Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick - How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game - A Quick Look at a Recent White Paper

Last semester, for my VUB master in Journalism studies, I wrote a White Paper called Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick - How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game. I'm currently working on a master thesis about immersive storytelling, VR/360 and empathy, so the White Paper felt like a logical, first step in the VR-in-Journalism discovery direction.

This week, it's been published on the Journalism Trends & Technologies Medium page. You can find my White Paper here.

Below is a summary of what you can find out from the paper,

but feel free to read the complete paper if the topic interests you!

Despite VR’s numerous shortcomings, stakeholders in the journalism field must keep their eyes on the VR market and be ready for its possible impact.

  1. If you need or want to get an overview of the current issues facing VR in the journalism sector, the content herein can help you do that. It will give you a brief view on the history of VR and take you through the pressing issues such as hardware, content, audience behavior and awareness and monetization challenges.
  2. If you are in the news industry, VR sceptic or not, we urge you to stay alert to the various technological trends and disruptions. This paper can help you do that.
  3. Though virtual reality might be the least of your newsroom worriesright now, knowing its current position in the media market will give you a competitive edge. This paper will suggest ways to stay open to VR.
  4. You will not get a detailed breakdown of the latest VR technology, content and statistical projections. With varied and inconsistent predictions coming from all sorts of directions, you would be better suited to set your Google alerts on “VR” to get up to date number crunching and tech development information, as needed. This paper will, however, give you indications about trends and prepare you for the VR vocabulary, going beyond just the notions.

 

Below is a quick view of what you should know!

What You Should Know about the Ongoing Challenges in VR

1. Clunky, costly, non-portable headsets have plagued the VR market. Recent announcements about soon-to-be released products are getting people excited as annoying cables disappear, prices drop as standalone versionsenter the market making mobile and desktops less necessary. The vast divide in quality and price will remain among cheap, cardboard viewers, mid-range ones and high-tech, high-cost headsets. All will offer different VR experiences though only some will provide truly immersive ones. Lack of speed and bandwith are also technical issues, among many others, that still pose problems for smooth VR use.

2. Content continues to be a problem for VR as there simply isn’t enough of it to go around to keep consumers coming back for more. The early adoptersand innovators are offering a continuous supply of compelling content, but not enough to drive, let alone sustain, the VR market. As the headsets get better and cheaper, the content must keep coming or none of it will matter.

3. Monetization models are unclear and profit seems far off in VR, especially due to the combination of high equipment and production costs. Dabbling in low-end, less quality 360° VR is a money-saving option, but many wonder why bother if it ultimately won’t keep users engaged due to its limitations.

4. Digital disruption, some say, is an ongoing hurdle for the news industryand a “new” medium such as VR will need time to find its place in the crowdedmobile-focused media market. Why bring in a new, visual medium, when many newsrooms are just finally figuring out how to pivot to video, how to create data journalism teams and graphics and how to handle social media?

5. Audience behavior on VR is hard to measure as there are limited dataavailable and too few user studies until now. VR has been mostly associated with gaming and gamers until now, who haven’t necessarily been considered a viable news audience yet. The news industry needs to get a better grasp on the potential of VR in the future as today’s young gamers might be tomorrow’s engaged citizens.

6. Storytelling methods need rewriting for VR. Not all stories are meant for the medium. A new narrative requires different framing, literally and figuratively. Design thinking and multidisciplinary teams might be necessary to create good VR experiences. This can be costly for newsrooms, with little return. The VR stories so far that people are talking about have mostly revolved around struggle and oppression. Some argue that we shouldn’t forget about VR’s entertainment value, which probably brings more profit possibilities with it.

7. Ethical questions arise with any new medium and newsrooms struggle to redefine codes and practices while maintaining standards such as truth, transparency and fairness. Virtual Reality offers a new format that changes the role and positioning of the journalist and user. With these new roles come new challenges.

And below you can see a summary of how to prepare for the future of VR in Journalism.

 

What You Need to Do to Prepare for Upcoming Opportunities in VR

1. The absolute minimum a newsroom should do is keep a close watch onhow its regional, national and global competitors are approaching the Virtual Reality market. What you don’t know, can hurt you, so make sure to know. Eventually, the news industry will have to come together and share knowledge on VR issues.

