Apple WILL Merge AR and VR Together In 2017

Apple may finally be joining the VR/AR trend with its own headset design THIS YEAR.

Tim Cook has given plenty of on the record indication that he isn't so bothered about VR despite it being a trend that is surging forward with gusto and shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. It's not that Cook doesn't like VR, it's just that he thinks AR - that's Augmented Reality as opposed to Virtual Reality - is a much more compelling prospect.

What's the difference? Well on a basic level Virtual Reality games, applications and experiences render an entire world, landscape, or other experience in front of the eyes of the user and with which they can interact. Augmented Reality is what some phones have been doing for a while and what Google tried to get right with Google Glass - you can still see the real world before you, but the device imposes virtual components over the top, some of which you may be able to interact with. A really simple example is rather than having a TV screen on your living room wall, a pair of AR glasses could render a TV screen that isn't really there, streaming a program to it. However, the possibliites do extend quite considerably past this point into some pretty compelling ideas.

As of January 10, a post by respected tech expert Robert Scoble suggests that Apple is in cahoots with camera specialist Carl Zeiss, the firm which previously worked with Nokia on its phone cameras; allegedly Apple and Carl Zeiss are working on a pair of AR glasses. Scoble says he was given details by a Carl Zeiss insider, and he believes Apple will bring the product to market sometimes inside 2017.

Tim Cook has said he believes gaming and education will see a big boost from VR and that it is a very viable market, but of the AR market he thinks it "is the larger of the two, probably by far," adding that the AR market will be "huge". Certainly there is a lot of scope, looking at things like Microsoft's HoloLens AR project, for AR to be a key component in the Internet of Things, connected homes, and integrated, immersive, household and workplace experiences, tools, and applications.

Previously there was a slight hint that maybe something is cooking in the Apple camp with regards to VR/AR hardware. Apple may be poised to finally join the VR/AR trend and produce its own headset, as word emerged that the firm has been granted a patent for a headset designed to hold the iPhone in front of your eyes.

That means, essentially, that Apple is following the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View route of a headset device designed to utilise a smartphone display for the VR/AR experience, rather than a device like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive which is dependent upon a computer. Considering that Apple's own Mac computers are not particularly well regarded when it comes to gaming or similar, this makes a lot of sense for the firm to rely on its mobile devices.

As you may have noticed, the VR/AR trend has been on the rise fairly rapidly over the last year or so, with the Oculus Rift first gaining attention via Kickstarter, major device manufacturers caught wind of the upsurge in interest and naturally decided they wanted a piece of the pie. Facebook bought Oculus Rift, while HTC created the Vive, Samsung built the Gear VR, Sony has the PlayStation VR, and pretty much every other major tech firm has some kind of VR project on the go.

The USPTO has now granted Apple a patent, number 9,482,869, which describes a "Head-Mounted Display Apparatus For Retaining A Portable Electronic Device With Display".

The depicted "portable electronic device with display" is clearly an iPhone, and it looks as though it connects to the headset via the Lightning port. Another image shows what appears to be a handheld remote, which looks a lot like an iPod - although it's not expressly mentioned, feasibly this could also be a motion controller, similar to the one with the Google Daydream View, or the HTC Vive's "ladle" controllers.

The headset also appears to feature built-in headphones, a set of lenses, a wheel for controlling focus, home and back buttons, a touchpad, and a proximity sensor. Details explain that once the phone is connected to the headset it will override the touchpad and button controls. The headset has its own processor, memory, sensors, and a chargeable battery housed underneath the lenses.

While all of this is interesting stuff, we do have to mention the caveat that always needs repeating when dealing with Apple patents; which is that Apple patents a LOT of stuff on a regular basis which never actually sees the light of day. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see that Apple is at least entertaining the idea of a headset device. (source)

Augmented Reality will be bigger than Virtual Reality

In an interview with ABC News Good Morning America, Apple CEO Tim Cook reconfirmed his interest in augmented and virtual reality. However Tim Cook believes that augmented reality is going to be much more interesting than virtual reality. “There’s virtual reality and there’s augmented reality — both of these are incredibly interesting, but my own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far.” Tim Cook said, regarding a question about Apple’s position on virtual reality.

There’s a lot of really cool things there with VR and AR
“Augmented reality gives the capability for both of us to sit and be very present, talking to each other, but also have other things — visually — for both of us to see.” he continued.

“Maybe it’s something we’re talking about, maybe it’s someone else here who’s not here present but who can be made to appear to be present. Virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool, but probably has a lower commercial interest over time,” Cook said. “Less people will be interested in that.”

