VR@NY V.2

One of the last few posts on this blog appeared way back in the cold, dark days of February, and it was about an enlightening visit to New York (VR@NY V.1). That visit turned out to be a turning point for understanding where cutting-edge VR technology was going. Another visit to NY was overdue, so when NYVR’s August Meetup featured a great lineup plus a visit to The Void, it was impossible to resist. Here’s a blow by blow.

Thursday, August 17, 6:00 – 9:00 PM
New York VR’s August Meetup
Microsoft Flagship Store
42nd St. @ 8th Avenue (11 Times Square)

NYVR

As usual, the NYVR schedule was jam packed full of interesting people showing off some awesome new ultra-cool technology. There was way too much to cover in detail, but here are just three of the better highlights.

  • Lewis Smithingham of 30 Ninjas shared some backstory and technical know-how from their work on the CONAN360° LIVE Pre-Show. It was fun to see how something like that was actually pulled-off successfully.
  • Ken Perlin of NYU’s Future Reality Lab gave a shout-out to Microsoft’s far-out prototype Holographic Display Glasses that he had seen at SIGGRAPH, and then he shared some implications of their likely commercial availability in about five years. Here’s a video and paper about the technology behind them.


    Holographic Near-Eye Displays for Virtual and Augmented Reality (SIGGRAPH 2017)
  • Robin Alter from Ultrahaptics gave an explained the demo he was showing that can give the feeling of touch using ultrasound waves sent to bare skin so that users can feel shapes, textures and other sensations sans gloves and controllers. Here’s a picture of the actual demo and a promotional video that he showed about Ultrahaptics collaboration with Dell, Nike and Meta.
    Ultrahaptics1

Thursday, August 17, 9:30 – 11:30 PM
NYVR’s After-Party@Madame Tussaud’s “The Void”
Madame Tussaud’s
234 W 42nd St, New York, NY (Times Square)

Let’s be honest. As great as all that was, the real draw for the evening was the chance to see The Void, and it turned out to be every bit as engaging as it was billed to be. That’s not to say there weren’t glitches — there were, but is was worth it to get to the end and take down that humongous Marshmallow Man. While I didn’t personally smell the burnt marshmallow, others said they did. I’ll have to trust them on that 🙂

Now, what does this have to do with Digital-Den and our future directions? Quite a bit, actually. Stay tuned for a post about that in the near future…

SVVR

Wow! I’m just back from an excellent adventure out on the front lines at Silicon Valley VR Expo (SVVR), and there were an impressive number of “take-aways” besides the swag!

SVVR

First, there was a very nice series of back-to-back keynotes by Tony Parisi (Unity Technologies), Nonny de la Peña (Emblematic Group), Rikard Steiber (HTC), and Kent Bye (Voices of VR). These are already posted, so you can check them out for yourself.

Beyond that, here are a few other “notes” from the event.

Platforms
There were a couple of well attended presentations on virtual worlds, now being re-branded as “social VR,” that are “coming soon.” Philip Rosedale’s overview of High Fidelity was particularly compelling.

Scaling VR to 100 and Beyond (Philip Rosedale, High Fidelity)
An Introduction to Sansar (Bjorn Laurin, Linden Lab)

Of course, for those of us that have been around awhile, these platforms aren’t exactly out of the blue, but there appeared to be a surprising number of people in the audience who weren’t aware that things like AltspaceVR and VRChat are the new kids on the block. Talk about déjà vu! It felt just like 2006 all over again. Things are bound to get “interesting” when these old gorillas finally come out and descend upon the VR world in the “near future.”  Here’s a nice article for homework if you are among those that aren’t already familiar with the players in the space. Social VR: Who Is Going to Get It Right First? (Alice Bonasio, Upload VR)

Standards
There were a couple of excellent panels about standards that established that both authors and consumers “might” be able to look forward to platform independent tools and content, eventually, but there is still a long road ahead.

