Audi’s New Virtual Office Program Sure Looks Like the Second Coming of Second Life

IT’S LIKE A EUROPEAN OEM SIMULATOR, IF YOU WORK AT AUDI AND ARE INTO THAT SORT OF THING.

BY HAZEL SOUTHWELL

Audi likes to pride itself on innovation—few car companies don’t—and in these trying, socially distant times, that can mean effectively developing a system where employees recreate themselves as The Sims and wander around a virtual office.

If that seems bleak (and it does, there’s no way around it) then it’s not intended that way. Audi Spaces was built by Audi Akademie to create more natural and spontaneous interaction, allowing employees to be in a virtual office together in some capacity without the direct intensity of a video call.

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Facebook has VR plans for your virtual office, with smartglasses coming soon

By Scott Stein

Facebook’s Quest 2 is already a successful game system. It’s aiming for more.

Facebook Reality Labs head Andrew Bosworth discusses why identity in Oculus is so Facebook-centric, how that will change, and when to expect neural input tech. (Spoiler alert: Not this year.)

After a 2020 that went entirely virtual for many people, once-fantastic concepts like VR headsets and remote chat screens (including Facebook Portal) no longer seem so strange. In many ways, Facebook’s product lineup ended up being prophetic for the times we now live in.

Last fall,  Facebook launched its impressive Quest 2 VR headset. So, in 2021, what comes next? The company plans to release its first smartglasses this year, in a partnership with glasses-maker Luxottica. But those won’t be the advanced reality-blending glasses you might be expecting. 

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COVID-19 pandemic could usher in a ‘New Digital Age,’ study claims

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The study suggests that COVID-19 can be used as a chance to rebuild the nation, by making Israel the starting point for solutions its own society needs, and then for the planet.

Israel should focus on its unique strengths in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Autonomous Technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) to be ahead of the new digital age being ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, a study by Start-Up Nation Central claimed on Monday.

Since the novel coronavirus has disrupted existing supply chains and industries, the report argues that Israeli talents could promote innovative solutions. AR means could be used to take over some aspects of customer service and manufacturing. As more and more people are expected to work and purchase goods and services from home, cyber security demands are expected to grow.

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Scientists develop nanophotonic 3D printing for virtual reality screens

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In Korea, scientists are turning to better ways for improving our screen time, and this means 3D printing something most of us know little about: quantum dots. Focusing on refining the wonders of virtual reality and other electronic displays even further, researchers from the Nano Hybrid Technology Research Center of Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute (KERI), a government-funded research institute under National Research Council of Science & Technology (NST) of the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), have created nanophotonic 3D printing technology for screens. Meant to be used with virtual reality, as well as TVs, smartphones, and wearables, high resolution is achieved due to a 3D layout expanding the density and quality of the pixels.

Led by Dr. Jaeyeon Pyo and Dr. Seung Kwon Seol, the team has published the results of their research and development in “3D-Printed Quantum Dot Nanopixels.” While pixels are produced to represent data in many electronics, conventionally they are created with 2D patterning. To overcome limitations in brightness and resolution, the scientists elevated this previously strained technology to the next level with 3D printed quantum dots to be contained within polymer nanowires.

Powered by light or electricity, dots light up in an array of colors which then translate into the appropriate display. Usually, pixels are covered in a light film for creating a better display, with the ability to see images more clearly; in this research though, the KERI scientists decided to eliminate the film coating in place of a 3D structure, featuring pixels with a lateral dimension of 620nm and 10,000nm in height.

“The 3D structure enabled a 2-fold increase in brightness without significant effects on the spatial resolution of the pixels,” explained the researchers in their abstract. “In addition, we demonstrate individual control of the brightness based on a simple adjustment of the height of the 3D pixels.”

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How virtual reality overcame its ‘puke problem’

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For years, VR devices caused motion sickness – known as the “barfogenic zone”. Have engineers finally solved it, asks Colin Barras, or just replaced it with a different kind of queasiness?

Back in the early 1990s, virtual reality was poised to revolutionise gaming. Games giant Sega, makers of the hugely popular Genesis console, had just unveiled the Sega VR project. At the project’s core lay a headset that coupled state-of-the-art graphics with movement tracking software to immerse gamers in a rich and vibrant virtual world. At least, that was the plan.

The reality of Sega’s virtual reality fell some way short. The biggest problem was that the onscreen graphics didn’t keep pace with the gamer’s head movements, triggering a form of motion sickness. Thomas Piantanida, then principal scientist of SRI International’s Virtual Perception Program, test drove a prototype in 1993 and came up with a name for the vomit-inducing phenomenon. The headset’s graphical output, he said, lay in the “barfogenic zone”. By 1994, Sega had quietly shelved the project.

Virtual reality is back in the news this week, as Facebook has just forked out $2 billion for Oculus VR. The social media giant is betting that immersive virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday life, which raises the question of whether the technology has managed to escape the barfogenic zone during the last 20 years.

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HTC is prototyping an AR headset that looks like sunglasses

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The HTC Proton concept rendering

It’s still a work in progress

HTC just announced updates to the Vive Cosmos, its lineup of consumer-ready virtual reality headsets. But it’s also testing a more streamlined mixed reality device codenamed “Project Proton.” While the Proton is just a prototype, HTC shared concept images of its design, shedding some light on the company’s goals.

The Proton headset seems functionally similar to the upcoming Cosmos XR. Both are built for mixed or augmented reality experiences, but unlike Microsoft or Magic Leap’s mixed reality glasses, they use passthrough video instead of transparent waveguide lenses. (So basically, you’re looking at a VR-style screen, but it shows you live video overlaid with virtual elements.) But where the Cosmos XR looks like the Cosmos VR headset, the Proton looks more like ski goggles or — to put it generously — very large sunglasses.

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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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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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Double’s new telepresence robot now drives you around like you’re a Sim

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Click to drive

When my colleague James Vincent tried out Double Robotics’ first telepresence robot in 2015, slowly wheeling around our New York office from his London home base, he described the experience as like playing Doom, but in an office. The company’s latest version of the robot, the Double 3, adds mixed reality video to let users click on the spots they want to drive to instead of having to use a control pad, making the experience closer to controlling a Sim.

The Double 3 now has an array of 3D sensors to allow for self-driving, letting the robot move around while avoiding obstacles. The new “Click-to-drive” interface shows dots on the floor for areas the robot is able to move to, and there are two 13-megapixel cameras that let users pan and zoom around the screen. The cameras can physically tilt up and down, which comes in handy for zooming in to read papers on a desk, for example. The whole interface can be controlled from a web browser or mobile app.

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