How Virtual Reality Will Drive The Future Of Business

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In 1961, the first minicomputer, called the PDP-1, arrived at the MIT Electrical Engineering Department. It was a revolutionary machine but, as with all things that are truly new and different, no one really knew what to do with it. Lacking any better ideas, a few of the proto-hackers in residence decided to build a game. That’s how Spacewar! was born.

Today, the creation of the Spacewar is considered a seminal event in computer history. Because it was a game, it encouraged experimentation. Hackers tried to figure out how to, say, simulate gravity or add accurate constellations of stars and by doing so would push the capabilities of the machine and themselves.

Tech investor Chris Dixon has said that the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a toy. Yet it’s because so many technologies start out as toys that we are able to experiment with and improve them. As virtual reality becomes increasingly viable, this human-machine co-evolution will only accelerate because, to create a new future, we first have to imagine it.

From Spacewar! To Real War

Growing up in Australia, Pete Morrison always thought he’d be a plumber like his father. His mother, however, had other plans. She noticed his interest in computers and how, from a young age, he spent hours tinkering on the family’s primitive Commodore 64. She pushed him to go to college. Lacking funds to do so, Pete entered the Army to finance his education.

As a Signal Corps Officer, he put his technical skills to good use, but much like the MIT geeks four decades earlier, he soon found himself preoccupied with video games. The military had commissioned a study of simulations at the Australian Defence Force Academy, where he was a student and Pete got involved with testing games. One was Operation Flashpoint, developed by some young geeks at a Prague based company called Bohemia Interactive.

“It quickly became clear that the game could be effective for training military personnel,” Morrison told me. “Before Operation Flashpoint, to train a soldier you had to go out into the field, which was expensive and time consuming. We realized that with this type of computer game, you could design training that would allow them to hone cognitive skills, which would make the in-the-field training that much more effective.”

“Also,” he continued, “because the game was so engaging we got a much deeper level of immersion, which made the training more effective and led the Australian Military to ramp up investments in video games as training tools.”

The Simulation Economy

In the industrial age, experimentation was expensive and unwieldy. Thomas Edison famously observed that if he tried 10,000 things that didn’t work, he didn’t see them as failures, but stepping stones to his next great invention. It was, of course, an ultimately effective process, but incredibly gruelling and time consuming.

Today, however, we increasingly live in a simulation economy where we can test things out in a virtual world of bits and avoid much of the mess of failing in the real world. Consider how today we battle-test different business models and scenarios in Excel. That was much more cumbersome and time consuming when spreadsheets were on paper, so we rarely did it. Now, it’s a routine activity that we do all the time.

As computers have become exponentially more powerful and software algorithms has become much more sophisticated, the usage of simulations have expanded. We use CAD software to design products and structures as well as high performance supercomputers to model weather and even invent advanced materials. When you can try out thousands of possibilities easily and cheaply, you are more likely to identify an optimal solution.

The next era of simulation will be powered by virtual reality and it is almost upon us. Just as Pete Morrison found that ordinary video games could improve tactics in the real world, virtual reality offers the possibility to take training to an entirely new level.

Enter Virtual Reality

In 2005, Morrison left the military and started working directly with Bohemia Interactive. Together, they launched a new company in 2007, Bohemia Interactive Simulations, to focus on the military business. In recent years, the firm has been increasingly focused on applying its expertise to virtual reality platforms like Oculus Rift and Magic Leap.

“The advantage of virtual reality is that we can potentially replace dome projection systems, which cost hundreds of thousands dollars, with a VR system that costs hundreds of dollars and achieve the same or greater level of immersion,” Morrison says. “That can be a huge cost saver for militaries worldwide and revolutionize how we train soldiers”

Yet, like most technologies, virtual reality is quickly moving from high-end early adopters to more mainstream markets. Strivr, for example, got its start by designing virtual reality systems to train $20 million NFL quarterbacks. It now helps train employees at companies like Walmart, United Rentals and Jet Blue by simulating real-life work environments.

Training your employees in a classroom can help teach them basic principles and, in some cases, help build important skills. With virtual reality, however, you can put them in a realistic environment of, say, a sales floor on Black Friday, a construction site or a $50 million airplane at a fraction of the cost. In some cases, training efficiency rates have increased by as much as 40%.

How Humans And Technology Co-Evolve

In recent years, we have come to think of technology in opposition to humanity. We hear that robots are going to take our jobs, that tablets and smartphones are eroding our children’s skills and so on. Yet we often fail to take note of the potential for machines to make us better, to enhance our skills and to make us smarter.

For example, as the digital age comes to an end, we need to invent new computing architectures, like quantum computing, to drive advancement forward. The problem is that, although the technology is progressing rapidly, very few people know how to program a quantum computer, which works fundamentally differently than classical machines.