WebVR Panel
Moderator: Damon Hernandez (Samsung), Panelists: Amber Roy (Oculus), Tony Parisi (Unity), Hugh Seaton (Aquinas Training), Michael Blix (Samsung)
Khronos OpenXR Panel
Moderator: Kaye Mason (Google) – David Frerichs, Christopher Peri (Samsung), Yuval Boger (Sensics)

Over the course of the event it also became fairly clear that XR has emerged as the much needed general moniker to encompass the AR/MR/VR continuum.

On the horizon…
There were a couple of presentations about potential authoring platforms beyond the current “go-tos” of Unity and Unreal. These aren’t going to be something that takes the VR world by storm this year, but they definitely worth watching in the longer term!

State of Aframe and WebVR: Joining Your Virtual World in Aframe with Multi-User Experiences (Rabimba Karanjai, Mozilla)
Forging a New VRX (Rafael Brown, Digital Myths)

Overall, it was an enlightening experience!

There was one odd thing, though. Why were these little guys climbing my hotel wall?

VR@NY V.1

A short while ago a colleague sent this link to a story about some fun things related to Virtual Reality going on down in New York. Virtual reality is taking over NYC (Tim Donnelly, New York Post)

It had been awhile since the last New York VR Blitz back in June 2016, so it’s been time to consider another one for awhile now. The monthly NY VR Meetups were serving as a prime suspect for an excuse, and then a really cool event from the NY VR AR Association scheduled on back-to-back evenings with a NY VR Meetup came along. Bingo, time to grab an Acela! Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the adventure and some “take aways” at the end…

Wednesday, February 15, 7:00 – 9:00 PM

Virtual Reality for Producers: How to Create and Deliver for the New Content Frontier
NY VR AR Association” and NYU Data Future Lab
137 Varick St, New York (The Bowery)

This first stop on the NY VR tour was hosted by Kris Kolo, NYC Chapter President & Global Executive Director, NY VR AR Association” and moderated by Chris Pfaff PGA New Media Council member and CEO Tech Media.

Paul Cheung, Director of Interactive for the Associated Press shared “lessons learned” about filming in 360° under normal journalistic conditions. The insights he shared were valuable, and among them was the useful tidbit that if you happen to already have the right phone, then a Samsung 360° camera is a better investment than a Ricoh Theta.

Alissa Crevier, Global Head of Partnerships for Littlstar gave a great explanation of their platform and trends in the content delivery end of the industry. Then Christian Egeler, Director of VR/AR product development, Verizon’s Envrmnt provided a nice hint as to what to watch for from them (an authoring and delivery system).

Finally, the panel discussion at the end included an insightful suggestion that the VR industry needs to adopt the concept of “responsive design” from web design and apply it to VR content delivery so that developers and consumers don’t have to navigate the current morass of development and delivery options. So true!

Thursday, February 16, 10 – 11:00 AM

Samsung’s 837 Store
837 Washington St. (At 13th Street)

Thursday started out with a visit to Samsung’s store that was one of the spots mentioned in the New York Post article that had helped to inspire this New York adventure. Here’s a promotional video and a few articles about the store to give you a sense of what’s there.


Samsung’s new flagship NYC building isn’t a retail store at all (Chris Welch, The Verge)
Samsung’s 837 mixes technology and delicacies (Jennifer Gould Keil, New York Post)

Here are my own snaps of the experience.

It was an interesting excursion, but it was early in the day, not a lot was going on and there wasn’t any content that was different than what’s already available to any Gear VR owner. Most importantly, beware, Samsung’s “Gear VR 4D Chair” can deliver a mild case of whiplash that can cause a headache worse than a VR headache. Yep, ouch!

Thursday, February 16, 4 – 5:00 PM

Jump into the Light
355A Bowery, New York (The Bowery)

This was a second spot mentioned in that New York Post article that helped to inspire this trip, and it had a very different vibe than the Samsung’s 837 store. It is billed as “America’s First VR Cinema & PlayLab,” and it has the potential to be a more engaging experience. Here’s a short video to give you a sense of the space.

Again, it was still fairly early in the day on a Friday, not a lot was going on and there wasn’t any content that was much different than what you can already see if you happen to have your own VR lab with the same rigs. But how many people have that, right? 😉 This visit was still a more interesting experience with better demos than the Samsung 837 store, and while I didn’t get a chance to talk with any of the founders in depth, I had a lot of fun talking with their young, enthusiastic and downright adorable crew.