Regarding the areas of use for AR and VR, Tim Cook said “There’s some really cool areas there for education and gaming that we have a lot of interest in,”
Apple registered seven VR and AR patents, and formed a special team

In a recent news, Apple is reported to patent a wireless VR headset. Titled as “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus For Retaining A Portable Electronic Device With Display” this marks the seventh U.S. patent that Apple has received related to virtual and augmented reality HMDs. In January, the Financial Times reported that Apple has a secret team that involves hundreds of employees working to develop applications on virtual and augmented reality.

Earlier this year at the Apple earnings day conference, Tim Cook had confirmed that Apple has plans on augmented reality technology. “We are high on AR in the long run,” he said. “We think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. The number one thing is to make sure our products work well with other developers’ kind of products like Pokemon, that’s why you see so many iPhones in the wild chasing Pokemons.” (source)

Ericsson: AR and VR to merge with reality

Seven out of 10 consumers believe that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will become mainstream in media, education, work, social interaction, tourism and retail, according to Ericsson’s latest ConsumerLab report.

It adds that media is already being transformed and consumers expect virtual screens to start replacing TVs and theatres in less than a year.

The report, entitled Merged Reality, reveals insights into how consumers expect VR and AR to merge with physical reality, and that 5G will be a key technology for such experiences to become mainstream.

It also says that when boundaries between people’s perception of physical and virtual reality start to blur, this could result in a drastic impact on lives and society. The way people live, work, and consume information and media will fundamentally change.

However, realities will not merge if the user is tethered to a computer or cut off from physical reality. Early adopters of VR/AR expect next-generation networks like 5G to play a central role. Thirty six percent have expectations on 5G to provide VR/AR mobility through a stable, fast and high-bandwidth network, while 30% of early adopters also expect 5G to enable tethered headsets to become wireless.

The qualitative research in the report included an innovative focus group discussion series completely in VR with participants from North America and Europe, as well as traditional focus groups with current users of VR from Japan and South Korea.

A series of qualitative VR tests with 20 Ericsson employees were also done to understand how lag in VR can trigger nausea.

In the quantitative part of the study, the report presents insights from a survey of 9,200 consumers in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the UK and the US, aged between 15-69. with awareness of the concept of VR.

Forget about smart glasses. Here come smart contact lenses

If you want to see the future, look to the patent office. Google recently published the full text of a patent for a contact lens that can monitor blood glucose and dispense insulin automatically, while Samsung patented a contact lens with an integrated camera just a few short weeks ago.

The next great wave of tech innovation may come in the form of the one of the most intimate of all wearables: contact lenses. We’re not quite there yet. Smart glasses and Snapchat Spectacles will continue to dominate the vision-tech front in the short term. But the golden age of research in contact-lens technology has officially begun.

As CEO of some of the world’s largest online optical companies, I can say that contact lenses are poised to get a dramatic overhaul. Here’s a look at innovations, both in the near term and further down the road, that are leading us toward the fabled “smart” contact.
Taking lens technology to the next level

Since mass-produced contacts first emerged in the 1970s, advancements have come mainly in the form of thinner, softer, and cheaper lens materials, most notably silicone hydrogel, which allows more oxygen to reach the cornea. Contacts are now more comfortable than ever (and even come in colors), but their actual functionality hasn’t changed.

In many respects, traditional manufacturers have been content to play it safe, sticking with a high-margin business even as Lasik and other new technologies have eaten into their share of the market. Still, contacts account for a more than $10-billion-a-year business, with more than 100 million wearers around the globe.

That rate of progress is about to take a major tick upward, however, thanks to advances in materials science. The first major innovation, currently in the works, is a material that will increase by roughly 30 percent the amount of time a person can safely and comfortably keep a contact lens in their eye. This translates to better and more useful lenses in the short term and also allows us to imagine much more ambitious features going forward.

For instance, the military is already interested in building night-vision contact lenses for use by special forces. They are backed by very real science, using the wonder-material graphene to detect light well into the infrared spectrum and fit a traditionally large detector into a tiny contact lens. The actual amount of light amplification they could provide is fairly low at present but hints at future potential.

Alphabet (or rather, Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary Verily) is certainly thinking past just advanced contact-lens materials, as it’s already produced working test units for a medical e-contact lens. Yes, the team formerly known as Google X has managed to produce a contact that can control a blood-glucose monitor embedded in a prescription lens. It wirelessly sends and receives data and power and can automatically trigger the release of insulin. That sort of intimacy with the wearer could also allow an e-lens to monitor common eye-health issues like macular degeneration.

