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Inside VR (Oct 31st, 2019)

1. FundamentalVR raised $5.6 million for its surgical training and data analysis platform that combines virtual simulation with the sense of touch. The round was led by Downing Ventures with participation from Epic Private Equity and Brighteyes Ventures, but significantly also included medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Sana Kliniken in Germany. This brings the company’s current valuation to $14.5 million. It is believed that this combination of 3D visualization and training of muscle memory could revolutionize skills development for surgical practice and help tackle the chronic shortage of qualified professionals in the field. – VENTUREBEAT

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2. Hong Kong students created a VR simulation that puts users in a protester's shoes. To help spread awareness of the protests which started five months ago in reaction to the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill, players can take part in them virtually, becoming a frontline protestor tasked with dodging tear gas, ducking behind barriers to avoid projectiles, and generally trying not to get caught by the ever-present riot police. The developers stress that it was important to build in a mechanism in the game which stops them from inflicting any damage on riot police or engage in illegal behavior, so as to accurately reflect the non-violent nature of the real-world protests. Players also have the opportunity to learn more about the protests by visiting a Virtual recreation of one of the cities “Lennon Walls,” featuring encouragement written across colorful post-it notes and an interactive element that educates players on major protest events, such as the Yuen Long Mob Attack and the highly-publicized shooting of an 18-year-old protestor by law enforcement on National Day. The development team is currently speaking to online distributors in the hopes of releasing the title to the public next month. – VRSCOUT

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3. – THROWBACK THURSDAY  -  Samsung Gear VR

It sometimes seems strange to call something that happened just five years ago a "throwback," but if tech time works like dog-years, in the immersive space things can move so fast it can feel more like fly-years. So as I cast my mind back when I first unwrapped my Samsung Gear VR and plugged what now seems like a very old and clunky phone on its front, it seems like another world from the sleek experience I can get from an Oculus Quest for not that much more money. 

This is why we've seen such a sharp fall in demand for mobile VR which finally caused Samsung to drop support for the Gear VR on its latest Samsung Galaxy models, although it held on as long as it could. 

The Samsung Gear VR was developed as a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. Although the Samsung Gear VR consumer edition was released in November 2015, Samsung had obtained a patent in 2005 detailing the use of a mobile phone as the display for a HMD. However, mobile phone technology at the time limited the degree of quality and performance possible. Samsung continued to research VR and HMD internally. When in use, a compatible Samsung Galaxy device acts as the headset's display and processor, while the Gear VR unit itself acts as the controller, which contains the field of view, as well as a custom Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) for rotational tracking, which connects to the smartphone via USB-C or micro-USB. The Gear VR headset also includes a touchpad and back button on the side, as well as a proximity sensor to detect when the headset is on. 

The fact we seem to be moving on from mobile VR shouldn't make us overlook the contribution that the format - and the Samsung Gear VR in particular - have had on the ecosystem. Although far from perfect, the price point and accessibility they offered bridged the gap between the ultra-basic cardboard introductions to the medium and the full-blown setups required by the HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift. And there are still not many VR devices out there that can claim to have been sold out on the day of their release.  

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4. Supermedium has put the development of its free Virtual Reality browser "on ice." The company - also known as Super XYZ - was behind VR web framework ‘A-Frame’ and took part in the original Mozilla WebVR initiative before raising $1.1 million in 2018 from the likes of Y Combinator and Anorak Ventures. Supermedium is still available on Steam and the Oculus Store and works on a range of PC VR headsets, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, and Windows VR headsets. However, a company spokesperson told German publication MIXED that the product still worked but was “on ice” and unlikely to receive further updates as the team pivots towards something that “people would want to use VR everyday for and solve a problem.” – ROAD TO VR  

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5. Film Festivals are keen to have VR showcases, but the discrepancy in fees charged for projects is putting some organizers off. Andrea Slováková, programmer of the VR section at the Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival tells Tim Dams that the VR distribution market is like a “jungle” with wildly different fees being asked for projects.  When it started four years ago, Ji.hlava’s VR featured only two works, but this year’s showcase has 18 projects including impactful pieces such as “Daughters of Chibok” together with various interactive installations. Slováková says the program reveals how sophisticated VR has now become and the speed at which technologies such as 360 video is developing, adding that VR has now become another medium for filmmakers to explore reality, evolving into a more sophisticated means of expression, with the narrative coming to the fore.  – VARIETY

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6. A multi-sensory immersive game uses a haptic suit that adds touch, temperature and smells to VR.  "The Lost Foxfire" was created by researchers from Keio-NUS CUTE Center at the National University of Singapore. The team comprising hardware and product engineers, artists, technology researchers, and designers took nine months to develop the experimental 10-minute game which uses a Virtual Reality HMD paired with a configurable multisensory suit that delivers thermal, wind, and olfactory stimuli. The bodysuits use real-time, life-like sensory feedback to make decisions that directly affect the outcome of the gameplay. The game first debuted at the Tokyo Game Show 2019 in September but its makers - who have filed a patent for the technology behind the configurable multisensory suit - stress that its immersive simulation and experiential technology can be potentially extended to other applications such as training. – FUTURITY

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7. Researchers at the University of Lausanne have prototyped an experience to help people get over their fear of public speaking. Public speaking is one of the most common phobias out there, and one of the most effective treatments for it is exposure therapy, which has the patient face their fears, by gradually increasing intensities of the dreaded experience whilst being taught how to manage stress. Virtual reality exposure training (VRET) does this in a safe, highly controlled, yet fully immersive VR environment. In this case, for example, the researchers chose to actually add fear of heights to the experience demoed by journalists as an additional stressor. "This is a trick to get everyone very stressed about public speaking and then to learn to overcome that stress,” explains Professor Marianne Schmid Mast, who heads the Interpersonal Behaviour Laboratory at the University of Lausanne – MY SCIENCE WORK

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This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio

Editor: David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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