2c-intothelight-crew

Thursday, February 16, 6:00 – 9:00 PM

New York VR’s February Meetup
Microsoft Flagship Store
42nd St. @ 8th Avenue (11 Times Square, Across from Port Authority)

The final stop on the whirlwind VR tour of New York was NY VR’s February Meetup. There were a series of great, short talks and a ton of fun demos. Here are some of my photos of the event.

Chris Kairalla of VRBFoto also shared a 360° Photo that he took of the audience.

One of the many highlights of the evening was Dario Lavarde of HTC VIVE presenting about the recently announced VIVE Tracker. Here’s a promotional video about it, and Dario even showed a demo of authoring for the tracker in Unity 3D plus shared his slides.

Another highlight was Lex Dreitser giving demos of his Epson Moverio. That was cool!

“Take Aways”

Here’s a run down of some ruminations from the overall VR@NY experience…

  • Samsung and Oculus need to work on their marketing of VR experiences.
  • Stay away from Samsung’s Gear VR 4D Chair!
  • VR and AR demos are more interesting to the audience if you invest in setting up a monitor to show what the viewer is seeing.
  • If you’re going to host immersive experiences, go to great lengths to get unique content not available to consumers that already have headsets.
  • 360°video “might” be a killer app for VR because it’s easy, fast and cheap content that an average consumer can create. Better, cheap and widely available 360° cameras that can stream live video are needed, though.
  • If you have a compatible Samsung phone, get the Gear VR 360° Camera.
  • Parallel to the exhaustively covered VR Headset wars, there is a far quieter, but probably more crucial war going on among immersive content delivery platforms. The players range from brand specific options like Samsung/Oculus/GearVR stores, Sony Playstation and VivePort to the broader cross-platform, device independent content delivery services such as YouTube 360° and Facebook 360° video on the low end on up to premium content delivery platforms like Littlstar.
  • The VR and AR industry needs to adapt the concept of “responsive design” from web design and apply it to immersive content to result in something like “responsive immersive content design, authoring and delivery” so that developers and consumers don’t have to navigate the morass of options currently available. Someone needs to provide a way for publishing and viewing 360° video, WebVR and Unity 3D/Unreal authored VR/AR/MR experiences for everything ranging from desktop or mobile to low end Cardboard/View-Master/GearVR/Daydream phone based viewers all the up to Oculus and Vive headsets. In truth, a movement towards this is already in the air, and while it is certainly a bear of a challenge to tackle, it will be worth it because the most inclusive and adaptable platform(s) will win the immersive VR/AR/MR content platform battle.

IMHO, anyway 😉

So, wow, that was a mind-blowing few days! This report doesn’t even include some other fun real life (RL) adventures that slipped in along the way between the highlights above. Check out Mary Hopper’s blog post for a more complete trip report…

AR@MIT

AR in Action was at MIT this week, and it was fantastic! John Werner served as host to a vast who’s who of tech, and the the presentations ranged from informative and entertaining to mind blowing. There were too many highlights to cover here, but a few of my favorite were Alan Kay’s explication of some issue’s with current technology, Steve Mann’s stunning taped performance, Ken Perlin’s presentation of his vision for interaction in the future, and of course, Digital Den’s friend Rus Gant’s perspective on uses of AR in museums. This is just a sample of the multitude of great talks.

There were also many interesting demos set up, and the one from Samsung Research about WebVR and Sketchfab was one the most likely to have a serious impact on directions in R & D at Digital Den.

Finally, John Werner’s presentation of Barmak Heshmat’s slides Engineering concept designs for VR’s next 15 years 2015-2030 was particularly fascinating.

John Werner also posted this fantastic video capturing the event.

arinaction highlights v1.1 from john werner on Vimeo.

Here are still more videos and highlights…

AR in Action Jan 17 & 18, 2017, pictures by Dave Rezendes from john werner on Vimeo.

Overall, it was an unusually worthwhile event, and the best part is that it was all filmed “TED Talk Style,” so the videos will be available soon. Watch for them!