But the true long term potential for the contact lens — the Holy Grail that major players are feverishly pursuing — is as a display. This kind of display would track to the movement of your eyeball, layering an image over your regular vision for an even more seamless experience than Google Glass can provide.

Full-fledged contact lens displays have actually been in the works for years. In fact, this is a contact lens display, working, back in 2009. It powers and controls a visible array of 64 pixels, safely, in a living eye, in a surface area smaller than one side of a penny. These pixels are “active,” meaning they project light. But a more efficient approach would to use “passive” pixels, which simply alter light that’s already incoming from the environment. That saves on power and reduces possible strain on the eye.

VR and early smart glasses are already showing us a few things we could do with those pixels. Indeed, as augmented reality matures alongside contact lens technology, some truly fascinating possibilities open up. Armed with built-in cameras and displays, contacts could ostensibly become the ultimate AR platform, far more versatile and immersive than current goggle-based technology. Interestingly, major companies are already investing in the ability to develop iOS apps compatible with contact lenses, hinting at the future potential. (source)

Image Credit: Screen grab from EGPL's promo video

Keiichi Matsuda´s de-hyped Reality

I´m a big fan of the all-time classic Domestic Robocop and his latest work on hyper-reality, but until now just didn´t make it to mention Keiichi Matsuda´s new short. So, despite you should know it by now, I want to share it here, too!

Keiichi discusses the impact of omnipresent and overwhelming digital technology and how it weaves into our regular lives with no escape. Are we still in charge or did we already turn into peasants that blindly follow the recommendations and virtual goodies we get augmented?

His previous and famous work Domestic Robocop was created six years ago but is still an often quoted classic. It briefly shows a daily situation (cooking a tea) before leaving the appartment. In this short Keiichi already presented a lot of ideas that are becoming matter of discussion these days: how do we interact with the virtual objects (gestures) or how can I switch from an augmented to a virtual world seamlessly? The world being full of ads is another dystopian aspect that is likely to become reality…

His latest work is a longer film that tells the story of a Colombian lady, starting off into her every-day. Again, the world is augmented with loads of ads or information panels floating around. Keiichi does not show how he envisions the hardware but we can guess it´s supposed to be the “perfect” AR goggle set. He intentionally let´s the tracking shake a bit and adds some static and noise to the augmented overlay. We follow the protagonist in first-person again.

Visually it´s the same well done fun again – but way more elaborate and bigger. You can imagine that shooting in Colombian city Medellín and editing took much more time. But now without further spoilers the clip:

At first, it´s another very funny video to laugh at. But sadly, I believe there is so much truth in it that we must stop giggling. Look at today´s people in a bus: they are already absorbed by their devices completely. They would love to go one step further to jump into a virtual bubble for the time of the boring ride (with other boring human beings you don´t want to interact with). Gamification of chores, collecting achievements, using reward systems and navigational support for our lives has become so normal that all these shown aspects are just a logical next step. New is only the way it gets presented to us. If everything would really be interconnected, e.g. showing bubbles with names and descriptions over people´s heads, we could easily reach that scenario. Looking at the social networks and even the Russian face-recognition tools that hit the media during last year, we see that it´s all not that far off.

Definitely the big players could adopt the idea of funding it all through ads (well, they all do it today likewise) and tracking their users to an unbelievable extent will happen, too – with the people granting access willingly to desperately get their new glasses cheaper.

Sure, tracking, visual overlay, glasses hardware and interoperability is not there yet… but let´s see how long we keep laughing about it… Maybe in another six years we already wave away ads and follow our scripted life by looking at augmented arrows on the floor…

Be sure to check out Keiichi´s page and support him for his continued work! (source)

Mozilla Announces Open Source AR/VR Web Browser

Mozilla, the non-profit company behind Firefox web browser, today announced a new cross-platform, open sourced web browser called Firefox Reality, something Mozilla says was built from the ground-up for standalone VR and AR headsets.

Pokémon Go Took AR Tech Mainstream

Augmented reality—the ability to witness an altered version of our world via a smartphone display, goofy glasses, or through a camera—is not new. Thanks to Pokémon Go, though, people might actually start to care about it.
Early AR has taken many forms. It was a terrible HUD on the Pontiac Grand Prix and Aztek, for example. Pokémon Go-like use cases have been available on phones for eons. Even the military has been employing AR for over a decade—most recently built into the helmets F-35 pilots use.

