Inside VR - September 24th, 2019

Inside VR (Sep 24th, 2019)

Facebook Acquiring CTRL Labs / Fitting Prosthetic Limbs with VR / High Fidelity's Personalized Avatar Creator

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The present and future of virtual reality news and technology

1. HTC is expected to focus on 5G and VR going forward as its CEO steps down. Ralph Jennings writes that the replacement of co-founder Cher Wang (who will continue to lead its board of directors as chairperson) with Yves Maitre - former executive VP of the French telecom operator Orange - signals a change in direction for the company, although Wang is quoted as saying 5G technology was part of her plan all along. The new protocol is, of course, crucial for the development of consumer VR, and HTC's VIVE-branded gear ranked as the most popular head-mounted display devices for three consecutive years through 2018. HTC says Wang intends to explore “future technologies” linked to VIVE head and hand gear for gamers in order to advance her goal of turning HTC into what she calls a “complete ecosystem company.” – FORBES

2.  Facebook is in the final stages of acquiring CTRL Labs for a reported $1 billion. The start-up is developing an AI armband which tracks the movements of users' individual fingers by detecting electrical signals passing through the user’s wrist. Based on how the signal changes passing through the tendons and muscles of the arm their position can be determined, and machine learning is then applied to convert these position changes into finger poses. The technology is similar to what’s described in a patent application filed by Facebook earlier this year, and David Heaney speculates that the acquisition possibly stems from the fact that CTRL Labs were either able to solve problems that Facebook’s team wasn’t, or felt it was better served by combining their efforts by integrating its team into Facebook Reality Labs, which is currently the largest known VR research division in the world.– UPLOADVR

3. Spotlight: Women in VR - Rachel Bracker

By Alice Bonasio

Rachel Bracker is a VR filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon who routinely channels her passion for diversity into compelling immersive storytelling. She has created several immersive films as a director, editor, and producer with 360 Labs. Their stories have brought viewers to the heart of the Grand Canyon, the epicenter of a forest fire, and into the living room of the world’s oldest drag queen. 

Rachel is committed to making VR more diverse and accessible for all and works as an instructor at NW Documentary where she teaches a workshop to help people from all backgrounds and experience levels create their own 360 documentary films. She previously directed the award-winning Vanport Mosaic and directed the five-part series "The 26%: Women Speak Out on Tech's Diversity Crisis" for Recode and her videos have been featured by the New York Times Magazine, Upworthy, NationSwell, and Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

For her latest project, "With the Wind and the Stars," Rachel has taken to the skies with her 360 camera. She’s combined Virtual Reality, documentary storytelling, aviation, and feminism into an immersive docuseries that immerses viewers into the lives of diverse pilots to inspire them to pursue their dreams, whether that's in the sky or on the ground.

She hopes to distribute With the Wind and the Stars on all VR platforms, but will start with grass-roots community screenings. Supported by her local Ninety-Nines chapter (an international organization of female pilots first led by Amelia Earhart in 1929) she wants her VR screenings to combine the films with networking and career opportunities for women looking to get into the world of aviation.

Every Tuesday we'll shine a spotlight on the female trailblazers making their mark in immersive tech and their work. If you have a story you think we should feature, just hit reply to this email or tweet me @alicebonasio.

4. Researchers at the University of North Carolina are using VR to make prosthetic fitting more efficient for patients. Patients who took part in the research underwent testing on a digitized virtual reality unit, the COAPT Complete Control Room, to measure the performance of both their regularly developed arm as well as the side missing a hand. They focused on thinking about moving their hands or moving the limb in the place where a hand would be, the system tracked multiple degrees of freedom, or the ability to move the hands in different positions in space. Sensors placed along the forearms to detect muscle activity determined how accurately each limb could reproduce prosthetic hand movements."I think it would have been difficult to do it objectively, to have a measure of how proficient one is with use, without the VR," OrthoCarolina hand surgeon Michael Gart said. "It was really exciting watching the first few kids go through it. Their faces lit up when they saw they could control a hand on the screen using a limb that never had a hand," he added. – MD ONLINE  

5. Artist James Merry talks about his collaboration with Björk on the VR version of her Vulnicura album. He tells Emily Mackay that when Björk first tried the Oculus Rift in her New York kitchen back in 2014, she got a gut reaction to it, and they realized the medium was a good fit for the nature and content of the album. The seven VR videos by different directors follow Björk’s path through heartbreak and recovery. "It’s quite passive," Merry explains, likening it to a voyeuristic experience and adding that the length and nature of music videos also lend themselves very well to VR experiences, allowing the user to dip in, become emotionally involved, and then dip out again. "It’s so beautiful seeing tears coming out of the bottom of a VR headset. It’s like a humanity and technology mashup in a really beautiful way. I think people are still figuring out how VR is going to position itself in our lives It still has that fluidity, so I am glad our contribution is an attempt to offer some emotion and poetry and music," he concludes. – THE GUARDIAN

6. High Fidelity launched Virtual You: 3D Avatar Creator tool to enable users to create personalized avatars. The app which was developed by Wolf3D allows users to quickly take a selfie on their phones and turn it into a  3D representation of their likeness which can then be tweaked and personalized in a number of ways. The avatars can then be imported into their High Fidelity account (or any VR environment that uses High Fidelity’s open-source software) to be used during VR social events or work meetings. Virtual You: 3D Avatar Creator is currently available on compatible iOS and Android devices. High Fidelity is available via SteamVR and Oculus. – VRSCOUT

7. Tilt Five has launched a $450,000 Kickstarter campaign for its holographic tabletop gaming sets. This is the latest project by last week's #FollowFriday alumnus Jeri Ellsworth. Packages start at $300 and include an HMD that uses a unique projection display method that allows for multiple players to gather around a single board, with each person getting a unique view of the game world.  Wand controllers can be used for both motion and button input but the board can also detect special cards and miniatures, so there is seamless interaction between the physical and real world. The headset weighs just 85 grams and has 720p resolution, 110 degree diagonal field of view, and supports games up to 60Hz. There’s also onboard audio, a microphone, and an 8MP camera on-board for computer vision. Tilt Five says that third-party developers are already building content for the platform, and the company is providing an SDK for devs which includes support for Unity and UE4.  – ROAD TO VR  

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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