2. Good partnerships are often essential in VR creation and distribution. While looking at the competition’s relationship with VR, try to get an idea of whom they work with to make VR happen. Imagine if your news organization wanted to look further into VR production or publishing, consider with which partners you could possibly combine resources.

3. Speaking of collaborations, keep in mind that journalism schools are trying to get their heads around the future of VR as well. Working together with them on ideas and action in VR could lead to innovation and help you keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to VR.

4. For those who don’t really get VR, in order to understand VR, you have to try VR. Even if you can only get your hands on a cheap, cardboard VR viewer, it will be worth it. There is no sense in being a sceptic without doing a little experimenting with VR first. Go through the motions that your audience would. Get a feeling for VR before deciding it is not for you or your newsroom.

5. While you have that headset in hand, a next, easy step is to have a good look at what kind of VR content already exists in the media-related field, what kind of stories are being told through it and which approaches are and are not effective and appealing.

6. Now that you’ve experienced a little journalistic VR magic and VR trash, it’s a good moment to look beyond the journalism field and see how VR is being used elsewhere. Not only will such content be an eye opener, it might also inspire ideas for news coverage. Virtual Reality is spreading through many sectors and can be game-changing within certain fields. There are numerous stories there. Sharing them is a good way to create VR awareness and media literacy among your audience.

7. Get to know about your potential VR audience. Who are they and what expectations do they have? VR might not take off for a while, but try to figure out who will be using it and how when it does. Turn to existing and upcoming VR user research or conduct your own. Not all VR users are news consumers yet but they will be. Be ready for them.

Thanks for reading! Find the complete paper here  if you want to know more!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Making the Unknown Known & the Past Present via High-Tech Image Capture & VR

Making it possible for people to walk through history and see significant places and objects layered with stories of the past is one way VR and AR can capture the world and open it up for discovery and exploration.

While a picture is worth a thousand words, an immersive VR experience is worth a million.

I have been testing VR/360° content for the last couple of months and have really enjoyed visiting places I could or would never go and learning about topics I might have ignored otherwise - all in a much more immersive and compelling way than viewing pictures, video or text. I recently visited the White House and sort of hung out with the Obamas thanks to the virtual tour they gave me, providing a lot of information about the historic objects they pointed out along the way. It truly felt like a privilege  - Barack, Michelle and I strutting through all these important rooms in this iconic building. I felt present and the experience remains memorable.

The same goes for the immersive tour of one of the previous space shuttles via the VR experience via Light Fields I took part in a couple of weeks ago. It's not really interactive or anything super dynamic, but I got into it quickly and felt like I was as close to being there and seeing things right before my eyes as I ever could be. I knew more about space discovery after the virtual tour than before and I felt like sharing all the details with family and friends, just like I do when at a museum or on an informative tour. The only bad part - which truly felt odd and a little annoying even - was that I couldn't take pictures. It's weird - but when you start feeling immersed, that urge to capture what you're seeing to share with others is strong for those of us addicted to taking photos with our phones. You see such urges and addictions are already being "solved" in experiences like Facebook Spaces, where you can use a virtual selfie stick to take a virtual selfie. Adding that kind of ability to a 360° experience wouldn't be possible - but hopefully it will in VR content as it improves. At least in this day and age, such extras would add to the experience and create sharing and social possibilities, which might increase the interest and use of VR and AR heritage and history apps. Lets' face it, for a lot of people, if there's no picture to post of cool stuff you've seen, it didn't happen! ;-)

If you have a decent headset and are interested in US history, try out the White House experience I mentioned above yourself below or via the Oculus shop (for free). Again, it's not very interactive but it does manage to let you to feel like you are sort of there and see things in a less-distant way, while hearing the stories behind them by the former president and first lady themselves.

In the below video, you can also get an idea of the Light Fields experience (I mentioned above regarding the space shuttle tour), which could become a powerful way to explore heritage sites. The image quality gets better and better due to high-tech cameras (GoPro Odyssey Jump with 16 rotating cameras) that capture light in an extraordinary way. You can see an example of the cameras at work in the video and get a taste of several visually and historically significant locations.

