even then, they’ll have regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, BCI research is progressing rapidly, so while a system of electrodes that can effectively project an entirely new world directly into our brains might seem like a sci-fi pipe dream, it really shouldn’t. After all, just two decades ago, the virtual reality experience delivered today by the Rift felt woefully out of reach, and now, anyone with $600 can bring it home with them (and the price is dropping at a remarkable rate).

As Cook told The Guardian, we aren’t as far as we may think from the day when navigating virtual worlds using just our thoughts is the norm: “Ten years from now, this will seem obvious.”

Disclosure: Bryan Johnson is an investor in Futurism; he does not hold a seat on our editorial board or have any editorial review privileges.

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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 Next Sexual Revolution Is Going to be All About Technology

Want to join Peter Diamandis for a live AMA and conversation with Ray Kurzweil? Futurism is bringing you access to A360D’s livestream event where they’ll be discussing future predictions and more on October 13. RSVP now.


Sex is one of the most powerful, fundamental human drives. It’s caused wars, and built and destroyed kingdoms. It occupies a significant percentage of most people’s thoughts. As such, it’s worth a conversation about how exponential technologies will change our relationship with sex.

Dating in the Internet Age

Dating in past generations was local and linear. You had access to a small number of potential mates based on where you lived, where you went to school and your social status. In the 1960s, over 50% of marriages globally, and 95% of marriages in India, were arranged. Today that number has dropped to less than 15% (globally). In 1960, the median age at first marriage for the bride was 20 and the groom was 23 years old. Today, the median age is closer to 29 for women and 30 for men. A cultural shift is happening, and it’s changing the game. Dating has gone digital. As such, it has gone from local and linear to global and exponential. Today, 40 million Americans use online dating services (that’s about 40% of the single population in the U.S.), driving the creation of a $2.4 billion online dating industry.

SP-The Next Sexual Revolution

These services transcend geography and social strata. People are matched from around the world. Between 1995 and 2005, there was exponential growth among heterosexual couples meeting online. (See the green line in the chart below.)

SP-The Next Sexual Revolution

For same-sex couples, the online dating trend has been even more dramatic, with more than 60% of same-sex couples meeting online in 2008 and 2009 (see the green line in the chart above).

SP-The Next Sexual Revolution

 

The implications of this are staggering. Besides moving the marriage age back, there are a number of sociological effects such as decision fatigue, gamification of dating, and the commoditization of people that will start to have population-level effects as mating behaviors change. And this is just the beginning.

Dating & Exponential Tech

In the very near future, we will see machine learning / artificial intelligence-based matchmakers that will find the perfect match for you based upon everything from your genomics to your psychographics. Once you’re on a date, your augmented reality glasses will give you real-time dating info, calling up any info you want to know, as you need to know it. Perhaps you want to understand how she/he is feeling about you, and your AR camera is watching her pupillary dilation and capillary flushing. Like all technology, these applications are double-edged swords. My hope is that this tech actually increases the number of successful, meaningful relationships in the world and, in turn, has a net positive impact. But while dating is one side of the coin, sex is another — and the implications of exponential technology on sex can be shocking.

Sex & Exponential Tech

Today, sex has been digitized; as such, it has been dematerialized, demonetized and democratized. Sex, in the form of pornography, is free, available to anyone with an internet connection and pervasive across many platforms. In 2015, just one pornography website reported that their users watched over 4.3 billion hours of porn (87 billion videos) that year. The proliferation of internet connectivity, online video players and streaming, mobile phones, and advertisement delivery networks have propelled pornography into a $97 billion industry. This is causing a number of negative social phenomena. More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13. In a survey of hundreds of college students, 93% of boys and 62% of girls said they were exposed to pornography before they turned 18. “Pornography is influencing everything from how teens language and frame sexuality to how and why they pierce certain body parts to what they expect to give and receive in intimate relationships,” says Jill Manning, Ph.D, Witherspoon Institute.

In Japan, a growing population of men report that they *prefer* having “virtual girlfriends” over real ones (i.e. they believe they are “dating” virtual avatars that they largely control). 45% of Japanese single women, and 25 % of Japanese single men aged 16 to 24 claim they aren’t even interested in sexual contact. Given these trends, unless something happens to boost Japan’s birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. In other words, there is serious concern of significant UNDERpopulation. But again, this is only the beginning — as virtual reality (VR) becomes more widespread, one major application will inevitably be VR porn. It will be much more intense, vivid, and addictive — and as AI comes online, I believe there will be a proliferation in AI-powered avatar and robotic relationships, similar to those characters depicted in the movies Her and Ex Machina.

Implications

VR porn promises to offer a virtual world filled with more sex, better sex, endless sex, and new varieties of sex. The dark secret, however, is that the further a user goes into that fantasy world, the more likely their reality is to become just the opposite. Many psychologists believe that VR porn may numb us to sexual desire and pleasure in the real world, leading to less and less satisfying sex. For many, VR (as well as other exponential technologies such as robotics, sensors and A.I.) will act as a complete replacement for intimacy and human relationships, as it is more easily accessible, cheaper, on-demand, and, well, controllable. As the father of two five-year-old boys, this is really concerning to me. That said, are there upsides too? Perhaps a bit of intimacy (if even technological) for those who are infirmed, aged, crippled and thereby alone. We shall see. One thing is for sure: as with every technology in history, from the printing press to VHS and the internet, pornography will be on the front line funding the advance of technology.

This is the sort of conversation we explore in my online community called Abundance 360 Digital (A360D). A360D is my ‘onramp’ for exponential entrepreneurs who want to go big, create wealth and impact the world. Click Here to Learn More.

