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Inside VR & AR

Inside VR & AR (Jul 3rd, 2019)

We’re taking a break tomorrow for some barbecue and fireworks fun, so the next edition Inside VR & AR will be on Friday when I’ll be sharing my top pics for immersive summer reading, stay tuned.

Happy 4th July for those celebrating Independence Day!

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1. Valve provided developers a treasure trove of documentation to enable modding of the Index Headset, then quickly changed its mind. The Valve Index started shipping last week, gathering praise for its high-quality technical specs. The company subsequently released 3D files to help people build mods and accessories for it on GitHub under a Creative Commons license. Not soon afterward, the link started redirecting to an error 404 page and it is as yet unclear whether the resources will become available again, or what prompted the withdrawal. Valve has released these kinds of files before when it made the Steam Controller’s CAD files available in 2016, urging buyers to customize the PC gamepad and resulting in some interesting cosmetic mods and snap-on joysticks to replace the device's trackpads — something you can also 3D-print for the Vive SteamVR headset. – THE VERGE

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2. Miley Cyrus surprised Glastonbury fans by donning a purple wig and impersonating her "Black Mirror" alter ego Ashley O from season five's "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" episode. The singer performed the character's hit "On a Roll," adding another dimension to the self-referential plot of the dystopian series, which nearly sees Ashley replaced by a performing hologram when her physical self falls into a coma - something that resonates with the increasing popularity of holographic tours by artists such as Roy Orbinson, and Whitney Houston. – MASHABLE

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3. – Jargon Watch: Spatial Audio

There is a growing consensus among technologists and content makers that truly immersive virtual environments and experiences need to be multi-sensory ones, which means shifting our focus slightly from the visuals and paying attention to the important role that sound plays in tricking our brain that it is somewhere else. As Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash puts it, 3D sound is not an addition to VR, but a multiplier that infinitely enhances the experience. 

The method for recording and reproducing basic 3D audio, also known as binaural audio, goes back to the late 19th century, and in its simplest form requires only two microphones - placed roughly in the same distance as is the average position of human ears. In a slightly more complex method, both of the microphones are placed inside ear-shaped bodies at an optimum distance from one another as well as the source of the audio, which allows the recording to more closely mimic real-life sounds.

Spatial Audio refers to the science behind "placing" sounds directionally around the user, creating a dynamic 3D soundscape where the relative position of people and objects actively influences the delivery of audio to your ears - and your brain. Spatial audio is designed to mimic the pitch, volume, reverberation level and other audio cues the brain would expect during a real-world experience. It allows developers to create content whose sounds can come from any direction. It achieves that effect in VR using software algorithms that manipulate a program’s sound wave frequencies, creating audio levels that become louder or softer depending on the user’s distance from a virtual object. The sound also shifts from one headphone speaker to the other as the person moves their head from side to side or as the virtual objects move on their own.

Humans are hardwired to pay attention to sound and instinctively use it to map their surroundings, and we have in-built natural filters hardwired into us at an early age, which are called Head Related Transfer Functions (HRTF). So in order to design realistic spatial audio landscapes, companies like Microsoft created complex algorithms to account for the fact that, for example, different head shapes affect the way that we perceive audio. 

In recent years the immersive technology industry has taken these principles to an entirely new level, most notably with devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens, which advanced on research the company had done for the Kinect gaming system and applied it to Mixed Reality.  

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4. The Gucci official app launched an AR feature that lets users visualize how signature Ace sneakers look on their feet. Jonathan Evans tried the functionality (currently only available on iOS) and reports that the interface is as simple as opening the app, selecting the desired model, and pointing the phone's camera at your feet. It works even if you keep your shoes on (although he recommends socks for a better fit) and allow users to see how the shoes would look with a variety of their own outfits. – ESQUIRE

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5. Apple's latest batch of patent awards includes one that relates to AR 3D models. This reflects the company's increased focus on providing developers with better tools for creating AR content and could help make for smoother experiences across iOS apps. It is related to a graphical user interface for 3D models on iOS, and the interface is meant to be systemwide — meaning that multiple apps could make use of the interface, including third-party apps. – DIGITAL TRENDS

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6. Students in Idaho are creating a VR experience to help children on the autism spectrum to cope with the stress of air travel. Boise Airport recently ran an event called Wings for Autism , where children on the spectrum get a practice run at boarding a plane. The outputs were then captured by a team from Boise State University's Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology lab (GIMM) to allow more children to acclimatize themselves with the sights, sounds, and potential stress triggers of the airport in a safe and controlled environment. – KIVI BOISE

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7. A service called Aira is being trialed at Manchester Airport in New Hampshire to enable blind people to orient themselves using AR glasses. The company has geo-tagged the airport so that users can turn the application on for free within its perimeter. The service connects the glasses to a smartphone, which in turn links to a remote assistant that acts as the blind person's eyes - warning of obstacles, providing directions, or reading signs. Aira (which stands for Artificial Intelligence and Remote Assistance) was founded in 2015 in San Diego and after two funding rounds launched a subscription service last summer, with plans starting at $29 a month. – CONCORD MONITOR

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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), David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology), and Bobby Cherry (senior editor at Inside, who’s always on social media).

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