The big news on VR in heritage this week came from none other than the mighty Google thanks to its new Open Heritage Project.

Working with the non-profit company CyArk, Google hopes to preserve important places that might not be around forever and make them accessible to the you's and the me's of the world from our living rooms, work desks and classrooms, rather than just at museums. This isn't a particularly new idea, though it is a noble one of course. Google probably has more money and power to hopefully make the project into something valuable, powerful and significant. You can see a lot of professional, semi-pro and starter 3D -VR heritage work via sites like Sketchfab, which is worth a look. Google and CyArk will bring such  photos and renders to life thanks to laser scanning, photogrammetry and LiDAR technology that CyArk is using.

Watch this video to see how "we are losing the story of where we came from" thanks to "natural disasters and human conflict" and how Google, CyArk and so many other 3D and VR content producers are trying to help us hold on to what is or will be lost by capturing it and sharing it with us in an immersive and memorable way. Right now, there are 27 heritage sites you can explore via the Open Heritage project, with more surely on their way.

Photogrammetry is essential to capturing high quality images, which are vital to creating immersive and rich heritage, history and travel experiences in VR. Such experiences can be extremely useful for education - and to achieve a deep view and the feeling of being present. It's easy to imagine the limitless possibilities as the image capturing and rendering, as well as headsets, content, computing power and memory, continue to develop and improve. If you want to know more about what CyArk is doing and about the power of photogrammetry, here's a just under 30 minute inteview with CyArk from February 2018. You can also see more of their heritage creations here. Just to be clear, LiDAR image capturing technology is far more accurate, especially for heritage projects, but it's too expensive technology for most projects. In the video, the guys from CyArk explain the LiDAR definitely serves their heritage projects better (so luckily they have now teamed up with Google who can afford it ;-)) - but that photogrammetry is good enough for general VR usage. Have a look at this article to get some info on the difference.

Going back to outer space, below you can see some takeaways from a January 2018 presentation by Charles White, a JPL’s Knowledge Management Specialist for the Office of the Chief Engineer. White talks about "Virtual Heritage: Knowledge Management in VR" during the "Virtual and Augmented Reality for Space Science and Exploration" symposium at the Keck Institute for Space Studies. Even though it's mostly about VR uses for space simulation, discovery and practice, White draws our attention away from "project management" and turns to "knowledge management." He looks at VR storytelling as the modern-day campfire, with people sharing stories, knowledge and experience.

Scroll down for the full presentation via video and have a quick view at some of the slides below. There's a lot of food for thought about how VR can preserve, create, stimulate, make it easy to collaborate - and how "experience" is the key to knowledge and learning. VR can help us experience places and stories that are out of our reach, such as outer space, underwater worlds, war-torn monuments, far-off lands and buried treasures, just to name a few.

 

Storytelling was the first way to be "immersed" in a virtual environment.

Stories transfer knowledge to others in order to survive.

 

Can you see what I see? We are telling stories...

We are getting more value - We are saving money!

Learning is experience. Everything else is just information. ― Albert Einstein

There's a lot more to be said about using VR for heritage - and using AR, which down the line will probably be much more important and interactive. Keep your eyes open for evolutions in not only VR but also AR and heritage.

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Can VR & AR Help Sport Teams & Consumers Reach their Goals?

It's not hard to imagine how VR and AR could enhance the experience of people watching sports from their living room couches or even from within the stadium itself. Put a headset on and be transported to the field and feel like you're right in the middle of the action. With AR, it could be more of a social experience - a group of friends using their phones to add layers to their experience. Right now, as with any VR and AR discussion, the headsets and the content are not yet at the top of their game. We all know that practice makes perfect and that sport is definitely one of the sectors in which money can be made, meaning it could be one of the first, alongside other entertainment, to really take off in the consumer market for VR and AR. Some say that sport will be the driving force in getting everyday people interested in immersive experiences, especially when they are social ones.

Back in 2015 (and many years before, after  and to come), thanks partially to a Time Magazine cover and story, there were predictions and proclamations that VR could really become a major consumer product. Best of all, there were a lot of memes going around of the boy on the cover in every sport and entertainment pose (and more...).

