Rob-SwattonAt the time of this interview, Rob Swatton was the Research & Development Manager at Earth & Sky Ltd, which is an New Zealand-based astronomy organization. They do public outreach and education at Earth & Sky as well as scientific research into discovering exoplanets through a technique called microlensing.

In his R&D role, Rob was brainstorming different ways that virtual reality could be used in helping the visitors get a better understanding of our universe, but also potentially help with the process of discovering new exoplanets through distributed pattern recognition like SETI@home, but with people’s brains.

He sees that VR could help us visualization processes that happen on a grand time scale that span billions of years. There are visualizations of scale, distance, and time that transcend our metaphors and abilities to describe to people. Most of these visualizations are either really esoteric or rely upon complex mathematical models that are difficult for the public to fully comprehend. Rob speculates that perhaps VR could help show the process of a galaxy forming, how a nebula creates new stars, or what a black hole would look like. It’d be like a timelapse visualization that spans over billions of years.

Rob also imagines that some of the VR experiences would benefit from having an interactive guide to help explain difficult concepts. A visitor would be able to see a concept within VR, but also have an expert on hand to be able to ask questions about it as the experience unfolded.

One of the more speculative ideas that Rob had was thinking about how VR could make the process of exoplanet discovery more interactive with crowd-sourced pattern recognition tasks that people could do at home. He would imagine something along the lines of what SETI@home is doing with distributed cloud computing, but doing it with people’s brains.

They would likely have to do some type of filtering or symbolic translation of the raw data to be able to have the public understand the concepts and what they’re looking for. So it’d be a balance between making it accessible to more people to understand conceptually versus maintaining the integrity of the data.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions for how something like this would actually play out and be implemented in practice, but it’s an interesting idea to be able to crowd-source pattern recognition in order to help with different scientific research endeavors. One example of where this is already happening is with the Fold It game, which has been able to gamify the process of protein folding while at the same time allow people to contribute to scientific research.

Rob says that you wouldn’t necessarily need VR in order to search for the data analysis and number crunching within the raw data of how gravitational effects bends light in this microlensing process for exoplanet discovery. But it’s something where VR could just make the process more compelling to participate in.

Learn more about some of the ideas for how VR could be applied for education and scientific research by listening to this interview with Rob.

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Didrik-SteinssonDiðrik Steinsson has a vision of a future where virtual reality headsets can provide a more ideal work environment. MureVR is creating VR workplace environments that are designed to eliminate stress and increase productivity with the help of environmental psychologists.

There’s been a trend within the tech industry to replace isolated offices with more open environments. MureVR’s website cautions that, “the benefits of an open collaborative workspace are paid with concentration difficulty and less privacy as well as increased level of stress. This is the problem we aim to solve.”

Diðrik talks about collaborating with environmental psychologists to create VR environments that reduce stress, use the best colors depending on what task is being done, and creating tailored spaces that address specific needs and aesthetics.

One open question is how much the social stigma and perceived isolation of wearing virtual reality goggles will play out within the corporate environment. One the one hand, it may actually decrease unnecessary disruptions and allow people to be more focused and productive. One the other hand, there are potential negative perceptions and impact of using virtual reality headsets within an environment and context in which you’re expected to be social and interact with your co-workers as a part of the helping each other and sharing knowledge.

That said, anyone who works in an open office can attest to how much headphones are used to socially isolate yourself from the chaos of your surroundings, and so perhaps wearing a VR headset would just be another level of making it that much more explicit.

Listen in to our conversation we explore using VR to take breaks and increase productivity within your virtual workplace environment.

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patrick-martinOne of the most compelling use cases for Virtual Reality is going to sharing social experiences with your friends and family. Patrick Martin is a developer on the Synergy mod Development Team, which is a popular co-op mod for Half-Life 2 and other Source 2 engine games.

He talks about adding VR support to Synergy, and how it makes the first-person narrative experience of a Half-Life 2 a lot more engaging and interactive when you’re playing it with other friends. There are ways that they can make the gameplay more challenging to the point where it’d be impossible to complete the game alone whether it’s by adding more enemies or making the ones that are there stronger.

I imagine that we’ll start to see more casual games in VR that will be primarily about facilitating social interactions with your friends, but in a way that’s more engaging than other ways of connecting online.

Here’s some instructions for getting VR working with Synergy co-op mod for Half Life 2, and you can find out more information on the SynergyMod website.

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StefanPernar-SVVRStefan Pernar of Virtual Reality Ventures has looked into the industry sectors that he thinks will be the most disrupted by these new immersive technologies. He’s looked through over a thousand peer-reviewed research articles and narrowed the list of industries down to tourism, construction, engineering, data visualization, healthcare, education, retail & fashion, events, real estate & architecture, as well as marketing.