None of those experiences can compare to what just happened. Pokémon Go has consumed the public’s consciousness and, in a single weekend, thrown augmented reality into the mainstream. It’s fun and so people actually use it, and that’s critical because augmented reality is suddenly something the whole world can experience in an accessible and enjoyable way. The great struggle of augmented reality has really been in public acceptance. As cool as the multitude of experiences out there so far have been, most people just haven’t cared. Remember the Yelp iPhone app’s “secret” Monocle filter some seven years ago? It was cool, but ultimately not slick or useful enough for anybody to actually use it for more than just a few minutes.

More recently, augmented reality has seemed on the precipice of a huge jump forward. On the advanced side of things, Google’s space-aware Project Tango phone, Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, and Magic Leap’s mysterious “mixed reality” tech each seem poised to make every nerd’s Holodeck dreams come true. On the mobile side of things more accessible to the rest of us, Snapchat filters have quickly become popular, and their neat trick has served as an introduction to what a mixed view of the real and digital world can look like for millions of people. You can go to the Lincoln Memorial and turn the thirteenth president into a puppy or make him puke rainbows. It rules.

Pokémon Go is still just a taste of what AR is capable of—its usefulness is in the deficiencies it highlights, because Pokémon Go isn’t actually good AR but is has given the public a frame of reference. A benchmark with which we can now compare all other forms of augmented reality. Like HoloLens or Project Tango. In the case of the latter, Tango has spent the last couple of years struggling to explain to consumers precisely why it’s one of the coolest advances in phone tech in a while.

Better and improved interactions with your Pokémon? Hololens, Project Tango, Intel’s RealSense camera, and many other technologies are extraordinary tools of augmented reality that have struggled to explain their coolness. But some Jigglypuffs and Pickachus just gave us a way to understand the possibilities. Who could have guessed a dorky game for kids would one day be a watershed technology. (source)

Samsung is developing their own AR/VR headset

It appears as though the hybrid headset market is shaping up to be the latest trend in immersive entertainment as it’s now being reported that Samsung may be in the process of developing their own AR/VR headset similar to that of Apple’s recently announced device.

Volkswagen Will Train 10,000 Employees Using VR

The Volkswagen Group will use an augmented reality hub to train employees across the globe.

​​​​​​​​​​​​In 2013, Volkswagen demonstrated a new process by which service workers could use augmented reality to service a vehicle. During the demo, attendees watched as Volkswagen technicians manipulated virtual parts that corresponded to real world actions.
This year, the Volkswagen Group has revealed the next step of it’s VR training plans in the form of a global initiative that would bring VR training to 10,000 employees of Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA and Volkswagen. Over 30 VR training experiences cover everything from vehicle assembly, new team member training, and customer service.

Each Volkswagen VR training experience was created by the VR studio, Innoactive, with the goal to educate employees across multiple brands and create a more efficient workflow in a way that allows employees to train at a pace they’re comfortable with without having to travel. They can even begin training before a factory even exists. To accomplish this, Innoactive created a hub that would bring all employees of the Volkswagen Group together through an HTC Vive.
Volkswagen sees the biggest benefit of VR training when employees are exposed to as many training experiences in as many plant locations worldwide as possible.  With a stable infrastructure in place, they are able to upload brand new content to different plants worldwide, depending on the brand and type of training needed, with ease and efficiency.

“The thing about VR training is scalability,” said Gregor Wynnyczuk, Training Consultant for RockPaperPartners during an interview with VRScout.  “Once organizations make the investment in creating the systems and infrastructure – they can easily connect their entire workforce, no matter how many people they have and no matter where they are,” said Wynnyczuk. “As a result, VR/AR favors very large, global businesses like Volkswagen.”

Volkswagen is making a bet that being an early adopter of VR training will lead to advantages in productivity and efficiency over time. Click here to see a video.

Currently there are several large corporate companies using VR training for their employees. Walmart, KFC and UPS are all using AR or VR to get employees up to speed in their workforce; and with the cost of AR and VR hardware being more approachable, smaller businesses are now looking at how they can take advantage of the technology.

For Volkswagen – the company is really looking to leverage virtual reality to “empower brands and business departments” and create partnerships within the organization as well with different suppliers to build the car company of the future.(source)

Vuzix to Debut ‘Blade’ Smartglasses at CES

Vuzix today announced they’ll be unveiling their latest smartglasses at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. Called Vuzix Blade, the smartglasses are more of a heads-up display akin to Google Glass than a positionally-tracked AR headset like Microsoft Hololens or the upcoming Magic Leap One, although the Blade’s styling certainly comes closer to ‘normal’ than many we’ve seen before.

