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Inside VR (Dec 19th, 2019)

1. Time Studios is creating a Virtual Reality experience that will allow you to join the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and listen to  Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I have a dream" speech first-hand. “The March” will be hosted at the DuSable Museum of African American History, which will be in Chicago starting Feb. 27. It is the first time that Dr. King's estate has licensed his words and image for a VR experience. “What we needed to understand before we could go to the King estate with a proposal was how realistic of a human could we create, and could we recreate the crowd of 250,000 people,” said Mia Tramz, Time’s editorial director of immersive experiences. Trams adds they are making the most realistic digital rendering of a human ever created and that, as she felt it was important to democratize access to the experience as much as possible, she made sure the price of general admission was affordable ($10 adult, $8 for Chicago residents and $7 for students). Those planning a visit should bear in mind, however, that capacity will be limited to 20 guests per hour and demand is expected to be very high, so it would be wise to secure the timed tickets as soon as they go on sale on Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. – CHICAGO TRIBUNE  

2. 8th Wall’s new project template tool will offer a much more streamlined workflow for WebVR developers. According to Bobby Carlton, the WebVR template is an A-Frame project for Oculus Quest designed to assist developers in building interactive 6DOF WebVR experiences. It makes it easier for creatives to build out VR experiences and share them with the public through any VR-compatible web browser. 8th Wall's tool essentially cuts the workflow time in half and enables multiple Oculus Quest headsets to test WebVR projects untethered while a development team views live console logs to troubleshoot and edit in real-time. The project template supports the latest WebXR Device API, which is currently being rolled out on Chrome and Chromium browsers. It'll come with one-click publishing and remote debugging, which means developers are able to test and troubleshoot projects in a headset without the need to be tethered in order to load an APK on the device. – VRSCOUT

3. Israeli start-up Surgical Theater lets doctors plan and rehearse complex procedures in VR. The tool was developed by former Israel Air Force officers Moty Avisar and Alon Geri in 2010 with the idea of preparing neurosurgeons in the same way that pilots prepare for their missions. It is currently deployed in 15 leading US hospitals and was recently used to plan a first-of-its kind procedure to remove a tumor from the brain of a two-year-old child. As well as allowing the surgeons to realistically simulate different scenarios and test out alternative approaches, the tool also helps parents understand the procedures by letting them visualize the doctor's explanation in a VR headset. The company has clinical proof demonstrating that using Surgical Theater led to a change in the original surgical plan in 25% of cases. Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Levy practiced with Surgical Theater software dozens of times before operating on a newborn at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “If I didn’t have the 3D visualizations…it could have been disastrous,” said Levy, who said his original idea for approaching the surgery could, in fact, have proved fatal. – ISRAEL 21C

4. A pocket-sized origami robot provides haptic feedback for Virtual Reality. The Foldaway is a miniature robot developed at Professor Jamie Paik's Reconfigurable Robotics Lab at EPFL and is easy to manufacture, store and transport. This is because it is printed using a technique similar to that used for making electronic circuit boards, and subsequently folded along a pre-defined pattern. The device, described in an article in the December issue of Nature Machine Intelligence, includes three actuators that generate movements, forces, and vibrations in various directions. It offers the user the sensation of grasping virtual objects and perceiving their stiffness, modulating the force generated when the interface is pressed. Marco Salerno, who co-authored the paper, says that the miniaturization offered by origami robots can finally allow the integration of rich touch feedback into everyday interfaces, from smartphones to joysticks, or the development of completely new ones such as interactive morphing surfaces. The robot is currently being developed for commercialization by a spin-off called Foldaway Haptics that was supported by NCCR Robotics’s Spin Fund grant. – ROBOHUB

5. HTC is betting on education and training to drive immersive tech adoption while 5G catches up. ZDNET's Campbell Kwan talks to Thomas Dexmier - HTC country manager of Australia and New Zealand - about the importance of 5G for consumer VR adoption and admits that we have still not reached that particular tipping point. Dexmier is much more optimistic, however, about the immediate possibilities for leveraging VR in education and training. He believes this is key to enticing people to come back to use the technology on a regular basis, as they will not only learn more quickly, but have fun doing so. – ZDNET  

6. August Howell talks about how VR films can help connect different generations around important topics. At an event hosted by the Senior Coastsiders organization, the young and elderly alike took turns wearing the VR headsets provided to experienced the causes and consequences of climate change through immersive films such as Within's “Melting Ice” and “Feast,” which delved into the Amazon rainforest as it was logged for industrial cattle ranches. – HALF MOON BAY REVIEW  

7. Classic Chinese folk tale “The Magic Paintbrush” will be published in Virtual Reality. A partnership between Penguin Random House and Emmy award-winning Baobab Studios will see a VR version released alongside a series for Crown Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books) due out in 2021. The story of a poor painter who gains possession of a brush that makes his creations come to life captivated Baobab's co-founder Eric Darnell, who previously wrote and directed Dreamworks’ “Madagascar” films and is developing the VR stories for the studio. – VARIETY

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

Edited by Sheena Vasani.

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