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Google Glass Is Back, and It’s No Longer Meant for Everyone

A Clearer Vision

When Google Glass debuted back in 2012, it generated so much hype that people expected it to usher in a new era of wearable technologies. Sadly, the hype was short-lived as people realized that Glass wasn’t what they thought it could be.

Despite officially shutting down the Glass website in 2015, Google didn’t exactly pull the plug on the project, and now, Glass is back with a new mission.

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The reboot comes from X, the “moonshot” branch of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The eyeglass-like wearable is now called Glass Enterprise Edition, and according to the Glass website, it’s now “a hands-free device, for hands-on workers.”

“Workers in many fields, like manufacturing, logistics, field services, and healthcare, find it useful to consult a wearable device for information and other resources while their hands are busy,” Jay Kothari, project lead for Glass, wrote in a blog announcement. “That’s why we’ve spent the last two years working closely with a network of more than 30 expert partners to build customized software and business solutions for Glass for people in these fields.”

Glass 2.0

This work-focused version of Glass was a product of time and smart choices. Despite the original Explorer Edition not landing a core market, it did find traction in a number of work environments.

“We first saw signs of Glass’ potential for businesses in the Glass Explorer days,” explained Kothari. “As we said when we graduated, we’d been seeing incredible developments with Glass in the workplace.”

While Alphabet continued to supply companies like Boeing, General Electric, DHL, and AGCO with the Glass Explorer, they also started adjusting the lenses to focus on just one market.

For these businesses, using the Enterprise Edition has worked out pretty well. “Employees are now working smarter, faster, and safer because they have the information they need right in their line of sight,” AGCO’s Peggy Gulick told Kothari.

By pivoting away from the consumer market, Glass may just have found a way to rewrite its legacy.

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Facebook Wants to Start Selling a $200 VR Headset by Next Year

If you’ve been in the market for a more affordable alternative to Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, you might be in luck: a report from Bloomberg on Thursday claims that the social media giant is planning to unveil a cheaper, standalone version of the tech by next year.

The current market for virtual reality tech runs the gamut from thousand-dollar setups to lower cost versions that require tethering to a smartphone or computer. Facebook’s concept for their new VR product will be something in between — both in functionality and cost. According to Bloomberg’s report, the model will retail for $200. A representative from Facebook told Variety that, although they don’t have a product to share at the moment, the company “can confirm that we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category.”

*3* Facebook Wants to Start Selling a 0 VR Headset by Next Year
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The new model, which Facebook hopes to have on the market by 2018, will likely be similar in functionality to existing VR headsets: ideal for immersive video game experiences and integration with social networking. The specs for the new headset haven’t been finalized yet, but as it is slated to be a more affordable option, it is at least certain that more people will be able to access the technology. Facebook is reportedly planning to reach out to app and game designers this fall ahead of the 2018 product launch.

Outside of Facebook’s $200 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift back in 2014, companies like Apple, Sony, and Google have all thrown their hats into the VR ring. Back in May, Google partnered with HTC and Lenovo to create the new Vive standalone virtual reality headset, and in January, Lenovo announced their newest VR headset, which was priced between $300 to $400.

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You Could Own the World’s First Glasses-Free Holographic Phone by Early 2018

With all the confirmed and unconfirmed leaks circulating on the internet, the iPhone 8 might be the frontrunner for most highly anticipated phone of the year. However, a newly announced device might be more worthy of your attention than Apple’s 10-year-old phone — this one’s got holograms.

Professional digital camera maker RED just announced that it’s building the Hydrogen One, and they’re calling it the world’s first “holographic” phone. It is expected to have a retina-display screen that can switch from 2D content to “holographic multi-view content, 3D content, and interactive games.”

Image Credit: Red
Image Credit: Red

Even more exciting is that it doesn’t require special glasses. “It’s no longer necessary to carry (or charge) another device to enjoy multi-dimensional content,” RED said in a press release. “Experience ‘look around depth’ in the palm of your hand, no glasses or headsets in sight.”

As for specs, details are limited. What we know is that the Hydrogen One would be a 5.7-inch phone that runs Android and has a headphone jack. It comes in a low-tier version, priced at $1,195, and a higher-end one at $1,595. The phone’s expected to ship by early 2018.

If the Hydrogen One delivers, it’s going to be the device of our holographic dreams. They’re talking about holograms in true “Help me, Obi Wan” fashion. Who doesn’t want that? Most hologram technology today still requires a separate viewing device, but some studies are working toward projected holography — RED just may have already figured it out.

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Avatar Sequels Could Be Shown in 3D That Doesn’t Require Glasses

A Better Experience

Avatar was a cinema juggernaut, catalyzing the integration of 3D technology into theaters and homes alike. However, the sequels director James Cameron has planned — the first of which will be released in 2020 — may take the technology to an entirely new level by utilizing a new RGB laser projection system designed by Christie Digital that would eliminate the need for viewers to wear glasses.

Two pieces of news fuel the speculation that Cameron is pursuing glasses-free 3D. The first comes directly from Cameron himself, who said as much during an acceptance speech in November: “I’m still very bullish on 3D, but we need brighter projection, and ultimately I think it can happen — with no glasses. We’ll get there.“ Then in March, his Lightstorm Entertainment production company renewed a five-year agreement with Christie Digital.

However, very few details regarding how the technology would work— other than the fact that Christie Digital’s projectors are capable of using 60,000 lumens to solve the problem of blur and distortion in high frame rates — have been announced.

A New Era

Although systems already exist that are capable of rudimentary versions of glasses-less 3D, none have had the mainstream awareness that James Cameron’s backing would grant the technology — plenty of cinemas across the country only installed 3D systems after Avatar was released. If the technology is developed, it could change the screen-based visual entertainment industry fundamentally.

