1. Facebook showed a prototype of its next-generation hyper-realistic avatars at F8 yesterday. At its annual developer conference, the company announced it is working on anatomically correct animations of the human skeleton, muscle and skin to recreate a person's appearance as well as replicate their movements accurately and with minimal lag. Oculus research supervisor Ronald Mallet showed what this would look like with a video displaying a man and woman moving around a room wearing VR headsets, while their avatars played digital soccer on a screen. The demo was impressive according to journalists, but Mallet stresses that we're still years away from having this available in consumer VR headsets. – CNN
2. Filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival are embracing interactive storytelling. Emily Gera talks to creators exploring new ways of telling stories through immersive media and experiences some of their work being showcased at this year's Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program. This includes Gloomy Eyes, an unconventional love story between a young girl and a zombie, narrated by actor Colin Farrell. New Frontier’s director Kamal Sinclair points out that new media and technologies constantly change and challenge our view of the world and it is the work of artists to make meaning out of that disruption.– THE GUARDIAN
3. Throwback Thursday: Sensorama
Morton Heilig was known as the father of virtual reality, and for good reason. His Sensorama machine, which he patented in 1962, is one of the earliest examples of multimodal technology. Heilig was a multimedia creator in a time when the term hadn’t yet been invented. His concept of multi-sensory theater-like experiences was laid out in his 1955 paper The Cinema of the Future, where he talks about being inspired by the concept of ‘feelies’ – movies enhanced with sensory elements – imagined in Aldous Huxley's seminal Science Fiction tale Brave New World.
He went on to build the Sensorama prototype to showcase that concept in practice. To experience a two-minute immersive experience, the user would insert a token, straddle a bucket seat, grasp a pair of handles, and place their eyes on viewing holes (safe in the knowledge that the clever design even incorporated UV lights that sterilized the equipment after each use) surrounded by vents.
There were five films to choose from, all shot by Heilig himself using a 3D camera he also invented and built from scratch, which filmed side-by-side 35mm simultaneously, had capacity for two 400 ft magazines, and yet was small enough to be used as a hand-held device. Intriguing titles included Belly Dancer, Dune Buggy, and, I'm a Coca-Cola Bottle. In Motorcycle, the simulation took you for a ride through New York as you felt the wind on your face, heard the noises of the city, and even smelt the food in the snack shops and the exhaust from the bus in front of you.
It’s probably fair to say that Heilig was ahead of his time, as he never did get funding to take his design into commercial production, so eventually abandoned it. That didn’t mean he stopped dabbling in immersive experiences, however. In the 1970s he worked as a consultant for clients such as Disney, helping create 3D effects, illusions and experience rooms which led to projects such as the "Thrillerama" (which we might well cover on another edition of Throwback Thursday)
Heilig passed away in 1997, yet his website – which bizarrely still says it’s “under construction” lists the Sensorama machine for sale to a serious collector or museum. The reported price tag on this piece of VR history is $1.5 million.
4. Snapchat is leading the AR marketing revolution. After unveiling the company's AR-based Lens Studio at its first annual Partner Conference CEO Evan Spiegel announced more AR features such as Scan, AR Bar, Landmarkers, and Creator Profiles, which all tie into a broader immersive strategy for monetizing the technology. Kate Talbot, who authored a book on the subject, writes for Forbes that AR brings a new interactive dimension, which has tremendous implications for businesses and consumers alike by turning the device in people’s hands into an interactive platform which bridges online and the offline realities. "All surfaces become fair game to deliver unique advertising to your community and beyond. This opens up the unlimited potential for savvy vendors and creatives agencies," she says. – FORBES
5. Apart from a small haptics bug, the Rift S already works just about flawlessly with SteamVR. Even though the new Oculus HMD doesn't ship for another three weeks, Even though the headset doesn’t ship for another three weeks, the integration is already in place, ensuring that users can play Valve’s new flagship VR game due to be released later this year on that headset as well– ROAD TO VR
6. A company in Omaha is looking to use AR technology to enable better remote consultations for patients in rural areas. – KMTV
7. The Valve Index was unveiled yesterday, and while it failed to excite some reviewers, Ian Hamilton was impressed with the new hardware, writing that the headset's cumulative improvements add up to a tremendous boost in comfort levels.– UPLOADVR
8 LA’s BEST afterschool enrichment program has partnered with AR/VR/XR developer Within to introduce AR storytelling technology to ten different elementary schools and Public libraries in Los Angeles. Using the companies award-winning children’s AR app, Wonderscope, hundreds of children were able to improve their reading and vocabulary skills.– VRSCOUT
9. A Show of Virtual Reality opens in New York to give collectors a taste of the artistic potential of Virtual and Augmented reality. Curated by Daniel Birnbaum, it showcases works by Anish Kapoor, Rachel Rossin, and Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg.– ARTNET
10. An immersive retail outlet has opened in Tokyo combining analog and augmented reality features. The store façade was decked with the brand’s logo, which ‘jumps’ towards passersby with clever animations, while the gallery space introduces products in a constant movement.– DESIGN BOOM
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
Editing team: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside); Susmita Baral (senior editor at Inside, who runs the biggest mac and cheese account on Instagram); and David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).