Weekly Round Up: May 3, 2018

In Social News…

There are a lot of updates going on in the VR/AR world, but most significantly standalone headsets are becoming more real in the US, and with the Facebook F8 Conference this past week – the Oculus Go is now on sale.

The introduction of stand alone devices have long been hailed as the hardware that will truly change VR adoption by consumers. The need for a specific smart phone, gaming computer and/or large amounts of flexible walking space prevents your average person from consuming VR content – not even to mention price tags. While reports of the Oculus Go have circled for months, F8 made it official. The Go is coming and already has some critical relationships (Netflix, and Hulu) to name a few.

A feature I haven’t heard too much about, but I think is critical for mass market, is the ability to personalize with prescription lens inserts. This may seem like a small feature, but changes like this and the flexibility to customize devices will appeal to more consumers.

In other social news, AR Face Filters are continuing to make waves. Last week, Snap announced that it was opening it’s development platform to include AR Face Filters. They also introduced a applet ability (Snappables). Instagram, not one to be left behind, is following suit. To counter Snaps engagement with brands, Instagram is utilizing AR filters in conjunction with brands, in a different way.

Snappables

Also at F8, Facebook introduced AR Capabilities for Messenger, specifically for brands, which until now are housed in Facebook Stories. Brands are one of the largest user bases to use Messenger bots to communicate with consumers.

New “hardware” (a phrase I’m hesitant to use) continues to infiltrate the news – most notably, the “Force Jacket” from joint effort between Disney Research, MIT Media Lab, and Carnegie Melon University. This is a far leap from the 4D movie experiences of my childhood in creating interaction and imposing specific reactions on viewers.

Leaving the Social Networks behind…

Forgetting the social world, today, Vive released three new SDKs (currently in early access) related to interactions within the Vive. It seems that Vive is moving more towards pass-through AR and audio AR/VR. While it’s clear that the Pro is a more sophisticated and clear device, these updates to audio will continue to create more realistic environments for participants.

The New York Times is steadily increasing their AR usage – specifically in exploring the red planet. The Times is clearly pushing themselves into the digital age, seeing AR as a realistic future for engaging with content. The Weather Channel is also attempting to distinguish themselves, and utilize AR to more realistic indicate weather movements. Now this isn’t new news given that the station toyed with AR in 2015, but it’s certainly making waves currently.

My First *VR* Design Sprint

At their core, Design Sprints are intended to solve a problem in an organized way – bringing experts, outside examples, structured brainstorming, a prototype, and ultimately customer feedback all into one actioned-packed week. At Banjo, we’ve found that Design Sprints are an incredibly useful tool for VR concepts and prototyping. But, before we get into the why, let’s examine what a Design Sprint is.

The Sprint is mocked up in a helpful, succinct, and easy to understand book. Specific communication tactics are utilized to generate ideas and teamwork. Additionally, games are involved –  with plenty of stickers and post-it notes.

The Sprint challenges our ideas on how brainstorming and idea generation should happen and provides direction. It walks you through a whole week of problem solving, design, prototyping and testing. The idea is for you to walk out of a 5-day Sprint with a greater understanding of a key problem (which you defined) and a working prototype that allows users to provide immediate feedback.

So, why specifically are Design Sprints so helpful to VR creation?

  1.  It Forces us to Move Quickly

VR is complicated and requires spatial thinking – it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia. The Sprint forces us to make decisions, think about the end user, and iterate on a physically immersive prototype.  As the book discusses, it’s important to make a prototype – that while clearly still a prototype – allows the user to experience the team’s solution. For VR, that is a demanding requirement for an immersive 1-day prototype!

The longer it takes to make something, the more committed we feel to that something’s success. This sentiment relates to products and projects in general – if we take months to create something, we’re bound to feel tied to its success. If we innovate and create something quickly, we’re more likely to feel less committed and open to change.

  1. Demands 5 Days of Focus

When you’re designing and creating a VR or AR prototype, there’s a lot to consider. The project is more likely to succeed through focused idea generation and a shared understanding of the overall process.

Specific tasks and accomplishments each day of the sprint keep us and our clients motivated and dedicated to one specific problem. Instead of prolonging these discussions over weeks, or maybe even months, we commit to solving it together over the course of one week. While committing 5 full days away from regular work and meetings is stressful, it allows the Banjo creative and engineering teams and the client to focus on that singular problem and solve it together.