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

Although 3D technology has its share of issues, the biggest is arguably the glasses, which many people find uncomfortable, impractical, and too expensive. If a glasses-less 3D system comes to fruition, it might result in wider adoption of 3D technology.

As what Cameron is proposing is effectively a screen-produced hologram, this technology could also have uses far beyond the theater. Gamers could use it as an alternative to virtual reality (VR), which is often criticized for its cumbersome headsets, architects could use it to show their plans to clients, and shoppers could see 3D versions of the items they’re thinking of buying online.

Regardless of whether the tech is ready in time for Avatar 2, it’s poised to have a major impact on the viewing experiences of the future.

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A New VR Headset That Mimics the Human Eye Has Been Unveiled

Varjo: A New Big Name

A new virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headset, named the “20|20” has been announced by Finnish company Varjo, which until this point has been developing it clandestinely.

The team, composed of individuals from Microsoft, Nokia, Intel, Nvidia, and Rovio, have developed a headset that “replicates how the human eye naturally works, creating a super-high-resolution image to the user’s gaze direction.” according to the maker’s press release. It has 70 megapixels per eye — in comparison with the roughly 1.2 megapixels per eye of the Occulus Rift and HTC Vive. This will deliver a resolution, according to the press release, “more than 70X beyond any currently shipping or announced head-mounted display (including Magic Leap).” The headset will be on sale late this year.

No press have, of yet, tried it — but Sean O’Kane of The Verge was given a demo by Urho Konttori, the CEO and co-founder of Varjo. The experience combined a current consumer version of the Oculus with two full-HD Sony microdisplays to give O’Kane some idea of the headset’s technological superiority — which was immense, he reported. “I was able to resolve detail I thought I’d otherwise have to wait years to see in VR,” O’Kane wrote.

Propelling the VR World Forward

Many aspects of the product remain undisclosed, like content production, frame rate, latency, and price. However, if “20|20” fulfills its promises then the Varjo would cause disruptions in the AR and VR industries by offering a more immersive experience than any company has before.

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

It may also help to lessen disorientation, motion sickness, and eye strain — which Oculus VR chief executive, Brendan Iribe, called “The elephant in the room” at the 2014 Web Summit conference in Dublin — by mimicking the human eye’s pattern of focusing on things in the center field of vision and blurring what is going on in the peripheries.

This higher resolution could catalyze AR and VR into industries other than gaming. While many predictions have been made about VR being used to show people around houses, practice operations, virtually reconstruct destroyed buildings, and even act as a painkiller — this could be the first technology to propel these VR fantasies from the hypothetical to the possible.

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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]
Click to View Full Infographic

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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Now You Can Run an Entire Bar from the Comfort of Your Home

Virtual reality games often try to test how you’d fare in a job. Flairtender is a new game for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift that puts you in the shoes of a bartender. You take orders, mix drinks, and earn cash to better improve your mixology.

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Your Next Car Could Be Designed in Virtual Reality

Virtual reality software is changing the design industry for the better. Seymourpowell has developed a VR app that offers a virtual car design studio at room-scale that multiple collaborators can simulataneously use remotely.

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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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HTC Vive and Google Are Bringing You an Untethered VR Headset

Vive just announced they’ve partnered with Google to create a new untethered VR headset. The headset will be unique because it doesn’t require a PC or mobile device in order to work. Users simply pick up the headset and enter immersive virtual reality. Though many details have yet to be revealed Vive claims the headset should be available later in the year.

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Google’s New Tech Animates Your World

Google has unveiled a major new update to its Tango augmented reality platform — the Visual Positioning System. The VPS senses and animates your world so you can see immersive visuals in your surroundings with just your smartphone.

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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
Click to View Full Infographic

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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Google Just Unveiled Their Entirely Untethered, Standalone Virtual Reality Headset

A Google Rumor

Nothing can snap you out of an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience faster than tripping over a cord, which is why VR companies have been scrambling to develop wireless systems. Google is taking that freedom a step further, working to develop a headset that’s not only wireless, but also works anywhere you want to go.

The company has reportedly been working on the stand-alone VR system for more than a year now. The goal has been to create a headset that could handle everything needed to deliver a stunning virtual experience sans PC, phone, or gaming console — not easy when you consider the whole thing needs to also be comfortable to wear.

This week, Variety reported that the world could potentially finally get a glimpse of this standalone headset in action at Google’s I/O developer conference. Sure enough, yesterday afternoon a standalone VR headset was announced at the event, but Google’s name wasn’t the only one attached to it.

A Match Made in VR Heaven

Google decided to partner with HTC and Lenovo to create a new Vive standalone VR headset that will be the first to use Google’s Daydream platform.

According to Backchannel, a “reference model” of the device has already been created with the help of Qualcomm, and the final commercial version should be ready in the next few months. It’s expected to cost in the mid-hundreds range, making it financially comparable to the already released Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Google hasn’t been the only company to pursue powerful standalone VR systems — Facebook is working on its own, as is Samsung. While a release date for Google’s system is still forthcoming, clearly we won’t have to wait much longer for the virtual world to reach that next level of freedom.

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Virtual Reality Can Teach You Chemistry

Immersive experiences in virtual reality can better prepare students for scenarios in real life. SuperChem VR is one example of an app that preps students to work in an actual chemistry lab, testing their ability to measure, pour, and handle lab equipment.

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A VR Developer Created an Expansive Virtual World for Chickens

A Unique Vantage Point

Free-range livestock is going to the next level, thanks to a unique, if seemingly silly idea that has recently gone viral. Second Livestock is a free range world for chickens in virtual reality (VR). And yes, just like most of VR’s current applications, it actually works like a game — a massively-multiplayer one full of chickens and with no AI bots.