And this funny one from this article.

Sport teams and organizations and news and entertainment platforms are clearly taking VR and AR more seriously these days. Charlie Fink, a Forbes writer focused on VR and AR trends and tech who you can follow via various forms of Fink Metaverse, sees investments in sport tech going up and sport as a market leader in the field. In a recent article in The Independent, Fink said that AR, for example, will make sport matches come to life on tables at pubs, allowing "spectators" to gather around with their friends, pulling up players and their stats.

PCR, which covers the Computing sector and  published an AR/VR special in early March, writes that watching sports from the comfort of your home yet with the feel of a stadium will become more common as the quality continues to improve. PCR says that NextVR is one of the companies that's working hard on transporting fans to arenas via quality headsets and experiences.

In the below video, you can get an idea of what content NextVR offers.

Or - have a look at this guy's visual description and review, in which you can also see eveything you will need to actually watch NextVR sports in an immersive way. I just wonder if NextVR paid this guy to make his video as at one point he says, "Who needs to pay 2 grand to sit court side." You can hear how happy he is as he says it so either he truly loves it or he's earning 2 grand for doing the video :-).

For transparency purposes, I should let you know that I am earning nothing for this article (other than a master degree, maybe) and that I tried out NextVR for several hours this week. Though after 5 minutes the foam on the mixed reality headset had me sweating as if I were actually doing heavy sports, I have to admit that I was truly drawn in to the semi-immersive experience of watching everything from soccer to football to big-wheeled trucks in mud to entertaining wrestling - from the corner of the boxing ring. Tennis, I'm sorry to say, put me straight to sleep. I know very little about sports but could still really get into almost everything I was watching. It felt different from watching sports on TV. The ever-so-slight immersion thanks to 360° cameras and / or stereoscopic ones gave the experience more depth. I felt much closer to the players and to the spectators. I enjoyed having a bird's eye view of hard-working, impressive muscles and amazingly weird bodies. I loved seeing the face of the person who scored close up right after it happened. It also felt very flat at times, but the "experience" was enough to make me want more.

It needs to be said, time and time again, that 360° is not VR and VR is not 360°. With that said, they get mixed together so frequently that it's hard to differentiate them. The most basic explanation is that 360° allows for pretty passive experiences whereas VR should permit more interactive ones, such as teleportation, etc... VR experiences, for the moment, are more game-like in terms of look and feel. 360° experiences are based on video being filmed with a 360° camera. There are also stereoscopic experiences that can be mistaken for VR or 360°. Again - basically - those are filmed with two cameras and create a feeling of depth - like a more 3D environment. VR uses some of the same cameras and angles but there is far more programming and design involved, which is also why it's more expensive. To sum it up, a lot of content that's called VR is in fact just 360° or made with 2 cameras (or more). Once you try real VR, with hand controls and haptics, you start to understand the difference and the limits of 360° videos.

Below are a few of the best 360° degree sport videos I tried this week. These ones I watched with various high-tech and high-quality regular and mobile headsets - simply because they make the experience have more depth and therefore immersion thanks to the lenses and the integrated sound. Honestly, with sport, and probably most immersive experiences, the sound quality makes all the difference. When the sound was good, I was fully engaged, even just with regular earbuds. Good sound could really give you "the-crowd-went-wild" feeling. Sometimes I even felt euphoric. At other times, like with downhill skating, I felt excited, scared and a little dizzy. Put a headset on (cardboard with earbuds will be fine but not fabulous) and take a fast ride down a steep hill (with no breaks)!

This NFL one can't be embedded here, but if you can, have a look at it in a headset with headphones. It's a long one but it had my attention to the very end, and I'm not even really interested in football! The storytelling and visuals are good and the quality is great. Towards the end, the team is in a room together analyzing their plays that week. I seriously felt, at that point, that I was right there in the room with them. It was unreal. Or was it too real? Hard to say.

There are so many great ones, but have a look at this surfing one if you've ever wanted to ride the waves. I felt thankful that these 2 surfer dudes were kind enough to take me along with them. I'm pretty sure I'll never go surfing, so for me, this immersive stuff is a great and fun - and a safe and shark-less alternative!