  1. The Sprint Requires Expertise, as well as Participation from Clients and End Users

The Sprint gives us a framework to share knowledge about specialized subject areas – not only VR interactions but also the clients’ expertise. It is critical to take the time to discuss how the technology actually works, what the limitations are and draw out users’ existing VR expectations.

Banjo learned to be thorough in giving more background on the science behind these technologies. There is a line of what is possible – and it’s not readily understood by customers. We like to think of our Sprints as a great learning opportunity, on both sides of the table. Not only are we ending the week with an amazing prototype, but we’ve also empowered one another to learn and engage with 100% of our attention aimed at finding a perfect fit solution.

Design Sprint prototyping is about the process. Stop thinking about your end product and focus on your users. What can we create, together, in a compressed timeline that will test the core hypothesis and not break immersion with the users we are asking for feedback?

 

 

Weekly Roundup: February 8, 2018

Applestylus patent

This week, we saw two different patents from Apple published – both of which are somewhat unsurprising (which might make them surprising moves for Apple). One for a VR/AR headset display. The headsets primary goal is VR, but the patent focuses on optical designs and begs the question of how the headset could be utilized in AR applications. The other published patent, a stylus for the air, certainly focuses more on AR. In truth, I don’t know anyone who purchased the pencil (which only works with iPad Pro) – but reviews are generally favorable of the smart stylus even if the price was a deterrent. Products of the past aside, a stylus for literally our surroundings seem extremely next level. While the conversation on the patented new stylus revolves around creating 3D objects in the air, its future as an AR tool seems quite obvious.

Returning to a time when Ghosting isn’t a bad thing

Urban dictionary and millennials changed the meaning of “to ghost” or “ghosting” someone. If you’re unfamiliar, read any recent article on dating. Not purposefully changing our vernacular, Vreal allows users to experience VR games played by others, illustrated a shaded out, ghost fashion. With a huge culture of watching other people play video games, it’s no wonder that this has finally become an option in VR.

monkeymediaVR Motion Sickness? An element of the past. 

A huge consideration in VR content is how do you communicate your environment to your audience without making them ill. In some ways, this aspect is highly congruent to basic elements of film and cinematography. In VR, you want viewers to feel immersed and one way to accomplish that is through the field of view you provide them. What MonkeyMedia proposes, is for viewers to navigate themselves through an environment with their body language – thus reducing disagreements which can cause motion sickness.

AR in Mobile

8th Wall rightfully points out that for most consumers, their first (and primary) interaction with AR will be on mobile. At this moment, ARCore and ARKit are limited in terms of reach – only so many devices out there are able to run the platforms. In a move to equalize devices, and increase reach, 8th Wall specifically uses, “…computer vision to enable six degrees of freedom tracking, light estimation, and surface detection capabilities for apps on iOS or Android.” As more people age out of their current devices (planned obsolescence anyone?), this will become less of an issue – but is critical for increasing sample sizes now.  

Last, but not least, grab your Cardboard and join the fun: Winter Olympics VR

Weekly Roundup: February 1, 2018

“Mixed Reality”

In a trippy pixelated fashion, Imverse captures your body and it’s movements, recreating them in a virtual space. Though the effect is strange and clearly produced, it does hint at a future without body trackers in which your space records your movements. It’s easy to discount certain technologies that are discontinued, but as our engineer proclaimed, “See, look! The Kinect is still useful!”.

In other mixed reality news, Facebook is developing another response to the problem addressed above – how do we accurately capture body movements? What it comes down to is computer vision and the ability to predict and confirm the thousands of potential movements. The tech is moving forward, but more work is still to come.

mask-r-cnn2go

Too impatient for the above companies to figure it out? Look to the Vive Pro which already has the capability to track your hands without trackers with the depth sensor on the headset. While capabilities are still limited, it’s certainly a step forward.

While the Hololens is effectively an expensive marketing tool, Trimble is trying to reinvent its image as a hard hat for workers. Can you image the Hololens replacing your typical protective eyewear? I can’t imagine it’d protect me from actual dangerous debris, but I’ll wait for them to prove me wrong.

AR For Everyone! (You get AR, and you get AR!)

Even though Tango is dead, Google is declaring AR for the web. A potential reason for this decision and declaration is that one of Google’s main offerings is Web. With AR applications taking off, Google needs to compete. Especially with Poly, this puts Google in a prime position to offer AR access to the masses.

gifarticle3

Just in time for the Olympics, the New York Times announced their future use of AR within their content. Embedded in future news stories, AR content will be interlaid like other images, thus allowing readers to interact with the AR object in their own space.

Misc.