Image credit: Austin Stewart/Second Livestock/Iowa State University
Image credit: Austin Stewart/Second Livestock/Iowa State University

In an interview with Vox, Second Livestock’s founder and associate professor at the Iowa State University’s College of Design Austin Stewart explained that this virtual free range is really a social experiment between chickens living in a VR world. “I feel like this is more of a design project, to get people to have a conversation about animal husbandry,” he said. “We live in boxes, just like the chickens we eat.”

In reality, the chickens in Second Livestock live close to each other. In their virtual world, however, they live a life in the open. The world features real-life scenarios too, complete with its own creepy crawlers and water sources for the chicken to feed on and drink from. “[A]nd there are no predators, obviously,” he explained in the interview. “So they’re free to just worry about chicken business.”

Virtually More Humane?

And worry about chicken business they do, except these chickens do it in style while wearing their VR headsets. Of course, this is still all an idea, and actually strapping VR headgear to chickens would require approval from various committees in Stewart’s university. But it is an idea worth exploring, as it could potentially help farmers and chickens alike, making it cheaper and potentially eliminating losses expected in farming free-range chickens.

“There’s research suggesting that free-range chickens show all the signs of having a stressful life,” Stewart said in the interview. “They have more broken bones, they get broken legs, etc., whereas birds raised in little boxes don’t have those indicators of stress. And who’s to say which is better?”

Image credit: Austin Stewart/Second Livestock/Iowa State University
Image credit: Austin Stewart/Second Livestock/Iowa State University

Second Livestock is another viable application of VR outside of just gaming. Certainly, it may seem unusual, but maybe not so much as testing electric shocks via VR or partying with friends in a virtual world. At the very least, it could help demonstrate whether animals experience VR the same way human beings do.

“Will animals actually accept a virtual world as readily as we do, or is there some level of intelligence or imagination that needs to happen where we can suspend disbelief more readily than a chicken can?” Stewart asked in the Vox interview. “I don’t know.”

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How Do Video Games Actually Impact Our Society?

There’s no doubt the world of video games has expanded – drastically – over the past decade. Digital games now offer highly complex virtual landscapes that bend reality and fantasy. They are used in classrooms around the country, in various training centers, and of course on millions of smartphones. What impact does this have on our society? Do they make us smarter? Do they teach us new skills?

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Art and Science Collide at Animated Band’s Futuristic Installation

“Come and bathe in high-tech sound, feast on unearthly visuals, and let the experience take you on the ultimate trip,” Murdoc Niccals of Gorillaz said, preparing me for my visit. Walking through the front doors I could already feel the bass bumping. Not knowing what to expect, I quickly realized that sensory overload was imminent. I had arrived at the Gorillaz Spirit House, an installation in Brooklyn that brought music to life using Sonos technology, specifically their new PLAYBASE speaker.

Welcome to the Spirit House, Where Art and Science Merge
Image Credit: Sonos

What sounds like just a neat listening party for Gorillaz fans like myself soon became a demonstration of the power of technology in bringing art to life.

In walking into the first room in the Spirit House, a multimedia walkthrough experience of sorts, I felt as if I was stepping into the Gorillaz living room or into one of the band’s music videos. A TV masqueraded as a fishtank in front of the couch, the fridge opened up to reveal a cake that you’d swear you could smell, and one huge slice of pizza stuck to the wall, threatening to slide down. The atmosphere was, at the same time, hyper-realistic and cartoonish. And, perhaps it was how overwhelming the experience was, but I couldn’t place where the bass-heavy tunes that filled the room to the brim were coming from. The PLAYBASE, as part of the 5.1 speaker system, a plain yet futuristic box, sat just beneath the “fish tank,” but seemed to be playing from right behind me.

Welcome to the Spirit House, Where Art and Science Merge
Image Credit: Sonos

Walking through a curtain-lined corridor I found myself in the next room, the centerpiece of the experience. It was, quite simply, a living room. Since, as it was explained to me, Sonos products like the PLAYBASE are designed for at-home listening, it made a lot of sense to put the “audience” so-to-speak in a living room. I sat on a couch, and in front of me I saw only the simple PLAYBASE sitting up against a plain white wall. But, as I slowly noticed the projectors overhead, I knew that this would be more than just audio. Using projection-mapping technology alongside the speaker, the entire room quickly became engulfed in gorgeous visuals.

According to Jed Lewis, the Senior Director of Global Brand Activations at Sonos, “As you progress into that projection-mapping room, you start to see where the sound and visuals start to come together.” The experience felt both like watching a music video and taking a trip to the astral plane — it was awesome.

Welcome to the Spirit House, Where Art and Science Merge
Image Credit: Gorillaz

Whether it was the ability of the PLAYBASE to really wrap a listener in sound or the stunning visuals, one thing was crystal clear by the end of the day: technological progress will allow us to explore creatively in new and inventive ways. Jed Lewis said of Sonos and this partnership, “So much science is behind just letting the art be the art.”

The blending of art and science is nothing new, not by a long shot. However, as technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), projection mapping, and advanced audio tech continue to advance, the ways in which we can express ourselves artistically will also continue to expand and develop.

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Holographic Learning Hits Classrooms

The Microsoft HoloLens has tremendous potential in education, providing 3D models that can better explain complex subjects like physics and anatomy. Lifeliqe is one company developing a HoloLens app that offers a range of lesson plans and models. They’re currently testing the app in middle school classrooms

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Here’s What the Nintendo Switch VR Headset Might Look Like

After the surprisingly good sales of the Playstation VR, many wonder when Nintendo will release a headset for their wildly successful Nintendo Switch console. YouTuber Nintendrew has shown us how a Switch headset could look by using a tablet headset that’s already on the market.

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This Wild VR App Lets You Design 3D Models in Mid-Air

3D design and sculpting apps normally rely on motion controllers as input devices. But Gravity Sketch is now working on supporting hand tracking in their app so you’ll be able to draw and sculpt intuitively with just your fingers, creating an experience closer to hand sculpting.

