Facebook wants to make thought-hearing glasses

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Plus smart glasses from Google, transforming drones, AR clothing and other patents from Big Tech.

It’s the weekend! Time to switch my digital avatar’s outfit from a suit to lounge pants. I don’t actually live in VR yet (though I did try working in it this week), but a new patent from Amazon might make that a reality sooner rather than later. The company’s also working on drones that could get deliveries to me even quicker than its other drones, and Facebook is working on making immersive videos work on any screen in my house. Who needs to go outside when I can bring the entire world to my couch? Big Tech’s patents this week seem very on board with me staying at home as long as I want to.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Disrupting death: Could we really live forever in digital form?

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Virtual reality, robots, chatbots and holograms could allow us to exist perpetually. Whether we should choose the option is a different story.

In 2016, Jang Ji-sung’s young daughter Nayeon passed away from a blood-related disease. But in February, the South Korean mother was reunited with her daughter in virtual reality. Experts constructed a version of her child using motion capture technology for a documentary. Wearing a VR headset and haptic gloves, Jang was able to walk, talk and play with this digital version of her daughter.

“Maybe it’s a real paradise,” Jang said of the moment the two met in VR. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile, for a very short time, but it’s a very happy time. I think I’ve had the dream I’ve always wanted.”

Once largely the concern of science fiction, more people are now interested in immortality — whether that’s keeping your body or mind alive forever (as explored in the new Amazon Prime comedy Upload), or in creating some kind of living memorial, like an AI-based robot or chatbot version of yourself, or of your loved one. The question is — should we do that? And if we do, what should it look like?

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This lick-able screen can recreate almost any taste of flavor without eating food

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No matter how they may make you feel, licking your gadgets and electronics is never recommended. Unless you’re a researcher from Meiji University in Japan who’s invented what’s being described as a taste display that can artificially recreate any flavor by triggering the five different tastes on a user’s tongue.

Years ago it was thought that the tongue had different regions for tasting sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors, where higher concentrations of taste buds tuned to specific flavors were found. We now know that the distribution is more evenly spread out across the tongue, and that a fifth flavor, umami, plays a big part in our enjoyment of food. Our better understanding of how the tongue works is crucial to a new prototype device that its creator, Homei Miyashita, calls the Norimaki Synthesizer.

It was inspired by how easily our eyes can be tricked into seeing something that technically doesn’t exist. The screen you’re looking at uses microscopic pixels made up of red, green, and blue elements that combine in varying intensities to create full-color images. Miyashita wondered if a similar approach could be used to trick the tongue, which is why their Norimaki Synthesizer is also referred to as a taste display.

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These are boom times for Augmented Reality

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There’s no escaping the pandemic, but bizarre Instagram filters and Zoom backgrounds give us the illusion that we can.

I am alone in my apartment, as always, and I’ve just replaced my left eyeball with an orange springing out of its peel.

A mile away, a friend, also home alone, is taking her seat—every seat, actually—at the table in The Last Supper, yelling as the camera pans down the row of disciples and her face replaces that of one man after another. Another friend is watching a mouse dressed as the Pope dance across her kitchen floor. A third is smiling while a strange man wraps his arms around his throat.

Many of us have nowhere to go, no one to see, no communal experience to be a part of, no shared feelings other than dread. But the platforms of the pandemic—Zoom, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime—all let us pretend that our life is more than just four walls. With augmented-reality filters, users can mess with their appearances in elaborate ways. Before the coronavirus hit, out-there virtual effects were something of a novelty, but now they’re becoming a major mode of passing the time, giving us the technology to make our faces interesting enough to keep on sharing.

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AR contact lenses are the holy grail of sci-fi tech. Mojo is making them real

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Every technology has its trade-offs. The key to success is making sure that the benefits are so great that the trade-offs seem like minor nitpicks by comparison.

Steve Sinclair, the senior vice president of product and marketing at a Silicon Valley startup called Mojo Vision, is excited about the technology his company is developing. And he’s betting you’ll be excited, too — so excited that you’ll forget all about the fact that using it requires you to press two tiny screens up against your eyeballs.

If what Mojo has planned works, sticking a piece of tech directly onto your eyes every day will be as minor a drawback as your smartphone making your pocket a few ounces heavier.

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The making of Mojo, AR contact lenses that give your eyes superpowers

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Using a display the size of a grain of sand to project images onto the retina, this startup could help everyone from firefighters to people with poor vision.

When I looked into the user interface of Mojo Vision’s augmented reality contact lenses, I didn’t see anything at first except the real world in front of me. Only when I peeked over toward the periphery did a small yellow weather icon appear. When I examined it more closely, I could see the local temperature, the current weather, and some forecast information. I looked over to the 9 o’clock position and saw a traffic icon that gave way to a frontal graphic showing potential driving routes on a simple map. At 12 o’clock, I found my calendar and to-do information. At the bottom of my view was a simple music controller.