The Vuzix Blade connects to either iOS or Android devices, letting you answer phone calls, view notifications, and capture video or images with the 8MP front-facing camera. Weighing in at 3 oz and using proprietary waveguide optics, the company says they’ve fit in a “sizable virtual screen and brilliant pallet of colors via a thin completely see-through lens, in a fashionable form factor.”

While “fashionable” is pretty subjective, you’d probably get away with wearing them on the subway/tube/metro without getting too many sideways glances—one of the main factors behind the outlash against Google Glass users that had its part in driving Glass into the enterprise sector and out of the reach of consumers. The Blade’s design certainly isn’t any worse than wearing a backwards Kangol hat.

The Blade comes in two developer kit versions; a ‘prosumer’ version and an enterprise-focused version, although both offer the same hardware specs and are both priced at about $2000. The company, which is asking for a $500 deposit to reserve either unit, is staying mum on launch dates, and hasn’t published hard specs yet regarding field of view (FOV) or battery life, etc.

The glasses run their own Vuzix Blade OS which allows users to navigate data via simple swipes and taps, or simply use voice controls and external AI systems thanks to an integrated mic. Click here to see the video.

“What differentiates the Vuzix Blade from all existing or proposed AR smart glasses and mixed reality head mounted computers, is that it’s built for today’s user,” Paul Travers, President and CEO of Vuzix. “With a fashionable form factor, a brilliant display, and a broad range of features that allow the user to experience AR at work or play, the Vuzix Blade is the first pair of smart glasses that people would actually enjoy wearing.

We’ll have feet on the ground at next week’s CES in Las Vegas, starting January 9th until the 13th. We hope to brings you more information on Blade and all AR/VR hardware and software descending on Sin City. (source)

When Art and Virtual Reality Collide

The left brain and the right brain came together for a party.

For artists, VR is a thrilling emerging medium that explorse the boundaries of creation. Creators of all skill levels make good use of Tilt Brush, creating magical multi-layered art within a 3D space. And don’t worry — for those of you who haven’t touched a paintbrush since elementary school, it’s still fun to scribble, draw flowers, or write your name in space.

Creative technologists are enthusiastically including Tilt Brush and other virtual reality art tools like Quill and Medium to their digital toolkits —  and VR, of course, is only adding to a long history of humans using machines to create beauty.

Art and tech have always been closely interwoven, and communities that bring people together in real life around those innovations are essential facilitations for creative collaborations.

Perhaps no one believes in the importance of building community around art + tech more than Next Art founder, Natalie Sun. An artist herself, Natalie is leading the way for experimental, tech-focused art in Los Angeles. The Next Art LA events are high concept art shows with a vibrant party atmosphere, giving innovative artists a chance to show off their work in a physical space.

The latest event by Next Art was a success. Artists, tech nerds, writers, and many more entered Playa Studios in early March for an evening without boundaries between technology, art, and music. A few brave guests dared to bust out their moves to the new-age techno and hip hop hits of today blasted by a DJ underneath flashing neon lights. Other, slightly more reserved guests sipped on drinks and mingled with friends and strangers alike as they admired the artwork and took photos in Snapchat’s photo booth.

The exhibits themselves ranged from a massive wall display of robotic, bug like creatures that guests could interact with using a HTC Vive controller, to a VR experience that transported you into the world of the artist’s dreams. One of the most interesting pieces was inspired by a reinterpretation of radio music, mixing together live streams from today’s monochromatic, online radio stations to create something both entertaining and thought provoking.

When asked how she chose what to feature in her show, Sun’s answer was simple. “When I curate, I look for pieces that use tech in ways you don’t expect.” Though she couldn’t choose a favorite piece, she did heap praise on a so-called “happy accident.” The flashing LED lights strung from the ceiling—a major hit with selfie-shooting guests—were originally not intended to hang to the ground as they did. Sun believes that the music interactive light exhibit did an unintentionally perfect job of wrapping up the theme of the night, “Music is Social.”

Though she has considered the creative possibilities of displaying digital art in an online exhibit, Sun has seen first-hand the magic that happens when creators and consumers of all different industries come together in a physical environment to enjoy the displayed works and the event as a whole. She loves telling the story of a graphic designer who attended one of her events, only to team up with a game developer in an unlikely collaboration. “If both of those people didn’t come to my event, they would have never been able to branch out of their own disciplines and try something new.”

As for the future of art, Sun recognizes the uncertainty going forward as tech continues to advance at a rapid pace. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, “that’s the beauty of it.”

She sees the potential for social VR to be the next big thing in the techie/art space, and plans on continuing to curate and create imaginative and innovative pieces.

She closed the interview with a call-to-action we can all get behind: “Support the arts!”

Right on, Natalie. Right on. (source)