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Meet aGlass: the World’s First VR Eye-Tracking Device

Eye tracking will be a game-changer for virtual reality, offering a new way for us to interact with the virtual world just by moving our eyes. aGlass is the world’s first consumer eye tracking module for VR that seamlessly integrates with the HTC Vive to deliver eye tracking input.

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Enter the Terrifying World of a New “Psychological Thriller” for VR

Virtual Reality is a burgeoning technology in the field of gaming. And, just as developers are becoming more and more comfortable with the medium, the technology continues to keep pace with the kind of experiences gamers want to have.

Wilson’s Heart, the recent release of game studio Twisted Pixel, showcases the unique storytelling ability of virtual reality. Take a look at UploadVR’s glowing review for the new game. Beware, the video does disclaim that it may spoil some minor story elements.

In the game, you play as Wilson, an older gentleman trapped in a sinister hospital. Joe Durbin of UploadVR describes the experience as “wickedly enjoyable.” He lauds the excellent visuals and intricate storytelling, which is aided by the voice acting of some of the biggest names in show business, like Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2), Rosario Dawson (Marvel’s The Defenders), and even Peter Weller of Robocop fame.

Virtual reality is not just restricted to be a futuristic toy, however. This new field of tech is also being used to enhance filmstrain better doctors, and help mothers relax while giving birth.

Even the most advanced technologies are moving forward with the help of gaming. Developers are reaching out to popular games, like Super Smash Bros., to help train artificial intelligence.

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The Future of Surgery Lies Within the World of VR

Virtual reality is rocking the medical technology industry. It’s quite possible VR and augmented reality will be present in almost every aspect of medical training in the near future. 3DSystems’ has created a new virtual operating room training experience that tests students with precise controllers.

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Google Earth’s New Feature Brings the Entire Planet to Life

Google just unveiled the new Google Earth and it’s beautiful. The new Voyager tool allows users to take virtual, interactive tours of the world and the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button will take you on a randomized adventure. As virtuality continues to expand as a means of entertainment, connection and as a tool, experiences like the new Google Earth are certainly just the beginning in where tech like this will bring us.

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Canada Just Took a Major Stand for Net Neutrality

Canada Defending Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels through their networks equally, without favoring any sites, services, or apps. In other words, the business that gets you online should not control where you go, what you do, or what you see. Without net neutrality rules, ISPs can keep users from visiting certain sites, provide slower speeds for streaming services that use more data like Hulu and Netflix, or redirect users from one site to a competing site that pays the ISP or is otherwise favored by it.

Without net neutrality regulations, larger, wealthier companies can pay ISPs to give their sites faster, more reliable access than those of their competitors — potentially passing the costs on to users. This deters small businesses and innovative start-ups.

In general, ISPs oppose net neutrality, probably because they stand to make more money without these regulations. In contrast, more than 100 tech companies — including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Netflix, Vimeo, and Yahoo — support net neutrality regulations, citing their role in promoting innovation.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s telecommunications regulator, just ruled that Canadian ISPs cannot exempt certain kinds of content, such as streaming video, from counting toward a user’s data cap — a practice called “zero-rating.” The decision arose from a complaint against Videotron, a wireless carrier which operates mostly in Quebec.

In 2015, Videotron launched a promotional feature that allowed customers to stream music from services like Google Play Music and Spotify without it counting against a monthly data cap. This practice lets ISPs charge different prices based on the kinds of services or apps a person uses. This is similar to the sponsored data approach in which a company pays your ISP to exempt their service (and probably passes the cost on to you).

Supporters of differential pricing — including Videotron — say that the practice supports innovation and offers lower costs and more choice to consumers. However, consumer advocacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, disagree, arguing that these practices favor some kinds of internet activity over others in violation of net neutrality. The CRTC took the latter position in this case.

Net Neutrality Under Threat

Net neutrality remains under threat in the US. Net neutrality principles were passed in 2015, requiring American ISPs treat all Web traffic equally. This reform was major achievement of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the time it was led by Tom Wheeler, who has since been replaced by Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee. The net neutrality regulations were widely praised by open-Internet advocates and consumer groups. Many see them as central to a continued level playing field in terms of access to the internet.

Although Pai has stated that he believes in a free and open internet, he has also stated in a press interview that the government should not prevent businesses from offering free data plans, like those that are part of zero-rating schemes. Regarding net neutrality regulations in particular, he stated in a press conference: “During the Trump administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on the offense. We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”

“No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another.” -Netflix

The challenge for Pai will be overcoming the fact that current net neutrality regulations appear to be working. This means he will be in the difficult position of arguing that US courts should change their recent rulings without evidence that those rulings are causing problems. This could be a tough sell to judges. “There is a recognition from the industry that we can’t re-litigate every time there’s a new administration,” Harold Feld of the digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge told Wired.

“The key here is that it’s already been tested in the courts and the court upheld this,” Representative Anna G. Eshoo, (D-California) told The New York Times. “Ajit Pai is intelligent and genial, but he is not on the side of consumers and the public interest.”

Similarly, Pantelis Michalopoulos, who was involved in litigating a net neutrality case, told Law360 that Pai’s intention to repeal net neutrality regulations and instead get voluntary commitments from ISPs will still need a backup plan. “I think it sounds easier than it will turn out to be because the devil will be in the details.” He continued, “the very idea of a voluntary commitment raises a question of what would be in place if that voluntary commitment is not voluntarily made.”