I love a good patent (thank god for Google Translate), and HTC is no exception. Last week, WIPO published and approved a patent for a mobile VR “accessory and lens system”. The patent illustrates a phone case with an attached Cardboard-like headset.

H-E-B, one of the largest grocery chains in the US, will now pilot Vuzix smart glasses in their manufacturing operations. AR within industrial enterprises is clearly coming and utilizing glasses is the ideal.

Weekly Roundup: January 11, 2018

CES: Why write about anything else?
 
New forms of transportation, enhanced TV screens (fruit roll-up LG anyone?), and of course, VR/AR dominated CES this year. While there is still one more day to go, we do have some thoughts on what has been released thus far.
 
From my informal office poll, the below product updates and announcements are our favorites:
 
The Vive Pro, of course. Already the darling of VR/AR enthusiasts, HTC released a pro version with XYZ as well as a branded wireless adapter. This announcement further places the VIVE as a top VR hardware provider. The Pro update includes increased resolution and sound fidelity, thus continuing the trend of making our virtual worlds more realistic. This trend is also visible in the increased wave of haptic startups and offerings).
 
As we’ve been playing with our TPCAST, the ability to be non-tethered is an incredibly freeing sensation. What’s the saying? You’re only as good as your tools and this release is certainly pushing premium VR forward.
 
It’s easy to say this was just an update, not a new product release but most supporters would beg you to differ. From increased to comfort, with upgraded headphones and more buttons, the Pro is an exciting update.
 
The Lenovo Mirage Solo is certainly another promising push into VRs future. A powerful standalone headset, the Mirage Solo is clean and simple. Under $400, the headset is already making waves for being considerably cheaper than the other standalone headset presented at CES (the Pico Neo).

 

While AR glasses are still waiting for their prime, several were released at CES and give us hope for growth. ASTRI came out with an increased field of view compared to the Hololens (placing more objects around us), while the Vuzix Blade is seemingly a resurrection of the Google Glass.
 
As for other mentionable updates in the AR/VR world, Looxid (pronunciation is not as it seems) takes the cake with the CES 2018 innovation award. A new premium headset from Pimax is coming our way, and though it can create beautiful visuals it is rather large and probably $$. 

 

 
The rest of CES? We’re becoming closer and closer to my childhood reality: Smart House with a focus on AI, smart home, and appliances.
 
Before the week closes, some state history. Since 1951, Oregonians were not permitted to pump their own gas, the reason being a concern of spilling fuel. While most other contiguous states permit this activity (New Jersey is the only other state which bans self-pumping), only this year did Oregon opened the opportunity for the majority of their state. The result? Memes galore and even a VR experience.

Weekly Roundup: January 4, 2018

That’s a wrap for 2017….

magic leapThough we didn’t reach the pinnacle of VR that The Guardian or other sources predicted, 2017 still closed with major updates in the VR/AR/MR/etc. space. This past year we saw an explosion in content, as well as updates in existing hardware. Some of the most notable outcomes were the Magic Leap announcement and the introduction of ARKit and ARCore. TechRadar even claims that we’re in a ‘second wave’ of virtual reality. From both an entertainment and enterprise perspective, the market seems to be in a prime position to continue growth an expansion.  

…and entering 2018

2018 is here and is already filling up with pertinent announcement and product releases. Everyone and anyone is making note of what’s coming and how it might change the game (perhaps most significant will be standalone VR headsets).

In the midst of announcements regarding both updated software and hardware, comes further proof that VR/AR is far more versatile. 

amazon mirror2

One of the biggest fears of eCommerce (and missteps for many CPG companies) was that consumers wouldn’t buy things that they couldn’t feel. This assumption, that we need kinesthetic senses to make that leap from the shopping cart, to check out, to purchase was proven unfounded (I mean, where do you buy most of your goods/media content/clothing?). And yet, eCommerce companies are still looking for ways to integrate a deep sense of reality within the shopping experience. Enter Amazon, which has submitted a patent for a VR mirror that dresses you in virtual clothes. It’s not a far cry from the dream mirror of every girl, as shown in Clueless.

In other news, the cost-prohibitive Hololens still is one of the main HMD (head mounted displays) in the current market. We’ve discussed medical uses before but Nomadeec created a Hololens program to assist first responders and doctors for making tough decisions.

Furthermore, VR experiences as a form of preparation are continuing to arrive (recall the simulation Walmart created for Black Friday). In one example, VR simulations are becoming part of programs for juvenile inmates who are about to re-enter society as adults.  

