A weekly summary of all things virtual and augmented reality
For the Media

Atlas Obscura Is Using Virtual Reality to Transport Readers to the World’s Distant, Exotic Locations

Dylan Thuras, co-founder at Atlas Obscura, recognizes the oxymoron of combining his site’s mission with VR tech. After all, Atlas Obscura wants people to go out and see amazing locales for themselves. But the cognitive dissonance has been pushed aside for the greater (technological) good. Some places are relatively inaccessible, dangerous, or restricted. This is where VR comes to the rescue.

4 min read
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Google and NASA's Latest Collaboration Lets You Take a Walk on Mars With Virtual Reality

Built with WebVR, the experience lets you explore the Martian landscape through the lens of NASA’s Curiosity Rover. You don’t need any special equipment; check it out on your headset or browser now

1 min read
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The Highs and Lows of Watching an NBA Game in VR

NBA League Pass VR lets VR headset owners sit courtside or zip around via standard TV camera angles in virtual reality. Sounds good, right? The author, who spent a decade working for the Detroit Pistons, says sort of: "the headset gives you a trippy experience, as you truly can see the 3D spacing between players when they run past and collide with each other." But there’s a fare share of issues that make this feature a novelty rather than a completely immersive experience:

"Sitting courtside at a real game, you realize just how big, fast, and athletic NBA players are--they are quite possibly the best all-around athletes you’ll find. And even in a jam-packed arena, you still hear the dialogue between players, instructions from the coaching staff, and banter with officials. All of that is, largely, missing when viewed through a VR headset currently."

4 min read
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Intel: VR Is "Eye-Opening Moment" for Computing

You definitely get an impression hearing Kim Pallister, who runs the Intel VR Center of Excellence, talk about VR: he really believes it’s an awesome technology. But he understands the unwarranted hype ("everyone got really spoiled by the rocket ship uptake of things related to mobile.... [We need to see] hundreds of millions of units in two years or it doesn't count”) and the relative lack of quality content ("there are a lot of people doing interesting things on Steam VR.... But I think you need to get to a bootstrap of the quality of titles along with the install base of paying users being of enough critical mass that it can actually sustain the development of these titles and be profitable"), in addition to the grand promise.

He’s an expert who sees the ups and downs of a technology he personally loves; the type of person to listen to when it comes to getting the unadulterated version of what we can expect from VR.

14 min read
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What Can Augmented Reality Tell You About Your Skin?

Who doesn’t want a mirror that makes you feel more insecure? Kidding aside, the concept is very cool: a smart mirror that you navigate via hand gestures (no touching), which "can do everything from analyze your skin to play YouTube beauty tutorials." It can measure metrics like "dark spots, dark circles, redness, pores, clarity, fine lines, and wrinkles," grading each on a scale of 100. Racked looks at similar tech as well.

7 min read
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Microsoft Opens Holographic Capture Studios on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Microsoft is clearly dedicated to its concept of Mixed Reality, opening state-of-the-art facilities in London and San Francisco to "help Mixed Reality creators to produce life-like holograms."

"The goal is to build a vast resource of high-quality holographic assets and ultimately make holographic capture accessible to Mixed Reality creators everywhere."

4 min read
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Mixed Reality Capture Studios from Microsoft

Facebook Research Automatically Creates an Avatar From a Photo

TechCrunch compares Google’s automatic avatar creation tool (revealed earlier this year) and Facebook’s new avatar tech. For Google, the process is pretty interesting, but requires a good amount of human input ("Essentially, the computer looks for the tell-tale signs of a feature like freckles, then grabs the corresponding piece of art from its database"). Facebook takes a different approach: 

"The system... [judges] both the face and the generated representation by the same analysis and feature identification algorithm, as if they were simply two pictures of the same person. When the resulting numbers generated by the two are as close as they seem likely to get, that means the two are visually similar to a sufficient degree."    

2 min read
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Industry News

AdHawk’s Tiny Sensors Could Enable Much Smaller VR Headsets and AR Glasses

AdHawk is touting some really cool tech. Current VR and AR headsets (yes, AR headsets) rely on camera-based sensors, which make up the bulk of the device. AdHawk is creating eye-tracking sensors made from microelectrical mechanical systems (MEMS), commonly used in gyro chips to significantly reduce the bulkiness. It sounds promising:

"For gaming, the AdHawk system is so fast that it could be used to figure out where the user is going to look next, allowing games to increase the element of surprise by rendering content in anticipation of the user’s next move."

3 min read
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Mozilla Proposes Combined WebXR Standard for Virtual and Mixed Reality in the Browser

Mozilla’s mission with its WebVR successor, WebXR (temporary name), is to make it easy to build something for the web that you can easily deploy on desktops, mobile devices, VR/AR headsets, "and anything else that might do a little reality mixing." 

"That means creating a common language that connects concepts like object anchoring despite changes in implementation between ARCore, ARKit, Hololens, and other platforms. So there’s plenty of work to go around." 

2 min read
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Virtual Reality Is Healing Healthcare in America

Fortune went a little overboard with the quasi-clickbait title. It’s not just VR that might help America’s new-gen seniors. It’s wearable devices, 5G, and other tech that "may provide both an affordable alternative and improved quality of life including better personal care monitoring, more effective treatment, and a helping hand in the operating room."

"Healthcare today can often be reactive – for example, doctors receive intermittent data from patients after they suffer a heart attack or discover a lump. By then, treatment usually takes place in a hospital. As virtual reality and augmented reality headsets become mainstream, these devices can provide patients (and their doctors) with continuous measurements such as electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, blood pressure, and oximeter readings."

4 min read
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The Next Phase of China’s Offline VR Boom Is Here: Virtual Reality Cinemas

"Lack of good content also continues to be a problem. Yue Cheng Technology has over 100 licensed pieces of content, but not all of them are top notch. One of the 360 degree videos I tried was a grainy video feed of panda bears in Chengdu – definitely not comparable to state-of-the-art work like Dear Angelica." [Link added by us]

The author starts his tale off in Beijing, where a woman sits down in a cafe and asks to see the 20-minute VR animated film Allumette. It’s not a ubiquitous gesture, but there are already "12,000 brick-and-mortar VR experience centers" in China. An important step in educating the VR market, the cinemas are likened to the early days of TV shows and films: "everyone first experienced them at offline venues."

5 min read
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Exploring Future Reality | Nov 30, 8AM-7PM

Exploring Future Reality is NYC Media Lab's annual VR/AR/MR innovation event, bringing together industry experts and faculty researchers for a full day of lightning talks and presentations. This year’s event will include 20+ cutting-edge demos of the latest in virtual, augmented and mixed reality prototyping from NYC-based faculty, students, startups, and corporations; 8 hands-on and interactive workshops exploring the potential for immersive media production; and pitches from fresh startups. Discussions will focus on the impact of VR/AR/MR on the media and technology industry, including best practices for storytelling, prototyping, and distribution.

Thursday, November 30th, 2017. 8AM-7PM. 
NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, New York, NY.

As a subscriber to this newsletter, use code NYCMLVR for 10% off Standard and Group admission rates.

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And as we get ready for the new VR hub...
Transactions & Announcements

VR Medical Imaging Firm EchoPixel Secures Funding