While some doubt Pai will take this risk, other administration moves, such as repeated litigation of immigration bans and a signaled return to the healthcare issue, both undertaken without safety nets in place, seem to indicate that neither re-litigating issues nor proceeding without backup plans will be out of the question. Consumer advocacy groups are concerned about Pai’s net neutrality agenda. Craig Aaron, president of communications advocacy group Free Press, stated in his organization’s press release: “Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure. He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine.”

Privacy and the Internet of Things
Click to View Full Infographic

Netflix has stated that it is likely to be unaffected by the rollback of net neutrality regulations as a larger company, but that it supports the regulations on principle. “On a public policy basis, however, strong net neutrality is important to support innovation and smaller firms,” the company wrote in its quarterly earnings report in January. “No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another. We hope the new US administration and Congress will recognize that keeping the network neutral drives job growth and innovation.”

However, Pai and the FCC have already begun implementing their agenda. At the beginning of 2017, Pai released twelve actions that put net neutrality at risk, including the denial of federal subsidies under the FCC’s Lifeline program and the ending of investigations into zero-rating practices.

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” Matt Wood, consumer group Free Press policy director, stated in a press release from his organization. “The public wants an FCC that helps people,” he added. “Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

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This Is What Happens When HoloLens Meets Air Traffic Control

Airlines and their passengers rely on approximately 24,000 air traffic controllers to make sure planes take off and land safely. Currently, controllers use bulky computers and panels to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic. But HoloTower, new HoloLens software from 360 World, could free up space with customizable holographic 3D virtual panels.

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From the Makers of Final Fantasy, This VR Game Is Set to Release

Virtual reality continues to suffer from a lack of immersive gaming experiences, especially in the RPG genre. Million Arthur is an upcoming JRPG for the HTC Vive from Square Enix, the makers of Final Fantasy, that appears to have one of the most promising gameplay experiences for VR yet. The JRPG is coming to Japan in spring, but there’s no word yet on a potential western release.

The post From the Makers of Final Fantasy, This VR Game Is Set to Release appeared first on Futurism.

Get Ready. Ridley Scott Is Making a Terrifying New Alien VR Experience

Aliens in VR

As if the movies weren’t enough to give you chills, Ridley Scott, director of the sci-fi flick Alien, now wants to bring the horrific experience into virtual reality (VR). RSA Films, a production studio Scott co-founded, recently launched its dedicated, in-house VR division called RSA VR. According to the company’s short write up, this VR division won’t just be limited to VR. It will also include projects that explore augmented reality (AR) and other so-called mixed media.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
Click to View Full Infographic

Leading the helm in RSA VR is Jen Dennis, who was involved in Scott’s first VR foray. “I think VR is one of the most exciting areas in the industry today, with potential to influence how we consume content for generations to come,” she said in a prepared statement.

“I enjoy everything from assembling teams and forging partnerships to create, distribute and market VR content, to having an ongoing informative — and often inspirational dialogue — with colleagues in the space. I consider us in a unique position to undertake this with RSA’s talented roster of directors,” Dennis added.

Beyond Just Aliens

RSA VR’s first work will be set in the world of Scott’s latest addition to the Alien franchise, the upcoming Alien: Covenant. The VR division is working with Twentieth Century Fox’s FoxNext and Technicolor’s MPC to deliver this experience — and it may even involve keeping that baby alien from wrapping around your face.

Undoubtedly, VR’s gaming and entertainment applications are broad and varied, not to mention enjoyable. However, this technology isn’t just limited to fun and games. Already, VR is seeing wider, more real-life applications. These include assisting doctors in medical procedures and letting you tour the world. VR is also set to change social interaction, as social media giant Facebook is working towards bringing it to their platform. Even McDonalds is in on it. VR is changing how we interact with reality.

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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]
Click to View Full Infographic

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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Humans and Technology Are Becoming One, and It’s Changing Everything

Mental and Sensory Trickery

As machine learning produces virtual reality that feels more real than ever, the divide separating “human” and “machine” is shrinking. We are teaching AI to beat us at our own games, and it’s proving to be a limitlessly powerful student. The world in which the phrases “seeing is believing” and “show me” mean something is receding in the rearview mirror rapidly, giving way to a reality where you can’t always trust your sensory data. Which — like any other data — can be hacked or faked. Though, in this case it could be at your own direction — and to your advantage.

The human brain evolved to keep us safe in a world of predatory animals, deep, unnavigable waters, high cliffs, and sharp edges. Optimization for survival and reproduction of our genes demanded accurate sensory input, and generations of reliance on that data led to hard-wired fears that feel as real as anything we experience. Something moving fast at the periphery of your field of vision startles; the sight of a sheer drop opening into yawning space causes the heart to pound. Danger! Avoid, survive.

Now, we have learned that we can work, learn, and play at our highest levels by tricking our minds into perceiving what isn’t there. Like a wizened mentor, turning the lessons inward to the self, we shape the lesson and provide the interpretation for our own brains, translated into unmistakable sensory data. In other words, we provide ourselves with learning opportunities that are based in sensory experiences.

Smart sensory devices are changing the depth to which we experience virtual reality. Oculus earbuds, for example, along with acoustic filtration apps like H_ _ r provide a sense of true immersion in a virtual environment — something that’s only been recently made possible. It’s also possible now to smell things without a nose, thanks to advancements in “artificial olfaction” technology produced by companies like eNose. We can taste things that aren’t there and even “send” them to each other online for tasting. If these artificial sensory experiences were to work in tandem, we might not be able to tell the difference between virtuality and the real thing beyond actually telling ourselves what is real and what isn’t.

In fact, virtual experiences may soon provide more sensory data than we can get by any conventional means; an even more “realistic” experience than reality. This would be even more powerful, as TechCrunch points out, with the help of chemical stimulation strengthening the synapses that cement our memories.