At SVVRCon, Stefan was showing some detailed infographics that provided research into how each of these sectors will be changed by AR and VR, and Virtual Reality Ventures has started the process of prototyping experiences that can provide a proof of concept as they evangelize the power of immersive technologies to business leaders.

Virtual Reality Ventures is focused on creating enterprise-ready VR applications ranging from tourism to fashion to construction workflow and across all the industry sectors. They’ve integrated the Magento e-commerce solution with Unity so that users can eventually use a scanned avatar of themselves so that they can virtually try on different outfits. He sees a large potential for VR being a part of the $2 trillion fashion industry.

Finally, Stefan reflects on how far SVVRCon has come over the last year, some of his future plans, and how he’s really looking forward to some of the healthcare and tourism applications of VR.

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MarkParkerDoing text and data entry into virtual or augmented reality can be a challenge since it’s difficult to see or find the keyboard. It’s an open problem within the VR space, and so people started suggesting to Mark Parker that his handheld TREWGrip keyboard might provide a solution for these immersive technologies.

TREWGrip is a mobile keyboard that places the QWERTY layout of letters onto the opposite side of a handheld, bluetooth device. It also includes a gyroscope so that you could control the movement of a mouse. It was originally created for mobile text entry into a phone or tablet, but the handheld nature of the device has the potential to work of mobile AR or VR applications as well.

Mark was an exhibitor at SVVCon showing on the TREWGrip mobile QWERTY keyboard to the VR community, and we had a change to catch up to talk about some of the features and history of the keyboard. You can purchase a TREWGrip keyboard for $299.

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Sebastian-KuntzSébastien Kuntz is the founder of MiddleVR, which is a middleware VR solution that integrates the latest VR input controller and tracking technologies into platforms like Unity and Unreal Engine, as well as some of the higher-end VR tracking solutions that are used in academia and industry.

Sébastien was on a couple of panels at IEEE VR talking about open source vs. closed source middleware solutions as well as the future of consumer VR. He sees a future where it’ll be more of a mixed reality with some augmented reality combined with virtual reality. Telepresence will be one of those killer apps that he’s really looking forward to.

He also sees that the projection-based VR solutions aren’t going to go away because they are really compelling for industry to collaborate together on, but that you can keep increasing the resolution fidelity by adding more and more projectors to the system.

One of the things that MiddleVR is doing to differentiate itself from the initiatives from OSVR is start to implements some of the 3D user interface best practices within their solution. They’re have a variety of comfortable locomotion techniques as well as object selection and manipulation that includes an implementation of the HOMER technique. HOMER stands for Hand-centered Object Manipulation Extending Ray-casting technique, and it’s from a 1997 paper from Doug Bowman and others.

Finally, talks about some of the experiences that MiddleVR is creating and some of their future plans.

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Maximilian-LandeckMaximilian Landeck is a student in the HCI Group at the University of Würzburg, and he presented a poster at IEEE VR conference investigating the impacts of avatar embodiment on virtual fitness training. He was initially interested in seeing whether or not the fidelity of the avatar from photorealistic to stylized and from human-like to not human-like had an impact on their performance in a virtual fitness scenario.

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He used a Kinect to capture the movements of the participant’s bodies, and the projected that onto a screen so that it was mirroring their movements. He found that the human-like avatars invoked the virtual body ownership illusion more than the non-humanoid avatars such as having spheres for hands. He didn’t find any significant difference in performance based upon the fidelity of the avatars, but he did find that the non-realistic avatars that looked stronger and more fit avatars had participants report that they felt like they had more power. This is a surprising result that he intends on exploring more in future research.

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Robyn Gray and Michael Murdock talk about the spectrum of experiences that they’ve created at Otherworld Interactive, which includes horror, music, social, educational, and room-scale.

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michael-murdock

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Kevin-Williams2The major players within the consumer virtual reality space seem to be settling in with Valve & HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony Morpheus, Samsung Gear VR, & Google Cardboard. However, none of these HMD manufacturers have expressed any interest in producing a more ruggedized version that could withstand being used by VR arcades or theme parks.

There’s still a market for VR HMD manufactures to fill the needs of the digital, out-of-home entertainment needs of that range from location-based VR arcades, theme park attractions, 4D driving and flight simulators, and other experiential VR attractions.