Rather than wearing Mojo’s contact lenses—which aren’t yet ready to demo—I was looking at a mock-up of a future, consumer version of their interface through a VR headset. But the point was made. Instead of offering the pretty holograms of the Magic Leap and HoloLens headsets, Mojo aims to place useful data and imagery over your world—and boost your natural vision—using tech that can barely be seen. The startup named the lenses “Mojo” because it wants to build something that’s like getting superpowers for your eyes.

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CES 2020 : Panasonic unveils world’s first ultra HD VR eyeglasses

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The lightweight VR glasses offer HDR visuals without the dreaded “screen-door” effect.

At CES 2020, companies were hard at work promoting a fresh wave of groundbreaking technology that will soon be available for you to demo.

This includes legendary Japanese electronics corporation Panasonic, which will be offering attendees a first-look at its compact VR eyeglasses, which are capable of displaying ultra high definition visuals that remove the dreaded “screen-door” effect from images, offering truly natural in-headset visuals.

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Cows on Russian farm get fitted with VR goggles to increase milk production

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The VR headsets will hopefully relax the cows, offering them sun-filled summer views of green pastures.

If you walked onto the RusMoloko dairy farm near Moscow, in Russia, you may think you’ve arrived onto a bizarre futuristic film set, where cows run around fitted with VR headsets.

The VR goggles aren’t props for a film, however. They have been specifically made for these dairy cows, so as to improve their conditions and enable them to relax into producing more milk.

Many different industries around the world are turning more and more toward computerization to improve working conditions, so why not the farming industry too?

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New virtual reality interface enables “touch” across long distances

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Lightweight, flexible patch conveys a tactile sensation directly to the skin

Adding a sense of touch can make virtual reality experiences feel more real.

A woman sits at a computer, video chatting with her young son while she gently pats an interface on a separate screen. In response, a wireless patch on the child’s back vibrates in a pattern that matches his mother’s fingers, allowing him to “feel” her physical touch.

The new patch is a type of haptic device, a technology that remotely conveys tactile signals. A common example is video game controllers that vibrate when the player’s avatar takes a hit. Some researchers think more advanced, wearable versions of such interfaces will become a vital part of making virtual and augmented reality experiences feel like they are actually happening. “If you take a look at what exists today in VR and AR, it consists primarily of auditory and visual channels as the main basis for the sensory experience,” says John A. Rogers, a physical chemist and material scientist at Northwestern University, whose team helped develop the new haptic patch. “But we think that the skin itself—the sense of touch—could qualitatively add to your experience that you could achieve with VR, beyond anything that’s possible with audio and video.”

Scientists, technology companies and do-it-yourself-ers have experimented with wearable haptic devices, often vests or gloves equipped with vibrating motors. But many of these require heavy battery packs connected by a mess of wires. Because of their weight, most have to be attached loosely to the body instead of adhering securely to the skin. So, Rogers and his colleagues developed a vibrating disk, only a couple millimeters thick, that can run with very little energy. These actuators (a term for devices that give a system physical motion) need so little energy that they can be powered by near-field communication—a wireless method of transferring small amounts of power, typically used for applications like unlocking a door with an ID card.

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Smart contacts: The future of the wearable you won’t even see

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One day, contact lenses could do much more than just correct our vision

The notion of wearing lenses over our eyes to correct our vision dates back hundreds of years, with some even crediting Leonardo da Vinci as one of the first proponents of the idea (though that remains somewhat controversial). Material science and our understanding of the human eye have come a long way since, while their purpose has remained largely the same. In the age of wearable computers, however, scientists in the laboratories of DARPA, Google, and universities around the world see contact lenses not just as tools to improve our vision, but as opportunities to augment the human experience. But how? And why?

As a soft, transparent disc of plastic and silicone that you wear on your eyeball, a contact lens may seem like a very bad place to put electronics. But if you look beneath the surface, the idea of a smart contact lens has real merit, and that begins with its potential to improve our well-being.

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Smart glasses, smart designer babies and the future of work

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John B. Goodenough, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry last month, struggled to learn to read. “Back then,” he says, “You were just a backwards student.”

His experience is still all too common, yet he and many like him demonstrate clearly that dyslexia is not a definitive barrier to career achievement. We must ask ourselves if our entry level recruitment and education systems should always depend on literacy.

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Google used photogrammetry to create a detailed VR tour of Versailles

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It’s the largest photogrammetry capture ever done on the site.

Versailles palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, but fighting those crowds in person can be frustrating. Now, Google and the Château de Versailles have teamed up to take VR users on a private tour of Louis XIV’s royal residence. It’s the largest photogrammetry project ever done at the castle, with 21 rooms and 387,500 square feet of internal surfaces captured. HTC Vive and Oculus Rift users can handle and inspect over 100 sculptures, paintings and other works of art and see them with incredible close-up detail.

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