The irony of relying on our brains to remind ourselves of what’s real—precisely because we know we won’t be able to trust whatever data our brains themselves come up with—is itself amusing. One of our most fascinating cyborg moments of the coming years may be the merging of technologies with the human body in the pursuit of more realistic virtual experiences.

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

Opening Up New Worlds

The implications of the abilities we’ve developed to trick our brains are more than amusing. They are changing the way we learn, work, and relate to each other as well, not to mention motivating us to learn how to recapture neuroplasticity and use it to our advantage. The quest for the perfect virtual experience is opening up new worlds for anyone who’d like to experience them.

Right now it’s possible to drive through sandcastles or map enemy territory. We are using VR to learn and teach, taking trips through museums, and learning how human organs work. VR is changing the way we work, too: easing pain for patients and allowing developers to prototype apps. Even porn is going virtual — because if we’re going to take work to the next level, play is definitely coming with it.

All of these things would be little more than novelties if our technologies were not so adept at tricking our sense. Thanks to better tech and improved sensory swindling, though, each of these virtual applications holds deeper meaning for us as a species.

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Witness the Remarkable Evolution of Animation in Video Games

We all love video games. Whether it’s a classic game like Mario Party or a mobile game like candy crush saga, everyone has their pick of the litter. But while video games provide us with a fun, light-hearted medium to escape our everyday lives, the industry itself is a behemoth. Just last year, the gaming industry made $91 billion in revenue from mobile, retail, and free-to-play games.

The industry itself is evolving with new innovations. From virtual reality so convincing that you might just vomit to AI interfaces that make computer opponents ruthless, we’re just beginning to realize the potential of gaming. But did anyone truly imagine the capacity for growth that we’ve seen in the gaming industry today, just 40 years after it all began?

Pong — 1972

While there were other “video games” before pong, they weren’t commercialized like the grandfather of all games. Atari’s arcade legend featured a two-dimensional, graphical representation of table tennis, with which players used paddles to hit the ball back and forth until someone scored. The arcade version of Pong was so successful that Bushnell, Atari’s developer, pushed for a home console that could connect to the television, marking the beginning of what was to come.

Donkey Kong — 1981

Nintendo’s Donkey Kong brought something new to the table. While the giant ape took the role of the villain, the main character was at the time known as Jumpman — but we would recognize him today to be the one and only, Mario. The birth of Mario and the immersive gameplay set the precedent for future games.

Doom — 1993

Doom provided an entirely different experience for users. The graphical interface offered immersive three-dimensional gameplay while also inspiring many other first-person shooter games after it. The science-fiction horror game is considered to be one of the most influential games in history.

Halo: Combat Evolved — 2001

Microsoft’s Halo is almost like a rite of passage for gamers today. The multiplayer, military science fiction, first-person shooter is universally praised for it’s mastery of gameplay and graphics and continues to captivates users even today.

Final Fantasy XIII — 2009

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series is known to blow fans’ minds with its graphical interface. Final Fantasy is a role-playing video game that allows players to roam in an open world, battle enemies, and customize their own characters. The progress in photo-realistic facial effects is prominent in the video game series.

The Witcher 3 — 2015

The action role-playing game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, gave us far more depth than just great graphics. The characters in the game spoke volumes just by nuances in their gestures. The body language of the characters often told part of the story, and players were only able to pick up on the atmosphere of the conversation once they paid close attention to the details packed in with the impressive graphics.

Brookhaven Experiment — 2016

When you combine impressive graphics with horror virtual reality (VR) games, you get The Brookhaven Experiment. The game is terrifying on its own, but VR survival horror game might just make you wet your pants as it pushes us into a new generation of video game graphics that surround us.

Magic Leap — 2017?

This augmented reality (AR) video game promises to mix reality with — you guessed it — magic! The game makers claim to be developing a head-mounted device virtual retinal display that overlays the game’s graphics onto the real world, but they have been experiencing delays for years. We don’t know when Magic Leap will finally be available to the public, but its demos have some gamers excited to try it.

Our progress in developing video game animations is astounding, so much so that it helped bolster billionaire Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX, in his claim that we’re living in a simulation. The overwhelming progress in photo-realistic effects in such a short timespan makes you ponder what humans will be able to develop in the years ahead.

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Superpowers Are Coming to the Digital World

When IMAX announced its plans to create virtual reality (VR) experience centers all over the world, the future of increasingly immersive movie-viewing experiences began to take shape. Now that IMAX has opened the first of those dedicated VR experience centers in Los Angeles, that future has become a reality.

Image credit: IMAX VR
Image credit: IMAX VR

For its first film undertaking, IMAX is partnering with Warner Bros. to give movie-goers a super-sized cinematic experience using several upcoming superhero flicks as the catalyst. “It’s fitting that with Imax and Warner Bros.’ shared history of launching Hollywood movies in Imax theaters, today we’re entering into our first studio deal to bring VR to the multiplex,” IMAX Corp CEO Richard L. Gelfond told The Drum. The deal includes the highly anticipated “Justice League” and “Aquaman” superhero franchise films.

This is Year One—The Dawn of Virtual Reality
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“This type of premium content will introduce audiences to virtual reality in standalone and multiplex-based Imax VR centers as well as other platforms,” Gelfond added. While details are still sparse, we know that the IMAX VR Experience Center utilizes both the HTC Vive and the Starbreeze 210 degree StarVR hardware.

The coming of VR movies is just one of the ways this technology is transforming how we see the world and how we tell stories — a film created for VR even got an Oscar nomination this year. Clearly, VR has moved beyond just video games to now change how we all, gamers and non-gamers alike, can experience reality.