Kevin Williams is the founder and director of the out-of-home leisure entertainment consultancy KWP Limited, and he’s collaborating with ImmersiON-VRelia to produce a ruggedized VR HMD called the BluSky Pro. Kevin produces a comprehensive newsletter following this space at The Stinger Report. He’s also written an extensive book on the history and current state of the DOE space called The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier: Expanding Interactive Boundaries in Leisure Facilities. Kevin and I dove into that book in a lot more detail in this previous interview.

I had a chance to catch up with Kevin at SVVRCon, which was just a few weeks after The VOID first got announced, which is VR laser tag experience based out of Pleasant Grove, UT. They’re building virtual worlds onto actual environments, and using their own customized untethered mobile VR HMD solution with body tracking.

As an example for how Kevin tracks these developments, here’s an excerpt from his latest Stinger Report newsletter talking about The VOID:

Focusing on a growing interest in “room-scale” VR experiences and a move towards considering an Out-of-Home approach – and just as we were putting the current Stinger to bed – announcements were made from a new Salt Lake City-based start-up. The concept called The VOID (“Vision Of Infinite Dimensions”) proposes to develop what has been dubbed Virtual Reality Entertainment Center (VREC) that will take guests through specially developed environments corresponding to the visuals and movements tracked on specialist head-mounted displays (HMD) and motion-tracking suits. This is stated as being a new development in the field of out-of-home entertainment and free-roaming virtual reality.

This is the latest in a number of new start-ups proposing the development of virtual environments (covered under the VREC acronym for now) where players can immersive themselves in virtual worlds in special environments tailored to their activities. The Salt Lake City start-up proposes to develop some 80 centers round the USA, with the first venue to open in 2017 in their home town. Players pay their fee, estimated at around $35, and once they have donned their backpack ‘Rapture’ HMD will traverse specially developed environments with the surroundings that correspond with the visuals. The company also plans to offer flight simulators using the same principle.

It was revealed exclusively to The Stinger Report, in contact with MaxFlight the leading manufacturer of a range of fully interactive simulators that can perform 360 degree motion over two axes, that the company has been approached by those behind The VOID, towards the development of a special two-rider version of their popular ‘FS3000′ platform, which will also include yaw and heave. This special version of the company’s simulator will be part of the facility being developed by the company, and is expected to be a considerable part of the overall VR experience – players using the proposed HMD while riding the motion simulator…

It is now obvious from the developments in and popularity of new entertainment technology concepts (such as The VOID) that we are on the cusp of a new era of development that could lead to a new approach to location-based entertainment (LBE) – what some have described as a rebirth of an arcade-style experience. We are seeing the creation of a brand new approach, and as the traditional amusement trade convulses, there is a possibility that some in amusement may be able to make the transition, though it is speculated that the majority have played their hand and will reap the results. What happens next will shape everything.

If you’d like to read more, then click here to send an e-mail to subscribe to Kevin’s The Stinger Report newsletter.

Kevin says that he expects to hear a lot more VR-related technology announcements happen at the The International Association of Amusement Parks Attractions Expo (IAAPA) that’s coming up in November. Some of the other big conferences that he’s tracking in this space include CinemaCon, Digital Hollywood, Augmented World Expo (AWE), Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Asian Attraction Expo (AAE), and the Park Avenue Openday.

Kevin seemed surprised that he’s starting to hear more about these types of digital, out-of-home VR arcade experiences like The VOID showing up in this phase of VR. Kevin has been involved in the VR scene since 1994, and he sees that we’re currently in the fourth phase of VR. The first phase was in 1968 with Ivan Sutherland’s Sword of Damocles, then Virtual VPL phase, then Jonathan Waldern’s Virtuality machines, and now we’re at the fourth phase that started with Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift. But he expects that we’ll continue to hear more about these types of VR arcade experiences, and so if you’re interested in learning more or talking about your own ideas then feel free to reach out to Kevin at kwp@thestingerreport.com

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Ariel-AriasAriel Arias has been creating futuristic sci-fi worlds since he was 10 years old. For the past 20 years, he’s been writing novels, RPG books, comics, and now he’s making video games and virtual reality experiences.

The Hum Universe is a first-person horror alien invasion game that has a beautifully crafted world. The first installment of The Hum explores one of Ariel’s childhood phobias of Alien abductions. His Totwise Studios team is using the Unreal Engine 4, and the preliminary gameplay footage looks stunning:

Ariel attempted a Kickstarter for The Hum, and eventually received support from Rothenberg Ventures to be a part of the first class of River’s incubated VR projects.

You can download a proof of concept demo of The Hum from Oculus share, or via their website here.

Here’s a more detailed introduction to the story of the project:

You can find more development updates and videos on the Totwise YouTube channel or on The Hum Universe website.

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Here’s a playthrough video of The Hum demo by Nathie: