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Inside XR (Mar 20th, 2020)

Remote Components Added to AWE 2020 / Free VR Courses During Quarantine / Weekly XR Digest


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Dear subscribers,

Here's your digest of the top immersive tech stories of the week (items 4 to 8), which you might have missed if you're not yet one of our Premium subscribers... Which leads me to a cheeky ask :-)

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Alice Bonasio

@Alicebonasio

1. AWE 2020, the Augmented World Expo, has launched online systems to allow for remote attendance. In an announcement about the upcoming AWE conference, attendees were told that COVID-19 means they should, if possible, join in via the combination of remote tools and tech platforms that will be provided. These include live streaming, online booths, and real-time video networking. "We will continue to educate & highlight innovation in the AR/VR industry by amplifying the voices of more than 200 industry visionaries and exhibitors," the statement read. "This brand new online format will allow anyone around the globe who is interested in the fields of AR/VR to remotely experience AWE and stay informed on the most important industry news and trends from the safety of their homes."

Some of the additional features attendees can expect include:

  • Connecting with thousands of attendees, exhibitors and speakers in real-time via private chats and video calls.

  • Visiting online exhibits to see the latest demos via 1:1 video calls.

  • Joining impromptu, video-based ‘hallway’ conversations and pre-scheduled group meetings.

  • Receiving end-of-day briefings on key news and topics from the event.

  • One-year of access to all session videos and resources following the conference.

2. Online Academy VRTL has made its creative VR courses free. The VRTL Introductory Package, which teaches the fundamentals of VR storytelling and production process (usually priced at $79.95), is now being offered entirely for free. The idea is to provide people currently stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic with an opportunity to use their time productively by learning about VR creation and enhancing their immersive skillset. "These are difficult times. Times that call for the responsibility of everyone to get through this humanitarian crisis as quickly as possible, but also times that call for solidarity," VRTL announced. "Let's help each other defeat COVID-19 and get out of it stronger. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.” – VRTL

3. Follow Friday: Professor Shafi Ahmed

Professor Ahmed is a multi-award-winning surgeon, teacher, futurist, innovator, and entrepreneur who has been dubbed as the "Virtual Surgeon," receiving the accolade of the most-watched surgeon in human history. He's a 3x TEDx speaker and has delivered over 250 keynotes in 30 countries. ​His mission is to merge the world of medicine, global education, and virtual and augmented reality to democratize and scale surgical education and make it affordable and accessible to everyone, using the power of connectivity to allow equitable surgical care.

Shafi made world headlines in 2014 by streaming a live operation using Google Glass to 14,000 students and trainees across 132 countries. ​On April 14, 2016, he performed the world’s first virtual reality operation, which was watched by 55,000 people in 140 countries (and reached 4.6 million on Twitter.)​ In December 2016, he used Snapchat Spectacles to record and teach surgery across the globe, which has over 100,000 downloads and has been viewed by over 2 million people. In November 2017, he conducted an operation while being joined by other surgeons from three continents and three-time zones using avatars and holograms. Last but not least, he co-founded Medical Realties, which released the world's first VR Interactive Surgical Training Module.

We recently featured a video (see No. 7 below) showcasing Shafi's latest collaborative project with Magic Leap, and his Twitter account @ShafiAhmed5 contains a wealth of interesting and relevant content not only around immersive technology, but broader healthcare issues which, during these times, is welcome indeed.

4. The Oculus Quest went back in stock—but quickly sold out again. For a brief period on Friday the 13th, customers were able to purchase either the 64GB (priced at $399) and 128GB ($499) headsets on the Oculus website, but the stock quickly sold out and both models are now listed as unavailable once again. The popular HMDs had been selling out since the 2019 holiday season, but the supply was further disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. This echoes what happened to Valve the previous week, when the stock of Index headsets the company had on sale on its website sold out in less than an hour. While the Quest is a lower-powered self-contained VR headset than the index, it can also connect to a PC to play high-end VR games via the Oculus Link functionality, which means that gamers hoping to play "Half-Life: Alyx" when it comes out on March 23 probably helped to drive the high demand for the devices. – THE VERGE    

5. Pop artist KAWS (a.k.a. Brian Donnelly) launched an Augmented Reality project spanning six continents. "Expanded Holiday" includes limited and open editions of his iconic "Companions" and a free exhibition that will place massive AR sculptures in 12 major cities such as New York, Paris and Tokyo until March 26. The project is a collaboration with tech company Acute Art, which previously worked with the likes of Ai Wei Wei, Marina Abramović and Jeff Koons to incorporate immersive tech into their artistic visions. Visitors to the free exhibitions, titled "Companion (Expanded)," will be able to view, capture and share images of a giant, levitating Companion through the Acute Art app at locations including Times Square and the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. It's also possible to lease an AR Companion via the app for seven to 30 days for under $30, which will allow them to visualize the art in any location during that time. Twenty-five limited-edition AR Companions are also on sale via the website for $10,000. Donnelly says he was drawn to AR because of its scale and the ability to create experiences that simultaneously occupy a real space and exist digitally: "I instantly got excited about what the possibilities could be that couldn't exist in a traditional medium," he adds.  – CNN  

6. Facebook announced an Oculus upgrade and new exclusive Beat Saber music package at its first virtual all Game Developer’s Showcase. Things kicked off with a major update to the Oculus Quest system experience that makes VR more flexible, social, and easy to use than ever before. It comes with a completely redesigned universal menu, new immersive overlays, and multi-window support for 2D apps starting with Oculus Browser—and these updates are launching as experimental features later this month. Additionally, the company announced today that it would release an exclusive music pack for Beat Saber from rapper Timbaland, which will be available for Oculus Quest and Rift on March 26th. – TECH TRENDS

7. Professor Shafi Ahmed explains various aspects of the coronavirus in an immersive collaborative environment. The UK-based surgeon, who is a notorious advocate for emerging technologies, used this short video to not only shed light on the virus itself, but also to showcase how XR enables meaningful real-time collaboration among healthcare professionals. Professor Ahmed, wearing a Magic Leap One headset, interacted with colleagues in the U.S. (using different devices via the Beame platform) while manipulating holographic representations of COVID-19 and viewing graphics showing real-time tracking data provided by Johns Hopkins CSSE. – TWITTER

8. A professor has developed a piece of software that allows him to transform into a virtual anime schoolgirl to attract more students to his online classes. Jiang Fei, a digital art professor at Shanghai Universities Fine Arts College, says that since COVID-19 led to the adoption of digital classrooms, online exams, and virtual flag-raising ceremonies by many Chinese schools, it has been challenging to keep students motivated in their studies and up-to-date on their assigned coursework. Fei developed his own custom software that utilizes a binocular camera to track human bones and overlay them with 3D digital models in real-time. After isolating himself in his home this past January due to the outbreak, he began using the custom software to spice up his live streams and recorded lessons. While Fei is capable of switching between multiple characters such as monsters, robots, and Iron Man, his students have become fond of an anime schoolgirl model, which has since become his go-to avatar. Since implementing the technology into his lessons, Fei has reported an overall increase in student engagement as well as noticeable improvements to retention. – VRSCOUT   

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 Beth Duckett, staff writer at Inside.

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