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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
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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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Now, You Can Send Lemonade Over the Internet

Electric Lemonade

Using a system of electrodes and sensors, researchers at the National University of Singapore can digitally transmit the basic look and taste of lemonade to a plain glass of water. The team used color and pH sensors to capture the lemony hue and acidity of fresh lemonade, and then transmitted the data to electrodes surrounding the plain water. The drinker’s taste buds were stimulated with electricity from the receiving electrodes, and LED lights mimicked the lemon color as they drank what tasted like lemonade.

The concept behind the concept (inevitably conjuring up the dystopian future of The Matrix) is simply to allow people to get online to share sensory experiences when they’re apart.

“People are always posting pictures of drinks on social media—what if you could upload the taste as well? That’s the ultimate goal,” says researcher Nimesha Ranasinghe.

VR and Shared Experiences

The team tested the digital tumbler with 13 tasters who didn’t know whether the lemonade was real or not. The tested lemonades were either cloudy white, green, or yellow. First the volunteers learned to rest their tongue on the tumbler’s rim as they drank — this contact allowed them to benefit from the electrical stimulation. Then, they tested the drinks and rated each one based both how sour it appeared and how sour it actually tasted.

On average, the tasters reported that the real lemonade tasted more sour than the virtual lemonade. However — perhaps because of the brightness of the LEDs — they perceived the virtual cloudy lemonade to be more sour based on its color alone. Recognizing the inherent limitations of any attempt to imitate a taste profile without scent, the team plans develop a way to simulate olfaction as well. As Ranasinghe says:

“We’re working on a full virtual cocktail with smell, taste and color all covered. We want to be able to create any drink.”

Social media sharing is really just the tip of the iceberg for this kind of technology. Virtual drinks could help people enjoy sugary drinks without experiencing the impact on their blood sugar or teeth, or even have an alcoholic drink without becoming intoxicated. More than that, though, this new tech is transforming how we interact with one another and share experiences. Many social media platforms are already embracing the idea: Facebook acquired Oculus with the vision of VR serving as a new platform for immersive communication. Ideally, this would allow us to share more than memories with our friends and families online: we could experience new things together — even when we’re geographically apart.

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Scientists Just Created Stunning “Warped Worlds” in Virtual Reality

Through two papers released on the arXiv.org preprint server last month, topologist Henry Segerman and his team of collaborators previewed a software the explores a curved universe free of the ordinary rules of geometry. Now, they have released the software so that anyone with a virtual reality (VR) headset can experience that universe for themselves.

Curved spaces feel counterintuitive, but they hold important implications for mathematics, seismology, and Einstein’s theory of relativity as it pertains to gravitational waves. The release of this software means that anyone with a VR device can explore these kinds of spaces for research.

“You can think about it, but you don’t get a very visceral sense of this until you actually experience it,” Elisabetta Matsumoto, a Georgia Institute of Technology physicist and Segerman’s collaborator at Hyperbolic VR, told Nature.

Transforming Our World

Our Virtual Future: The Virtual Reality Headsets of Today and Tomorrow
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VR is set to transform our world in countless ways, from how we tell each other stories to how we interact. VR has made it possible to conduct surgeries that are eerily realistic without ever making an incision. It’s taking ultrasounds to the next level, teaching people how to play musical instruments, and even making cardio more enjoyable. If you’re a gamer, you can now use a VR suit with 16 haptic zones to feel every jolt and landed punch in your game.

VR is peerless when it comes to exploring worlds that would otherwise be inaccessible. You can take a tour of the International Space Station or explore a sandcastle you built. VR is even changing playtime, from Tiny Wheels and Domino Craft VR games to realistic VR pornography.

Next, VR could help mathematicians achieve new breakthroughs by empowering them to see exotic geometries in new ways. Visualizing fractals led mathematicians to discover their underlying mathematics, and now, Matsumoto hopes visualizing exotic geometries through this VR software will be useful as well.

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Fallout 4 in Virtual Reality Will “Blow Your Mind”

When Bethesda showed a limited demo of “Fallout 4” in virtual reality (VR) during the 2016 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it impressed gaming critics and enthusiasts alike. Not only would any first-person shooter game in a VR format be noteworthy, this was an installment in the acclaimed “Fallout” series. It was enough to get any gamer’s trigger finger twitching — or, in this case, pulling a virtual trigger.

7 Incredibly Ambitious Virtual Reality Projects
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For this year’s E3, Bethesda has promised not just a limited demo of the successful open-world, first-person shooter game, but a complete and uncompromised “Fallout 4” experience with a VR treatment. This has been confirmed by both Bethesda game designer Todd Howard and marketing VP Peter Hines.

“We have an opportunity to make something really unique. We’d rather do that than make some other tiny experience,” Howard told Upload last November. “I don’t think that’s what people want from us.”

Changing More Than Just Gaming

More recently, in an on-camera interview with gaming personality Hip Hop Gamer, Hines again confirmed “Fallout 4 VR.” He also claimed that Howard told him it would be “the craziest thing you’ve ever seen” and revealed that the game would be ready to demo at E3:

I talked to Todd the other day and I was like, ‘Hey how’s Fallout 4 [VR] coming?’ and he said, ‘Pete, Fallout 4 VR is the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen in your life. You can’t even imagine what it’s like playing in VR and how realistic it looks with everywhere you turn your head. It’s gonna blow your mind.’ […] We will have it at E3.

“Fallout 4 VR” is expected to come out for the HTC Vive this year. When it does, it will be the first open-world game that’s been overhauled for a full-blown VR experience at that scale.

While gaming is the most common application for VR, it certainly isn’t the only one. Recently, VR has been used in the fields of healthcare and medicine — it’s even helped a blind person see for the first time. It’s also been used to help with criminal investigations, teach students, and train astronauts for missions. People can now do everything from tour their future kitchens to explore Google Earth in VR, so while development of the technology itself may be coming in trickles, it is definitely helping people experience the world in ways they’ve never been able to before.

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