It was with that in mind that IBM created Hello Quantum, a video game that helps teach the principles of quantum algorithms. “We thought, what better way for those unfamiliar with the principles of quantum mechanics to dip their toe into the topic than through a game? The puzzles are fun, so even those who don’t necessarily plan to study quantum physics will come away with a better understanding of it.” Talia Gershon at IBM Research says.

All too often, we see playing games as just “goofing off,” in order to escape from the “real world.” The truth is that, by allowing us to go beyond our immediate context, games allow us to learn skills that would be difficult, and in some cases impossible, for us to experience directly. That has the potential to enhance not only our skills, but our lives.

The truth is that humans don’t compete with machines, we co-evolve with them. Yes, they make some skills obsolete, but they open the door for us to learn new ones and that can enhance and enrich our lives. As the skills we need to learn increasingly exceed our everyday experience, we’ll find ourselves playing more games.

Source: Digital Tonto

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Researchers are using VR to make dentist visits less painful

Patients in a study reported less pain, as long as they viewed nature scenes.
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Like airlines, dentists understand that the more they can distract you from what they’re doing, the better off everyone will be. UK researchers wanted see if virtual reality can ease patient pain and anxiety, so they enlisted 79 people who needed a tooth pulled or cavity filled. Patients were divided into three groups: One that viewed a VR coastal scene, one a VR city, and the other, no virtual reality at all.

The result? Folks that viewed the ocean VR experienced “significantly less pain” than the other two groups, showing its therapeutic potential for stressful events. Furthermore, follow ups showed that the coastal VR patients experienced less “recalled pain” memories after the fact.

Notably, the city VR was no more effective at reducing patient pain and stress than no VR, so the trick seems to depend on using calming scenes. While that seems incredibly obvious, the psychologists thought VR could just be distracting patients from all the drilling and poking, much as a TV does, but that proved not to be the case. “Our findings are in line with literature, showing that contact with nature, even indirect contact through windows, can influence physical and mental well-being,” the paper explains.

The researchers note that in previous studies, VR has been shown to reduce patient dependence on pain medication. “Our research supports the previous positive findings of VR distraction in acute pain management, and suggests that VR nature can be used in combination with traditional [medication].” The next step, they suggest, would be to vary the content of natural environments (using a forest instead of a coastal scene, for instance) to see if the can determine exactly how it reduces pain. We’d recommend they check out the zen content out there, and avoid any games.

Source: engadget.com

MindMaze offers VR treatment for stroke victims in the U.S.

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Swiss startup MindMaze, which raised $100 million in funding, has launched its MindMaze Pro virtual reality treatment for stroke recovery patients in the U.S.

The launch shows that VR is for more than just games, as it stands at the intersection of neuroscience and entertainment. The launch is the latest example of how VR is spreading far beyond games and entertainment. And that’s important, as consumer VR sales have been slower than expected.

Based on a decade of research and testing for “neuro VR,” the MindMaze Pro is an upper-limb neurorehabilitation platform that uses proprietary 3D motion-tracking cameras to help patients recovering from traumatic injuries and those suffering from acute and chronic strokes.

MindMaze introduced MindMotion Pro to the European market in 2013, and hundreds of patients have used the platform for the rehabilitation therapy.

Lausanne, Switzerland-based MindMaze already delivered a thought-powered virtual reality, augmented reality, and motion capture game system in MindLeap. The company, whose board includes some of the world’s leading doctors and neuroscientists, will be applying its multisensory computing platform to numerous new fields, which include robotics and transportation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted MindMaze 510(k) clearance. Mindmaze also said that it has completed 261 patient trials of MindMotion Go, a portable neurotechnology device that uses VR to continue therapy after a patient leaves the hospital. Those trials were conducted in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland.

Each year in the U.S., about 800,000 people suffer a stroke, resulting in debilitating health effects as well as direct and indirect losses of economic activity of $65 billion according to research published in The American Journal of Managed Care.

MindMotion Pro works by mapping a patient’s movements onto 3D avatars in customized interactive exercises that are based on standardized neurorehabilitation principles of upper limb rehabilitation and cognitive paradigms. By doing so, it reactivates damaged neural pathways and activates new ones.

MindMaze’s technology is specifically designed to help stroke patients and those with traumatic brain injuries start recovery early and continue it for maximum gains.

MindMotion Pro uses VR games to keep patients engaged with therapies for recovery. It has custom tracking technology that gives real-time and accurate patient tracking in both bedside and wheelchair uses. It also helps the therapist in supporting the patient during the activities.

“Our work at the forefront of neuroscience and virtual reality allows patients to recover faster and return more fully to the life they lived before injury,” said Tadi in a statement. “Over the last decade, we’ve honed this therapy to be cost-effective for both patients and healthcare providers.”