New Toys!

We are just past the season for getting toys, and boy did we do that — we added a bunch of cool new toys to our “Pop-up Lab” that will be available to play with during our events and workshops. Here are the highlights of what we have recently added to the collection…

“VR Ready” MSI Laptop (Core i7 6700HQ, 2.60 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, 16 GB)
msi

HTC Vive (Set up for room scale VR)
htc-vive

Newest Model of Samsung Gear VR
gearvr

Ricoh Theta S 360° Camera
360camera

Watch for another round of purchases this quarter that will most likely include a TPCast Wireless attachment and trackers for the Vive, a Google Daydream as well as an AR headset (Microsoft Hololens or Meta). Then there will also be a lot of new development software and in-house applications to share. Please stay tuned…

Hellooo….?

In case you’re wondering, yes, we’re still here. It has just appeared to be quiet, “too quiet,” because an avalanche of new hardware and software has been rolling in over the last few months (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation VR etc, etc, etc.). That means that, appropriately enough, the holiday season has been taken up with some serious playtime, and no one’s complaining about it, mind you 😉 Stay tuned for news about our new toys, chances to play with them at public events, and best of all, new in-house demos exploring our new capabilities. Whew, whew!
In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Mars

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you have probably noticed there’s a serious case of “Mars Mania” going around right now. The current fever was only stoked higher last week when Elon Musk presented his plan to establish a permanent human habitation on Mars with his company SpaceX.

ICYMI Here’s a short 5 minute summary version…


Here’s the full hour plus long version…

We here at Digital-Den are good with all of this. In fact, we’re so good with it, one way we “boot-up” our demos is with entirely Mars related media. That’s because Digital-Den’s Founder (Mary Hopper), has been Mars obsessed ever since the Mars Viking Mission.

So, it was awesome to get the chance to attend the very special event Moving to Mars: A discussion with Mars One candidates at the Museum of Science on Wednesday evening.

mars-one

Mars One mission candidates: Josh Richards, physicist, engineer, comedian; Peter Degen-Portnoy, software engineer; Yari Golden-Castaño, systems engineer; R. Daniel Golden-Castaño, US Army veteran and engineering student;Sara Director, artist

The event turned out to be a mind-bending, inspirational encounter with the “real thing,” and it only further solidified the probability that Digital-Den will continue to feature tons of Mars related content in our demos and “possibly” do more than that, too.

More specifically, we has been exploring the possibility of working with one or more partners on a Mars related project or “maybe” even doing one of our own. Of course, no matter what, we keep our eyes on what is going on in this “space” right now (yes, ha ha, bad pun intended).

Seriously, there’s quite a lot going on. Each new VR hardware platform release or upgrade brings one or more Mars related demos or titles now as well as the promise of more in the near future.

For example, at the lowest and most accessible end are these 360° NASA videos.



Full-Circle Panorama Beside ‘Namib Dune’ on Mars (JPL/NASA)
NASA Releases 360-Degree Video Of Martian Surface (Emily Calandrelli, Tech Crunch)

Then, higher-up on the “presence” scale, there is Mars is a Real Place. It was one of the first paid apps released on the Samsung Gear VR store, and it was made by DrashVR who is the same guy who made Titans of Space. The title and this information alone should be enough of a recommendation, but just in case, it is worth noting that it actually works — it feels like you are really on Mars, and yes, it is stunning!

A bit different take on the question is Field Trip to Mars created by Framestore and backed by Lockheed Martin.

Yet further out on the scale of immersion, as well as a bit more of a journey, is the mixed reality Destination: Mars exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida that uses Microsoft Hololens to give a narrated tour for Earthling through a Martian landscape.
‘Destination: Mars’ Virtual Reality Experience Now Open at Kennedy Space Center (Sarah Lewin, Space.com)

Another title to look forward to on the near horizon is called Mars 2030 that is being done in cooperation with NASA using their own media and is expected to be released on multiple platforms sometime this year.

These are just a few examples — there are numerous others on the scope. Busy space! Still, it is a worthy place to be, and we intend to be there too. Watch for more news about Digital-Den’s work in this area soon…