VR Focus, a site all about VR, AR and MR, has a weekly overview of sport news related to tech. This week's highlights include a baseball team that wants to give its fans the opportunity to know what it feels like to be on the field up at bat - via VR. They are also looking into developing an AR game that allows kids to find player cards throughout the stadium. In other news, Fox Sports is going to use AR to enhance their live studio coverage by superimposing computer-generated images within the broadcast. You can imagine sport players and stats popping up larger than life in the studio next to excited sportscasters. VR Focus concludes this week with news that the American Football arcade experience that puts you in the shoes of a quarterback will be coming soon to PlayStation VR.

Speaking of getting inside the shoes of athletes, VR is also being used for practice and training by sport teams. A recent report about an NBA basketball player who had a serious injury indicates that his team is hoping practicing his shots in a VR environment will help him get his shot back to what it was. According to the February article in the Philly Voice, the Philadelphia 76ers is one of a small group of  NBA teams that wants to use VR not only for training but also to help get a player's confidence level back up and minimize the stress of having all eyes on the player as he practices. VR can create a more private practice environment and help a team member to visualize his plays with less pressure and fear of failure. That is the hope, anyway, according to the sources in the article.

The 2018 Winter Olympics also featured some VR sport stories. Not only was some of it shown in VR thanks to a collaboration between the NBC network and Intel, but VR was also used by the US ski team to visualize the ski course before actually ever skiing on it. Working with the company STRIVR and 360° degree cameras, one of the coaches had access to the slopes and could film the course numerous times. The footage was then made into a sort of training / simulation VR expereince. According to this Washington Post article, the skiers could use the technology to memorize the route and better ready themselves for the competition.

For more information, check out this news report.

Here's another training-with-VR success story via ESPN. It's about "how more than 2,500 virtual reality reps helped transform" NFL football player Case Keenum's game. The company STRIVR also worked with Keenum on his training and had this to say about it, which gives you yet another glance at the potential of training in VR:

"And that also begs the question…who is the next Case Keenum? Who is taking their game to the next level with 2,647 extra moments of practice? Another athlete? A front-line worker at a large QSR chain? A doctor, nurse, or surgeon? The big exec needing to give a keynote address? The operations lead in a manufacturing facility? Answer: all of them."

Last but not least, here's a look at an upcoming VR game from Black Box VR that hopes to help you forget that you are lifting real weights. It sounds dangerous to me but perhaps less so for athletes and fitness folks who know what they are doing. In August, the same company plans to open up a full VR Gym in San Francisco. Have a look at the video to find out more.

If that video didn't convince you, perhaps this one will (or really won't)!

All this sport talk is exhausting me! There's a lot more to be said on VR/AR/MR in sport - so if you're in the sport field or just interested in being transported to a sport field to watch a match - make sure to keep your eye on the ball for all the new and upcoming trends!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


News from GDC 2018

We can't begin a post about GDC without mentioning that Howest DAE was there, as usual, but this time as part of a Flemish gaming delegation led by Flemish Minister for Culture, Media, Youth and Brussels Sven Gatz, Flanders DC, FLEGA (Flemish Games Association) and about 30 Belgian gaming developers.

If you missed the recent VRT series about the GDC visit, you can read about it and watch a video from it here.

You can also see Howest Digital Arts & Entertainment Coordinator and "master chief," Rik Leenknegt talking about his favorite games and about Howest being the number one game school in the world via this article and video from the recent VRT series on gaming in Belgium.

Minister Gatz took the GDC visit opportunity to announce hopes to create a kind of tax shelter for the game industry in Flanders to encourage growth in the sector and undoubtedly to avoid brain drain of all of the talent here. Gatz also said he wants there to be a Flemish stand and more representation at next year's GDC. You can read more about it and the Flemish GDC delegation's adventures via the Flega blog.

If you want to know 5 facts about the Flemish Gaming Industry, make sure to check out the article inspired by the GDC visit from Flanders Investment and Trade.

The article mentions the following:

"Novel technologies – such as virtual and augmented realityare changing the face of the gaming industry. Luckily, Flanders provides a haven for companies trying to find their way in today’s digital maze. The region unites industrial, academic and governmental players for cross-sector collaborative projects that help shape digital society, and the gaming industry with it. Imec, Flanders’ research center for nano- and digital technology, has proven to be a particularly innovative force in these fields."