Last but not least…Ready Player One

While hype has already begun for the VR film of the year (i.e. the photoshop snafu of Tye’s leg), 2018 brings us even closer to a film that will likely change the public’s perception and consumption of VR/AR. When we think about VR representation in media, we consider content such as Black Mirror, the Matrix, Tron, etc. While these shows and films laid groundwork for actual technology, Ernest Cline’s novel feels much more familiar. It takes concepts and hardwares that already exist, products that are on the shelves and intensifies them in a grim reality. Like most of our peers, we too are waiting for the ball to drop. 

3D Asset Production with Real-Time Rendering

The flexibility of game development engines like Unity and the exponential increases in GPU throughput (thank you cryptocurrency miners!) represent a revolution in 3D art and animation for manufacturing and other engineering-led industries. Mature product companies design, develop and manufacture their products using CAD/CAM engineering software. CAD/CAM, or Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing precisely renders product designs within the strict confines of engineering data sets.

Engineering Data 01

When these data sets – representing a complete digital blueprint of a product – are combined with modern manufacturing techniques, it dramatically reduces the cycle time between design and manufacturing. Unfortunately, using those models for print, website, animation or even augmented reality/virtual reality via a traditional pre-rendering based production process is complicated, time consuming , and expensive. This process can be so arduous that many will create new, customer-facing 3D models from scratch – sacrificing accuracy and efficiency that should be derived from the original engineering data.

Due to their intricate detail, the 3D assets are typically very large files with massive  polygon counts (oftentimes in the millions, which is impractical and not necessary for real time engine use). In standard practice, files are translated into 3D geometry models useful for print and digital via a lengthy rendering process. But given the size, it can take a significant time and manual labor to translate for their final intended purposes. Rather than investing in modification and rendering each time we need to create a new asset, we can lower the polygon count and texture models in order to allow a real-time environment like Unity to quickly generate specific views, animations, or even interactive 3D experiences.

To get the CAD models to a point in which they are optimized for correct display, you need to reduce the polygon count. This process at times can produce anomalies that cause  issues with the integrity of surface quality (see below pictures as examples), but can be solved by creating normal maps using the original high poly model as reference. When you apply these normal maps to the low poly model, the surface quality of the models will render  correctly – despite not being the same polygonal count. If downsampling is well managed and performed by a skilled artist, the visual fidelity can match and potentially exceed the traditional production quality at a tiny fraction of the time.

Geometry_anomalies

This drives the cost of high quality 3D work down, bringing the capability to deliver 3D content and immersive experiences  to companies and product lines that couldn’t previously justify the investment. And leveraging the CAD data as a starting point for real-time rendering via game engines, we net an increased level of accuracy and fidelity that does not compromise the original intent of the object.

With translation complete the result is a versatile, accurate 3D geometric model. Surface materials are applied to the geometry that allow plastics to look like plastics and metals to behave as metals. Lighting, camera placement and an entire range of other artistic decisions provide complete visual control of imagery or animation – all in real-time. This allows artists and designers to experiment with immediate feedback  – creating deliverables for multiple end applications with efficiency.

Weekly Roundup: December 7, 2017

Health and Fitness

ekgreaderOk, ok, it’s not VR/AR related, BUT, the FDA just approved an EKG reader compatible with the Apple Watch. While knowing your heart rate is helpful (a key feature on many fitness trackers), more focused data will certainly affect the potential audience of smart watches. This could perhaps increase the purchasing presence of older consumer groups, as well as insurance deductions. This release and approval sets a tone for FDA approved medical devices on our persons which will surely impact other extensions and devices.

Furthermore, a new study from Tel Aviv University suggests that VR can help improve brain functionality in patients that suffer from Parkinson’s. By coordinating a virtual experience with a treadmill, it combines cognitive rehab with motor functionality.

In, what I’d call, a highly anticipated use case for Medical VR, a doctor in France has performed the first VR assisted surgery. While surgeries have been broadcasted in VR before, this is the first occasion in which the surgeon wore a headset during the surgery to project 3D images onto the patient, as well as a way for him to connect to SMEs in other countries.

hotstepper

Last, but not least, stay fit by using this little guy to lead you around. He may lack muscle tone and (probably) some bones, but he’s having such a good time! 

The Holidays, a prime time for nostalgia

Nothing gets more meta than playing a retro game on a retro gaming system, as a game. EmuVR released videos of their experience, which is essentially reliving your teenage years (for better, or for worse). The experience allows you to return to “your” childhood home, and simulates that game playing ritual of the past. I wonder if within the mocked up bedroom, there will be food trash, clothes on the floor, etc? Based on the amount of detail they’ve poured into it so far – I wouldn’t be surprised. Retro is clearly in (self-promotion plug: Starfox).

