Inside VR - November 19th, 2019

Inside VR (Nov 19th, 2019)

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The present and future of virtual reality news and technology

1. Oculus Link has been released in beta. The feature effectively turns the Oculus Quest into a PC VR HMD using nothing more than a USB 3 gen 1 or gen 2 cable (note that the Oculus Quest's included cable won't work, as it needs to carry video as well as charge). The reason why this has got a lot of people (not least CNET's Scott Stein) so excited is not only that it "cuts down on the pile of goggles" but also makes a whole new category of content available on what has become a lot of people's (myself included) favorite VR headset. Stein tried the beta earlier this year at the Oculus Connect conference, where he played a demo of Asgard's Wrath on a PC, which he says "looked great." He cautions, however, that people should set their expectations, since the feature won't (yet) work with all GPUs or graphics cards, "hence the term "beta." – CNET

2. Valve finally confirmed it is developing a Half-Life VR game. Ever since Jeep Barnett told Kotaku back in 2015 that Valve was not ruling out the possibility of developing a VR game, there has been a steady flow of speculation and rumors about what a virtual reality addition to the 15-year old cult game franchise would look like. With yesterday's tweet (which at the time of writing had already gathered over 108k likes), however, the company has made it official, calling "Half-Life: Alyx" its "flagship VR game," and promising more information about on the 21st November, so watch out for the latest scoop in this Thursday's Inside VR newsletter .– GAMESPOT

3. Spotlight: Women in VR - Eliza McNitt

By Alice Bonasio

Eliza McNitt is a writer and director whose work explores the cosmic collision of science and art. From astronauts to astrophysicists, McNitt works alongside scientists to tell stories about the human connection to the cosmos. She found filmmaking through science, as her first film was inspired by a desire to communicate the devastating impact of vanishing honeybees. Her honeybee research received the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering’s Gerber Medal–the state’s highest award for student science research–as well as special awards from The Harvard-Smithsonian Observatory, MIT-Lincoln Lab, the Audubon Society, CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, Pfizer, the United States Armed Forces, the United States Air Force, and Connecticut Governor Jody Rell. 

She is the creator of Fistful of Stars a VR experience following the journey of The Hubble Telescope through the cosmos that drew an audience of over 6,000 people at BRIC! Celebrate Brooklyn and was the world’s largest communal virtual reality experience to date. 

McNitt then went on to create the acclaimed SPHERES, an episodic journey featuring Jessica Chastain and  Millie Bobby Brown, and singer-songwriter Patti Smith as the voices of the cosmos. The piece was the first VR experience to debut at the Telluride Film Festival and was world's first-ever acquisition of a VR experience out of the Sundance Film Festival, and was awarded the Grand Prize in Virtual Reality at The Venice Film Festival.

She's also a very active voice for equality in the industry, recently directing “Drip Drop,” a powerful piece which features stories of four people who didn’t “see themselves” in the creative industry, and yet took action to great effect. The experience begins in a mysterious void where digitized versions of four people, including Eliza herself, are seemingly floating in water. When viewers stare at one of these figures and blink, the person comes to life. 

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 have developed a holographic display that can simultaneously project video, sound, and simulate the sensation of touch. The displays have the potential to provide VR users with a truly multisensory experience, without the need for headsets or haptic gear.  This prototype builds on a technique called "acoustic levitation' which was described in Applied Physics Letters by a research team at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, earlier this year. Researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K. have upped the complexity of the experiment and achieved much more advanced results, which were published in Nature his week. They used an array of 512 computer-controlled speakers arranged above and below a space about the size of a toaster oven, surrounding a tiny plastic bead upon which light is projected while it moves rapidly through a space the size of a coffee cup, propelled by ultrasound waves. The convergence of those waves, triggered by an infrared sensor which detects when a person's hand is reaching forward, creates pressure that can actually be felt on the skin, what the researchers at Sussex describe as a "tickling sensation." – SCIENCE MAG     

5. Unity and Oculus have made a free all-in-one VR development course. In a continued effort from major players in the immersive space to encourage more developers to create compelling VR content, the two companies have partnered to create a 20-hour online course called Oculus & Unity: Design, Develop and Deploy for VR, which covers all stages of VR development for the Oculus Rift/Rift S and Oculus Quest headsets on the Unity platform. The 11 lessons are aimed at intermediate developers with some familiarity of the Unity platform, and include everything from "Locomotion and Ergonomics" to “Hand presence and interaction” and “Sound in VR” through to optimization and even marketing, teaching devs about best practices when submitting a game or app to the Oculus Store and drumming up interest for it among potential users. Course alumni can also submit their work for the Oculus team to review and offer suggestions for improvement. Developers looking to give it a try will need the latest version of Unity, the Oculus SDK, VRTK, and an Oculus Rift/Rift S or Oculus Quest. – VRSCOUT  

6. New research has been published on the creation of a "virtual skin" that would enable people to feel touch in VR. In a recently published paper in Nature, researchers from Northwestern University in the US and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University described how a silicone-based multilayered material incorporating a chip, sensors, and actuators could convey the feeling of touch in virtual reality by sending mechanical vibrations through the wearer's skin in real-time. This artificial skin is wireless and doesn't require batteries thanks to inductive charging similar to that used to charge smartphones wirelessly.  -- MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW  

7. Tomas Trescak argues in this opinion piece that lack of creativity in the majority of VR content is holding the medium back. Trescak, who is a senior lecturer in intelligent systems at Western Sydney University, argues that although immersive technology has huge potential and there are "killer apps" waiting to be discovered, the industry at the moment still suffers from a chronic lack of imagination. "The prevailing trend is to create VR versions of existing content such as games, videos, or advertisements, in the hope of delivering extra impact. This does not work, in much the same way that a radio play would make terrible television," he says, adding that it is his continued hope that VR is on its way to becoming more mainstream, more exciting, and less underwhelming. – THE CONVERSATION

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

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