Another handy reference to get you up to date on the gaming industry as well as the current trends in VR and AR is this Game Industry Report based on as survey of 4000 game developers as a lead up to GDC 2018.

As a summary, the report states: "Significant trends revealed by the survey results include a notable uptick in interest in the Nintendo Switch, game makers’ waning opinions of VR, and a move away from mobile to focus on PC and home consoles."

Howest DAE's Rik Leenknegt agreed, saying that those he spoke with at GDC expressed that the gaming market is decreasing its focus on VR entertainment - but that the focus is now really shifting to B2B when it comes to the VR sector.

With that said, have a look at this video report from The Grid VR to see some of the GDC VR entertainment news. You'll hear about upcoming headsets with various improvements, such as the Vive Pro (due out April 3rd); the HTC Vive Focus (coming here later this year); the Oculus Go (low priced, with USB support) and the Santa Cruz. The video will also introduce you to some new games (Space Heroes) and a new VR series (Silicon Valley) and to some peeks through Leap Motion glasses. You'll hear lots of references to improved lighting, which can make a real impact on VR content. Have a look!

We'll continue with news from GDC soon but in the meantime, if you prefer text to video, you can find a detailed roundup of the highlights from GDC in this article from the "virtual reality, start up and stuff" blog The Ghost Howls.

We'll leave you with what so many have mentioned as the stand-out demo at GDC; the "live captured digital human" called "Siren". You have to see it to believe it - or maybe believe it to see it. In any case, make sure to have a look at the video. It might creep you out or excite you, depending on just how much of a futurist you are. Enjoy!

And for a little more background on Siren, watch this one too!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Real Life Uses of Virtual & Augmented Reality - Coming Soon to a Shop, House, Company, Comic Book & Music Video Near You!

If you do a search on AR and VR "news" each week, you'll see a whole lot of information about the latest uses and developments in the field, which seem to be increasing daily. Skeptics might say that VR is dying (other than in the gaming business) and AR is the only one of the two that really matters anymore. The verdict is not out on that yet. Searches reveal a lot of sectors launching new ways to use VR to save and earn money. As usual, the best advice is to keep your eyes open and on the current VR and AR trends to stay sharp in your field.

Let's have a look at a few of the "news" items the popped off the page in today's search.

Perhaps inspired by Ikea's pioneering use of VR, now Macy's retail and department store is launching a VR experience to help customers walk through their possible, future living rooms to see how the space feels and if the products are right for them. Using a tablet, Macy's clients can design the perfect furniture set-up for their dream home and then immerse themselves in it in one of the 60 Macy's locations to set up this VR furniture pilot. Macy's says that the VR service will drive sales by increasing the customer experience by helping them to choose new furniture in way that is closer to home. It also means more space for Macy's as they see it as a way to show furniture that isn't necessarily present in the shop but can be ordered directly from the warehouse the moment the customer is ready to purchase. You can check out a video of Macy's new VR offer here.

Is it time for your furniture business to look into providing your clients with a VR simulation of their future dream rooms and homes?

What do you think of the Ikea kitchen simulation? Have a look below!

Now that we've talked shop, lets get back to the work floor and have a look at what the major, US conglomerate Honeywell has in mind for VR and AR. As a manufacturer of just about everything, so it seems, Honeywell, like so many companies, is faced with transferring the jobs of an older generation of retirees to a younger one of millennials.  If we are to believe the trend reports, the millennial generation stays in most job positions for no more than 2 years, which can be a nightmare in terms of positions that sometimes require up to 6 months of training. VR and AR training could help solve this issue, which so many businesses face.

Have a look at this recent Forbes article to learn more about what Honeywell has planned.

According to the article, it's also important to keep in mind that younger generations are not fans of passive training. Another Forbes article goes on to say that millennials will not join or stay long at companies that are behind on technology. Studies show that the younger workforce expects to use seamless tech in their daily jobs and would not only look for using VR and AR for training but also for entertainment breaks on the job. While working, it could also be an advantage to set the atmosphere as desired with the sounds and virtual spaces that make them feel more productive. Virtual meeting spaces and the flexibility to work from anywhere and still easily attend meetings will also be a requirement for many future workers.