In other VR/AR News…a quick run down, bullet style.

 

The Snapchat Disappointment (and why you, yes you, need AR)

For non-gamer millennials, such as your writer here, AR is slowly seeping into the way we interact with technology. VR can sometimes feel like a distant future, something we see as inevitable (especially with those terrifyingly real Black Mirror episodes) but not quite here impacting the masses. But AR? It’s the future that’s already happening.

Cue the dancing hotdog.

via GIPHY

Snapchat and it’s dancing hotdog are a critical step in understanding what AR is, in it’s simplest form, for mass consumption. In my experience, and I think for many similar to me, AR most likely found it’s way into my life earlier. But only now was it incredibly clear that I was experiencing something that was AR. Incredibly silly and honestly useless, the hotdog still made its mark. 

snap3

And while Snapchat has faltered time and again, from Spectacles, to low usage (hello Instagram and Facebook stories), and disappointing quarterly sales calls, it still indicates a start to general consumer usage of AR. It introduced only a sliver of the possibilities of AR to those that otherwise wouldn’t have cared to Google it. And perhaps, that’s what is disappointing about Snapchat. Millennials, and the beloved consumer age group of <25, were captured by Snap, a ready market to blow up AR and discuss it’s pros, and yet Snap squandered them. It repeatedly made a difficult to use app, with limited applications outside of its interface, and now a limited audience. 

pokemon-go-update-allows-android-players-to-listen-to-their-favorite-vibes-512386-2

I’m not the first to write about and contemplate Snap’s failures and missteps as a tech company.  But I think it’s critical to recognize that for many of Snapchat’s users, these filters are consumers largest interactions with AR. Perhaps they’ve been to Harry Potter World, played Pokemon GO for a week, but I’d argue that Snapchat’s hotdog is just as critical to mass development as AR as those gaming experiences.

Whether you like it or not, AR will soon infiltrate your life. Why not be an early embracer? The Harvard Business Review recently commented on the space, noting that our data and work is stuck in a 2D world with limited functionality. If you and I are 3D, shouldn’t our processes be, too?

AR is quickly becoming recognized as what will really take the market by storm. One potential reason in this shift is the lack of additional accessories (as opposed to VR). With ARKit and ARCore, and a multitudes of other changes in our devices used daily, AR is far more accessible. It’s way past thinking that this is a fad, destined to meet the demise of antiquated devices and services. AR is here and it’s here to stay – join us.

More reading/learning:

Study: Global AR Market will Grow 65% a year until 2023

The Reality of VR/AR Growth

A.I., Big Data, and AR are Already with us and Growing

Why Investing in Obstacles to Augmented Reality Today Could Result in Billions

Apple Bets the Future of Augmented Reality will be on Your Phone 

Weekly Roundup: November 16, 2017

Continued Growth of VR in China

It was announced this week that HTC will be dropping their Google Daydream Headset. This news, reported by TechCrunch, comes as a surprise given the earlier amount of press given to the item. The partnership, originally announced in May, was to create standalone headsets which didn’t require a phone or PC. Lenovo, another partner mentioned in May, will still be producing a standalone headset, as told by Clay Bavor, Google’s VP of VR/AR. Instead, HTC is focusing on the VR market in China given the ultra competitive nature of VR providers and market fragmentation.  

5a0ac54efc7e9381108b4567

Furthermore, there’s a VR theme park coming to Guiyang, China. The project, which was over $1.3 billion, is set to open next month.

The park, East Valley of Science and Fantasy, seems to combine several aspects of fantasy fandom with a massive 174 foot Transformer, Aliens, Star Wars, and a castle that is reminiscent of Cinderella’s (though much more sinister and lego looking).

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals: Expanding the VR user base?

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, sales and deals are making their way to you through every medium possible. Black Friday deals traditionally set up Holiday specials for the rest of the season, and VR platforms are not exempt. Across all retailers, we’re seeing massive discounts and promotions on consoles, games and more. No longer a single day, sales at Amazon are already available.

nav-icon-lg-psvr-02feb16
PlayStation VR

This isn’t the first season where we’ve seen an uptick in VR tools for sale, but consumers have been told various messages from warnings to wait and pulls to purchase in previous years

Given the increased ubiquity of VR and AR (visibility in Walmart and other retailers have helped), and especially given the introduction of ARkit and ARcore, will this holiday season help change the landscape of VR users and increase usage by a measurable amount?