Inside VR - February 4th, 2020

Inside VR (Feb 4th, 2020)

Elon Musk's Single Could Become Beat Saber Track / Women Pioneering VR Storytelling / Dungeons and Dragons on Oculus Quest

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The present and future of virtual reality news and technology

1. A new Virtual Reality system is aiming to empower North Texas veterans to deal with post-traumatic stress. The "StrongMind" system was donated to VA North Texas by the charitable organization SoldierStrong. Rather than asking veterans to recall their stressful memories as part of their therapy, they are immersed into a three-dimensional environment such as a small town, rural village or the back of vehicle, with clinicians gradually adding personalized elements that the veteran might remember, such as weather conditions, noises, or the feel of holding a weapon. “We’re finding this particular kind of treatment may draw, particularly young, digital generation service members and veterans into treatment, that they would normally avoid or not seek in a traditional format,” says Immersive tech pioneer Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo. He developed the system over the last 15 years at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC, where he is the director of medical Virtual Reality. SoldierStrong said there are already at least eight additional requests for the system from VA facilities and as many as 40 requests from private interests. – KXXV

2. Beat Saber's creator Jaroslav Beck wants Elon Musk’s new music track in his game. The eccentric Tesla CEO is known for throwing random curveballs at the internet, with the latest one being the impromptu release of an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) track a few days ago. Musk’s electronic single “Don’t Doubt Ur Vibe” was made available on streaming services such as SoundCloud and Spotify on Jan. 30, and quickly amassed around 2 million plays on Soundcloud alone. This was picked up by the Beat Games co-founder and composer, who tweeted that the song could be added to Beat Saber, prompting some mixed reactions in the comments. Virginia Glaze notes that while at the time of writing Musk is yet to respond to the request and comments, the song could make an interesting official addition to the game, which can already be customized with whatever tracks users want. – DEXERTO  

3. Spotlight: Women in VR - Yelena Drabkin

By Alice Bonasio

Yelena Drabkin is the chief product officer at immersive learning startup Strivr, which has pioneered VR-based training for elite sports teams. She was the first female executive hired by the company and has been instrumental in its pivot towards applying immersive tech to enterprise training beyond sports. Over the past year, Yelena led and managed a strategic partnership with Oculus (Facebook) to oversee the deployment of more than 20,000 VR headsets to enable the largest implementations of enterprise VR training in the world to date, with employers like Walmart, Verizon and Fidelity.

Yelena is committed to championing women in tech, and has led initiatives such as WISE (Women in Strivr Excelling), which has the mission of creating a network of supportive women within the company and helps women develop new skills, encouraging a more inclusive and empathetic culture. This has led to the company having 40% female employees today.

As Strivr continues to grow and build its immersive learning platform, setting out industry best practices in the emerging field of Virtual Reality training, Yelena says she will focus on furthering the company's vision while creating a bias-free enviroment. This includes furthering various WISE initiatives such as its pilot mentorship program, in with 10 managers acted as mentors. It’s important, she explains, for women to have male mentors, too — and for men to support equality in the workplace, not just in theory, but in action.

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. Women have been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of VR storytelling, and they're just getting started. This post by journalist Dayna Evans for the HP Garage profiles eight pioneering female filmmakers and journalists, such as Nonny de la PeñaEliza McNittCéline Tricart, and Lynette Wallworth, who we have also featured in our own spotlight here in the Inside Newsletter during the past year. With the painful lack of diversity in the creating industries making itself felt as awards season gets in full swing and not a single female director, the rise of immersive tech as a creative medium presents an opportunity for us to build a much more inclusive, diverse, and therefore interesting industry around it, and that is something that both men and women need to fight for. The powerful point made by Joaquin Phoenix about persons of color at the BAFTAS applies across the board: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. – HP GARAGE  

5. VR Dungeons & Dragons is coming to the Oculus Quest. Kyle Melnick writes that “Tavern Tales: Tabletop Adventures" is every tabletop enthusiast’s pipedream made manifest, combining the best of both worlds by mashing traditional tabletop gaming elements while giving both players and DMs (Dungeon Masters) a set of immersive tools that couldn’t possibly exist in the real world. The result is an authentic RPG (role-playing game) experience which appropriately begins inside a tavern "with plenty of ale to chug, chicken legs to munch, and axes to throw." It is available in beta now and currently aiming to launch on both Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift/Rift S. – VRSCOUT   

6. Eye-tracking could prove to be the ultimate game-changer for VR adoption. Scott Stein writes about his CES 2020 demo of the Pico Neo 2, which integrates with eye-tracking technology developed by Swedish company Tobii. The Pico Neo 2 Eye is the first smaller-scale eye-tracking VR headset, using Tobii's tech and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, but Tobii's CEO and co-founder Henrik Eskilsson says they are working with the majority of manufacturers on incorporating eye-tracking which is already a prominent feature on Mixed Reality headsets such as the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap. As Stein explains, there's a truly practical reason for eye tracking, in that it helps to intelligently reduce graphics through foveated rendering which means only the parts of the image you're looking at directly get the fullest resolution and image quality, thus saving GPU cycles. – CNET  

7. The VR experience "1000 Cut Journey" is helping people experience racism. As part of the University of Michigan's Center for Academic Innovation’s Winter 2020 XR Speaker Series, alum Courtney Cogburn, who is now an associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work, talked about her work in creating the piece, which was meant to foster awareness of the day-to-day racism faced by black Americans. In her talk entitled “XR: A Critical Analysis and Transdisciplinary Approach to Development and Application,” Cogburn explained that she first became interested in VR because of the medium's ability to enable perspective taking and reduce bias. “I was trying to imagine a way that I could complement my scientific, empirical work with something that was more visceral or emotional,” she explained, while also warning against the flipside of creating a type of  “trauma porn,” in which people feel good about feeling empathy. – THE MICHIGAN DAILY  

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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