Take 6 minutes to watch this interview about VR and AR training at Honeywell if you want to know more about their approach.

We've all heard about VR films and we saw when part of the world was taken over by Pokemon Go! Yet, it still came as a surprise to see this exciting news about Will.i.am of the band the Black Eyed Peas talking about his latest dive into the AR world via a graphic comic that comes to life and into VR through music videos, or "projects" as he calls them.

If you like graphic novels, comics, music and want to see some of the potential of augmented reality to literally (or is it figuratively or virtually or "augmentedly", in this case?) make things jump off the page, make sure to watch the Masters of the Sun video below. It's surprising and impressive. Just by seeing the technology in the video, you can already imagine how many ways it could be used for and way beyond entertainment.

In this recent NME article, Will.i.am is quoted saying the following:

If he's right and a shift is indeed happening, a change, then it's probably time for us all to start getting more familiar with VR and AR and to say "fuck yeah" to it as well.

As far as my VR research goes, it actually all started to take shape in my mind while watching this random Bjork VR video that a friend showed me while I was using her mobile VR headset. It made a huge impact on me that I couldn't shake as I love music and had never experienced it in such a way, with so many senses, as I did in that moment. I felt the potential of VR then and have said fuck yeah to it ever since. You definitely have to try it to believe it! My suggestion is to try VR and AR any chance you can to get used to the idea of them as there is no escaping some form of them in the future, whether while choosing furniture, training for jobs,  via experiencing music, comics entertainment and more!

Get your VR headset on and jump in the video below with Bjork!

Immerse yourself in more VR and AR news here next week.

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


To See or Not to See? It's Time to Focus on AR Glasses

Augmented Reality (AR) pioneer and Intel Corporation Research Manager Ronald Azuma has said that the current most important challenge of the field is to develop useful and meaningful consumer-ready AR that goes beyond the gimmick. At the recent Electronic Imagining 2018 conference, Azuma also said that we should re-frame the challenge with AR headsets and glasses by seeing their design as an opportunity to help consumers see better.

At just under 53 minutes, Azuma’s presentation is an investment in time, but a highly recommended one whether you are an AR newcomer, user, developer or anything in between.

You can watch it here. You can also get a good overview of it via this Next Reality article.

In researching virtual reality (VR) for months, I have also had to keep up on the AR field, as you can’t talk about one without the other even though they are so different – they face similar issues. Azuma’s presentation had the clearest and most to the point information that I have come across yet. Also appealing is how down-to-earth Azuma is about the topic. So often, you hear the exaggerated marketing talk of “the best” this or “the breakthrough” that or the “real game-changer”. Azuma leaves the superlatives out speaks in a language that even non-technical people can understand.

It is getting more and more important for even the layperson to understand the potential of AR and how far it can go beyond the Pokémon Go experience.

Azuma talks about the importance and benefits of AR use for companies for training and marketing and uses that do not even exist yet. But if AR only gets picked up in the world of industry and enterprise then it will remain niche, he says. He talks about consumer uses such as creating personal stories, with his wedding as an example. He takes us to the gazebo he got married in and imagines using AR to fill it in with memories. The power of being able to fill in real spaces with meaningful objects that you can interact with could really appeal to the consumer. Azuma sees AR’s potential to connect people with everyday spaces in a personal, often small-scale, yet spectacular way.

Whether for AR or VR, the biggest complaints always come down to the headsets, the glasses, the cables and the gadgets, among other issues such as field of vision, light reflection, quality of image and so forth. Every time I put on a shared headset, I have to admit; I get kind of grossed out by the eye smears and sweat left behind by someone else on the glass and the fabric. My multifocal glasses become malformed and blurry every time I have to adjust the glasses or program, which unfortunately is a lot (but that’s for another post).

