Inside XR - June 13th, 2019 |

Inside XR (Jun 13th, 2019)

Against Gravity Raises $24 Million for Social VR / Saatchi & Saatchi Design Honda AR App / Eye Tracking Gold Rush

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1. Against Gravity has now raised $24 million over two rounds of funding. The Seattle-based startup, which was founded in 2016, recently closed its Series B round led by Index Ventures. This shows there is still a lot of interest in developing Social VR, as the company's Rec Room platform is approaching one million user-generated rooms created. It has managed to capture a niche market by placing emphasis on user interaction rather than graphics fidelity, while laying the foundation for a sustainable business model based on user-generated VR content. Users without any coding knowledge are able to create experiences or “rooms” that can be accessed by others, and multiple people can collaborate in creating these environments (ranging from escape rooms to sports games, shooters, adventure quests and nightclubs) simultaneously. – TECHCRUNCH

2.  Toyota has launched its augmented reality platform to let users visualize their cars before buying. Developed by Saatchi & Saatchi, in partnership with Vertebrae, the platform will model the exteriors of 10 different car models without the need to download a specific app. The AR experience is delivered through digital media so that users can just click on a banner or add to launch it. Similar to what Porsche has enabled in its own recently launched AR app, customers will be able to personalize their vehicles before placing them in their own surroundings - such as a driveway or garage - and walk around a vehicle to explore it from every angle. –  FORBES 

3. Throwback Thursday - Transitions

Thirty-three years ago the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a production called Transitions to be showcased at the country's Expo 86 in Vancouver, the first-ever IMAX presentation using polarized glasses.  It was also the first full-color 3D IMAX film. 

In an article published in The Province newspaper in June 1986, film critic Michael Walsh described how the experience was sure to be "every small child's single most treasured memory of Expo 86," yet also says that every person who watched Transitions ended up reaching out to touch the teddy bear that floats off a toy factory assembly line and moves gradually closer to the viewer until they couldn't help but stretch out their hand. Walsh goes on to call the work "A joyous, exuberant cinema experience, Transitions celebrates a major breakthrough in film technology — 3D that works." 

From the beginning, Walsh wrote, the whole point of stereoscopic filmmaking has been to create a depth dimension so real that the human eye could believe in images that the mind knows are illusory. Colin Low (the film's director), together with his Film Board team, does just that, combining mechanical expertise with a sense of elegant whimsy to produce a picture that is both an experiment and a demonstration of new potential. "Their film is an inventory of breath-taking effects. From a fixed position, McNabb's camera puts dressed lumber, a gymnast and that wonderful teddy bear within our apparent reach.  Parallel tracking shots follow voyageur canoes along a wilderness river and a historic steam locomotive across the country. When McNabb tracks forward, the audience drives down a rural road behind a vintage automobile, trots around a track just inches ahead of a harness racehorse and, briefly, sits astride a speeding motorcycle."

So perhaps when we look at the past five years or so since this latest wave of enthusiasm for immersive technologies has started, it is useful to ponder on how long the technology has been enthusing people for. The difference now is that they no longer need an IMAX setup to do so. And although a portmanteau of random special effects would probably not be enough to keep audiences interested for long nowadays, Walsh's experience also demonstrates how engaging content is key to getting people to embrace it. 

4. Researchers developed that converts 2D pictures into 3D animations so people can interact with them in Augmented Reality. Photo Wake-Up, a software application developed by computer scientists at the University of Washington and Facebook, who will present their work at upcoming Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Long Beach, Calif. "Our work combines technical advancement on an open problem in the field with artistic creative visualization,” explains the study co-author Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, who says the UW team solved that problem by  identifying the body components of a figure in an image, matching those components to a virtual 3-D template, creating a full-body model of the person, draping colors and textures over the model and then projecting it back into the 2-D image. The computer algorithm fills in the data gaps in the image and also "borrowing" image data from other parts of the picture to fill in the blank spaces when virtual figures (such as paintings by masters such as Picasso or Matisse) walk out of their frames. – GEEKWIRE

5. Computer scientists in the UK used immersive technology to recreate the lives of telegraphers so that users could experience it in an escape room situation. – REUTERS

6. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society created an app to let people experience previously unseen parts of Fort Snelling. The military buildings are dilapidated to the point where visitors cannot safely go inside, but on June 15 visitors will be able to look through 3D models of the rooms in Fort Snelling where the Military Intelligence Service Language School taught Japanese to World War II soldiers. – FOX 9

7.  Eye tracking will be crucial for the development of immersive experiences. Tim Bradshaw writes that we're experiencing the start of a gold rush in the tech industry where companies are looking to gain an edge in how best to capture and leverage eye tracking data. Yet, he adds, this brings significant concerns around privacy, which Silicon Valley needs to get ahead of. –  FINANCIAL TIMES

8. Microsoft closed down its Mixed Reality Studio in Berlin. Studio head Dirk Songuer tweeted that the move came down to a "rational business and strategic" decision. – WINDOWS CENTRAL

9.  The impact of 5G on the immersive industry could be one of the biggest. Qualcomm estimates that 5G can provide a 10 times decrease in latency over 4G, which could significantly improve VR experiences, in addition to more stable connectivity due to its ability to handle many more devices simultaneously. – TECHRADAR

10. Mountain Hardwear launched an AR shopping app that features its entire range rendered in photorealistic high resolution, letting users toggle between products, environments and features to envision how the products would be used. – YAHOO FINANCE 

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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