19 January 2018, issue 144

VR is Serious Business

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The question of what is appropriate content for VR is an interesting one. It brings subject matters into vivid focus, which can be an incredibly powerful tool to foster empathy. But are there subjects that are too raw to experience first-hand? How will the industry develop best practices to deal with these questions?

Headline of the Week: Music in VR needs iTunes, and it may now exist.
Deep Dive: Is a VR experience of the Holocaust a step too far?
Hardware & Ecosystem: Microsoft gets serious about brain-computer interfaces.
New Release: Forget the sweat and exercise in VR.
Worth a Thousand Words: Artist wants you to feel what it's like to be Muslim-American.
Laugh-a-Minute: Shape your brows with AR.
Headline of the Week

Music in VR needs its iTunes moment

"The firm has recorded more than 6,000 hours of music and lets people watch single songs or entire 90-minute concerts. To do this it has worked with more than 600 artists – from Fatboy Slim to the London Symphony Orchestra – and signed contracts with major record labels and VR manufacturers."

The idea of bringing music to virtual reality has been considered by many companies, but as usual, the one with the most content will win the race to be the next iTunes, Spotify, or Netflix. MelodyVR is hoping to win that race by providing not only songs in VR, but also concerts and experiences. They have their own teams and cameras that they send out to record shows, so people get a 360 experience every time they listen to music.

Deep Dive

At Westerbork, VR ‘Recreates’ the Nazi Transit Camp

"Last month, museum staff began piloting a virtual reality (VR) simulation with tour groups, in part to help visitors envision what took place at Westerbork. Inside a dimmed room with wrap-around screens, volunteers have begun using a console to explore the camp as it appeared between 1942 and the end of deportations in 1944, when Anne Frank and her family were held at Westerbork on the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau."

Holocaust museums are incredibly powerful and important reminders of a dark period in human history that we must never allow to happen again. But recreations like this bring up an important question about virtual reality as a medium. Given how immersive it is, in ways that we still don't entirely understand, what are the potential psychological ramifications to rebuilding traumatic events in VR? (Note that so far, Westerbork seems to be mostly recreating the physical space, rather than any dramatization of events.)

Hardware & Ecosystem

Microsoft Works on Mind Control for Apps

"Microsoft has been working on brain-computer interfaces for years. But now it has a patent for a brain-sensing system that could improve the experience of apps when using gesture-based systems on augmented-reality headsets and PCs. The patent, called ' Changing an application state using neurological data', draws on research into using electroencephalography (EEG) nodes to measure brain activity."

Brain-computer interfaces are steadily growing in popularity, and it's exciting to see Microsoft planning a realistic strategy to incorporate those interfaces with gesture-control systems. The likelihood that BCI will be available soon as a sole means of control is very low, but combining them with gesture and voice control means we could see viable versions of this technology on the market in the next five years. That would be a huge boon to AR, which struggles with input methods.

New Releases

VR Will Make You Forget You're Lifting Real Weights

"Video games as exercise” is not a new concept. Dance Dance Revolution has been around since the 1990s, for example. Now, an Idaho-based startup called Black Box VR is aiming to take that idea to the next level by combining virtual reality and resistance training. With Black Box VR, those mundane chest presses are also your best defence against enemies in a virtual arena. By extending your arms, engaging your chest and shoulder muscles, you can launch projectiles to stop a barrage of meteor-like objects being hurtled your way."

Resistance training is one of the most important areas of exercise, especially as people age and for women who want to combat osteoarthritis. But it's also one the hardest areas of exercise to make fun. It can't be done easily with friends, nor is it simple to gamify. That makes it the perfect candidate for a VR experience.

Worth a Thousand Words

International Storytelling with AR

“"I am from Pakistan and have been in the United States for the past three years. I have been working for almost two years on augmented reality. I started focusing on and realizing the whole concept of holograms, where removing barriers might keep two people from being separate or distant. I started focusing on bringing images from two distant parts of the world, to juxtapose two realities. I did a project called Holograms from Syria, and displayed them in places in the US, and the impact for people to see those images. The most recent project I am working on is Asad and Assad."

Watch a preview of Asad and Assad, which explores the Muslim experience in America as an Augmented Reality interactive documentary project. As the viewer walks into a space, they will be able to meet holograms of people talking about their experiences with Muslim identity.

Laugh-a-Minute

This App Takes Eyebrows From Bushy to Blessed

"Powered by ModiFace, the Brow Try-On tool magically morphs your eyebrows in a live camera view or on a static image, with fifteen styles available to visualize how you'll look with various eyebrow shapes. Customers can also adjust the shade, arch, thickness, definition, and placement of the digital brows."

Modiface is at it again, giving consumers tools they absolutely don't need. This would actually be a great app for salons, where customers could come in, select the brow shape they want, and have a professional recreate that look. Instead, they're trying to sell brow pencils and other tools that, for most people, won't at all help them translate the photo they have of their new brows into, you know, new brows.

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