What really caught my eye in Azuma’s speech was his way of gently bursting the bubble of the AR glasses problem. Convinced that there is currently no other possibility than some sort of glasses for AR use, Azuma decides to go with it rather than fight against it. He cleverly reminds us that we use goggles for swimming; ski glasses for skiing; protective glasses on the work floor; reading glasses for reading and other glasses for other purposes. It makes you wonder why we are fighting so much against glasses in the AR world. Azuma seems to say that, at least for now, it’s time we adjust our mindset, remove all of that negativity about glasses and embrace and promote them –while improving them and everything else about AR as well, of course.

While lenses for AR placed directly on our eyes sound ideal, Azuma says we are nowhere near being able to make and market those as the expense is too big and different eyesight prescriptions make it almost impossible, at least at the moment.

Why not change our view and start to imagine our own personalized sets of AR glasses with only our eye smears and sweat on them, adjusted to our own specific eyesight?

As with most things, it’s all how you sell it. Perhaps it’s time to put the focus on how cool all these new AR glasses are going to be. Google Glasses tried and failed and created a kind of stigma around anything that might resemble them. Don’t be surprised if we end up with something that looks quite similar though hopefully works a lot better.

Speaking of AR glasses, or rather mixed-reality (MR) ones, the mysterious Magic Leap is still one of the glasses manufacturers that everyone is keeping their eye on. They promise a magical user experience through speaking to our “visual cortex” in a “biologically friendly way,” according to their CEO. But how? You may wonder. Well, check out this article via Next Reality to see what is included in the recent Magic Leap patent application. The question remains, as posed by many, if there’s more to Magic Leap than meets the eye.

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Are VR & AR Tools Under your Company's Radar?

There is always a lot of discussion of when and how AR and VR will finally take off. Some say it is in the process already and others predict 20 years from now. These conversations always come back to headsets, cables and content, among other things that get in the way of a seamless user experience. One thing for sure is that businesses should pay attention to VR and AR trends.

Through my current internship at Howest DAE for the SIVAR project and my VUB master thesis focus on VR in the journalism field, I have been trying out different headsets, content and immersive experiences, and watching and reading about other users’ experiences as well.

When I recently saw mention of the new Asus Windows VR Headset with a flip-up visor, I got excited because it seems like a good direction to head in to allow users to jump back and forth between being present and immersed. One of the aspects I both love and hate about some of the headsets I have used so far is that you can totally lose track of where you are and not even realize there are people in the room right next to you. That might be fun for gaming or truly immersive experiences but it seems and feels unsafe and uncomfortable for a work environment, especially one that involves training.

Speaking of training, it appears to be the part of AR and VR that are already starting to take off. Consumers are more aware of VR thanks to the gaming market but only really know AR via things like Pokemon Go. For CIOs and CTOs, according to a recent article in TechRepublic, awareness of VR and AR as training tools is essential. In that article, J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, says that businesses have to keep VR and AR tools under their radar, especially when it comes to training. In the same article, Tuong Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner, says that it is essential to consider which problems VR and AR tools can help solve rather than just to start guessing and trying.

Nguyen also says that task itemization, design and collaboration and video guidance are the top three uses for such technology for enterprises right now. High-risk training situations take precedence as well. In the TechRepublic article, he points out that investing in technology has to make or save a company money to make sense. CIOs, he says, should be expecting cost savings through augmented and virtual training that leads to fewer accidents and mistakes and better accuracy.

In a recent White Paper I wrote about how journalists should approach virtual reality, my conclusion was that the absolute least they should do is to keep a good eye on it and what their colleagues and competitors are doing with it – that the days of simply ignoring it are over. That seems to ring true for many fields. If you want to stay on the cutting edge and remain competitive, as Gownder said, you need to keep AR and VR tools under your radar.

And if you are a headset developer, please keep working out how to go wireless and use flip-up visors or something, anything, that makes the real world and the virtual and augmented ones easier to enter and leave, especially when it comes to training situations on the work floor.

Check out this video discussing the state of  AR and VR in both consumer and business technology.

For more information about the flip-up Asus and how TechRepublic sees it, look here: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/asus-takes-ar-to-the-enterprise-with-flip-up-windows-mixed-reality-headset/

For more insights into the use of VR and AR for training, read this: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/are-ar-and-vr-training-technologies-ready-for-the-enterprise

by Sarah Markewich - SIVAR project intern spring 2018