Due to the motivating effects of the virtual-reality based games, patients can engage in 10 to 15 times more exercising repetitions than with standard rehabilitation programs, and because the system offers real-time multisensory feedback, therapists can assess progress and tailor therapy to patient performance.

Research from the leading rehabilitation facility Clinique Romande de Réadaptation/EPFL in Sion, Switzerland, found that 90 percent of chronic stroke patients using MindMotion Pro reported heightened motivation to perform rehab, increased the potential for motor function recovery and that their training intensity doubled within the first 10 sessions of using the platform. Additionally, Lausanne University Hospital-CHUV reported 100 percent of patients forgot they were in a hospital.

Source: venturebeat.com

Expeditions AR brings volcanoes and DNA molecules to the classroom

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Google’s popular education-focused Expeditions program has allowed over two million students to immerse themselves in new environments and get a close look at monuments and other items of interest using the Cardboard VR headsets. Now the program is moving from virtual to augmented reality.

Expeditions AR uses Tango-compatible smartphones like the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro to put the study subjects directly in the classroom.

Launching this fall through Google’s Pioneer Program, users will be able to point their AR-ready devices at specific points in the classroom and find volcanoes, the Statue of David, DNA molecules, and more awaiting them. The objects are fully interactive; Google’s demo video shows a volcano erupting, billowing out smoke and lava.

Much like the original Expeditions for VR, Expeditions AR looks to be an exciting new project that will undoubtedly get students more excited​and involved in their studies.

Source: 9to5google.com

Google announces its plans for virtual reality at I/O 2015

Google has unveiled some big virtual reality plans at I/O 2015. Not only did the company announce an updated version of its low-cost Cardboard headset, but it also unveiled a new feature designed to allow teachers to take their students on virtual field trips, and a new project that allows users to create their own 360-degree virtual reality experiences.

You’ll likely remember Google’s Cardboard VR headset from last year’s I/O press conference. The headset, which true to its name is actually made of cardboard, offered a low-cost entry point to VR, and was pitched as a great way for developers to easily get their claws into making virtual reality experiences.

The company is back with a brand new model this year, adding support for larger phones (up to 6 inches), replacing the magnetic switch with a cardboard one that will work with any smartphone, and providing a streamlined setup process, with assembly in just three steps. Google is also opening up the platform, with the Cardboard SDK set to support both Android and iOS.

An updated Cardboard headset isn’t the only new thing that Mountain View had in store when it comes virtual reality. It also announced a new feature called Expeditions, that’s designed to bring VR to the classroom. Schools can apply for packs which include numerous Cardboard headsets that can be linked together, with the teacher guiding students through virtual tours of supported locations such as the Great Wall of China and Venice.

Lastly, Google announced a new project called Jump, designed to allow people to create and share virtual reality experiences. The company has partnered with GoPro on the project, with the actioncam maker producing the first Jump-ready 360-degree array, comprised of 16 individual cameras.

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The project includes software that compensates for the depth of different objects, cutting together the footage from the different cameras to produce a seamless VR experience. YouTube will start supporting Jump VR content this summer, viewable through – you guessed it – Cardboard VR headsets.

Source: Google

Improved GPS could untether VR and revolutionize geolocation

By Eric Mack

A team from the University of Texas wants to create virtual reality and augmented reality systems that can better integrate with the real world. Along the way, they just might revolutionize the geolocation systems we all use on our mobile devices.

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Two years later, Glass is on hiatus, and Humphreys’ group has a new software-based system that could improve the accuracy of the GPS enough to open up a wide array of new uses for mobile devices, virtual reality headsets, automotive navigation and perhaps even the next generation of Google Glass.

For years now, the team members have been working on harnessing what’s called carrier-phase differential GPS (CDGPS), which can be accurate down to a centimeter. Previous prototypes like the one we saw in person required a big, clunky, expensive antenna to achieve this, but now they claim to have a breakthrough software-defined GPS receiver that can attain the same level of accuracy using the cheaper antennas currently found in mobile devices.

Humphreys envisions using this technology to enable drones to deliver packages to a hyper-specific spot and to improve automotive collision systems, but his team is especially interested in merging real-time geolocation data with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, which currently does not use GPS (and is tethered to a PC), limiting it to indoor use and accuracy within only about two-to-three feet (roughly .75 meters).

“Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around with other players,” he says.

Humphreys and his team are now working on a specialized receiver called GRID, that extracts centimeter-level accuracy from mobile device antennas. The receiver currently operates outside the phone, but is expected to eventually run on a smartphone’s internal processor. The team has recently spun off a startup called Radiosense that is working with Samsung to develop a snap-on accessory that will provide more accurate location information for devices, including VR headsets.

Watch the demonstration video below to see the technology in action.

Sources: University of Texas, GPS World