Virtual reality

VRobot lets you wreck a big city in virtual reality

Wrecking big cities in virtual reality is officially a thing. The latest developers to take their turn at the genre is Luden.io, a team of VR developers at Nival Interactive.

VRobot lets you play as a giant robot at a time when driverless cars and robots are swarming the planet. Humans have built a giant robot to help them clean and reclaim their cities. You can just stomp around and cause mayhem, or use special tools like the tractor beam and tornado maker.

Then you have to defeat…

Sorry, Zuck: AR & VR won’t replace TVs or phones

Last week’s F8 conference is still generating a boatload of excitement, especially over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of an era without smartphones or televisions. While Zuck is right to believe AR and VR will have an important place in tomorrow’s ecosystem, he may be missing where their replacement value will be. Even worse (and this is uniquely ironic, coming from the world’s largest social network), Facebook is completely missing the intrinsic social need that drives adoption of most high tech products.

The numbers behind virtual reality don’t add up

Zuckerberg hinted at his vision for a post-iPhone, post-TV future by unveiling Facebook’s plans for augmented reality at F8 and was even more explicit in an interview with USA Today, saying, “We don’t need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall and watch it.”

“We all want glasses or eventually contact lenses that look and feel normal but let us overlay all kinds of information and digital objects on top of the real world,” he explained at the keynote, which I was fortunate enough to attend. But while everyone in the audience around me nodded enthusiastically, I squirmed in my chair, resisting the urge to facepalm. There’s little to no evidence many people want augmented reality glasses (let alone contacts!), and copious evidence to the contrary. Consider:

To be sure, Samsung Gear VR, which uses Oculus technology, is doing fairly well. However, many of its 5 million+ shipped units were given away for free, and 5 million is still a fraction of the 100 million or so Samsung smartphones the headset was designed to work with. While Snapchat Spectacles attracted much initial buzz, it’s way too early to know if they actually attract mass market sales. (And being sunglasses, they are explicitly designed for a narrow range of use cases — mainly, while outside — and aren’t ready…

$1000+ Worth of 3D and VR Plugins Available for Free Download Now

3D and VR plugin developer Tim Dashwood is joining Apple and has since made all of his 3D and 360 VR plugins completely free. Compatible with Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, and Motion — the available plugins, once worth over $1,000, can be downloaded for free from FxFactory.

The set of plugins include:

360VR Toolbox — Lets you to edit your 360 VR videos in real-time while wearing a headset.

SmoothSkin — Automatically finds and smooths faces and lightens shadows under the eyes.

Editor Essentials

VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone in Your Pocket

In the process of making a homemade Mech Combat game that features robot-like piloted tanks capable of turning the cockpit independent of the direction of movement, [Florian] realized that while the concept was intuitive to humans, implementing it in a VR game had challenges. In short, when the body perceives movement but doesn’t feel the expected acceleration and momentum, motion sickness can result. A cockpit view that changes independently of forward motion exacerbates the issue.

To address this, [Florian] wanted to use a swivel chair to represent turning the Mech’s “hips”. This would control direction of travel and help provide important physical feedback….

Maker Pro News: Printing Houses, Flying Cars, and More

You’re reading our weekly Maker Pro Newsletter, which focuses on the impact of makers in business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, and innovators, along with technology and market trends. Subscribe today and never miss a post.

“Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections… like giant Legos.” —Bloomberg

Is VR Still a Maker Pro Market?

Facebook rolled out a beta this week of its social virtual reality app, Facebook Spaces, in the first major crossover between the web giant’s eponymous social properties and its Oculus (@oculus) acquisition. The takeaway for maker pros: it’s as unclear as ever whether the future of VR — assuming it has one — will be typified by mega-corps like Facebook or by the DIY tinkerers we highlighted in Make: Volume 52.

The irony, of course, is that Oculus itself was a maker pro startup, until it took a $2 billion buyout from Facebook. Founder Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey), who left the company in the wake of the sale, literally hacked together his first prototype in his parents’ garage.

Needless to say, what really excited us this week was the news that mixed-reality hardware startup Avegant (@avegant) closed a $13.7 million investment to further develop its elegant, next-generation headset.

Focus on Factories

Factories that build houses on an assembly line, like automobiles, have been driving the Chinese construction industry for years. Get takes from both Blueprint Robotics (@BlueprintRoboUS) and Ritz-Craft Corp (@Ritz_Craft), a pair of manufacturers profiled by Bloomberg, in a fascinating read on how the trend is now catching on in the domestic market.

“Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections,” wrote Prashant Gopal (@mrgopal) and Heather Perlberg (@HeatherPerlberg), “which are transported on trucks, then laid down on foundations by cranes, like giant Legos.”

In textiles, Amazon won a patent this week for an on-demand clothing fabrication system. The maker pros at watchmaking startup Shinola (@Shinola) have been touting the company’s progress

Star Trek: Bridge Crew makes zapping Klingons in VR a hoot

Some say that virtual reality is going to be the most social medium ever, and that’s the feeling I got from playing a demo of Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the new virtual reality game coming from Ubisoft and its Red Storm studio.

In a four-player preview of a couple of missions, I had a hoot playing with my fellow game journalists during a preview event at Ubisoft in San Francisco. This game is built in a way that makes it easy for you to immerse yourself in the role of being a Star Trek bridge crew member. You’ll have no problem as captain shouting orders at engineering, even if the person is a total stranger.

I played a couple of four-player missions on the bridge of the new starship USS Aegis, which is from the Kelvin timeline in the JJ Abrams films. You can also play on the bridge of the original USS Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D), and the game accommodates anywhere from one to four players. It comes out on May 30 for Oculus Rift with Touch, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR (PSVR). It will have full cross-platform multiplayer.

Above: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Image Credit: Ubisoft

You can play the role of any of four crew members: Captain, Engineering, Helm (moving the ship around), and Tactical (scanning and weapons). Inside VR, you can see the other players at their stations on the bridge, and you can see them as they move around and try to get your attention. You sit throughout the game, and most of the time you spend looking down at your console.

Players can communicate with others through an in-game voice client. That voice communication is also key to the simulation’s immersion.

David Votypka, creative director at Ubisoft Red Storm, worked on Star Trek: Bridge Crew as well as Werewolves Within, a VR version of the Werewolves tabletop game, where players try to figure out who among the villagers among them is a werewolf. Players in that game stayed in VR for hours at a time, and it gave Red Storm the confidence that people would play longer sessions in VR, he said.

“We saw the community in Werewolves Within was the super-positive and that strangers have a great time playing together, which was a big question mark,” Votypka said. “You can have fun pick-up matches with strangers you meet online.”

In designing the bridge, Votypka’s team found that there was no standard function assigned to various buttons for the crew members, based on the variations that occurred in the TV shows. One fan had created blueprints for the bridge, and Ubisoft made use of them. The Ubisoft team also visited the Star Trek Set Tour, a physical re-creation of the original Star Trek sets created by super-fan James Cawley.

Above: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Image Credit: Ubisoft

We played on the Oculus Rift with the Touch controls. At first, you can go through short tutorials in the Starfleet Academy training. I went through Tactical training, and took a short look at the tutorials for the helm, engineering, and the captain. In each role, a console appears in front of you, and you have to reach out with the Touch in your hand and press a button or slider. It’s a physical action that can both speed you up or slow you down, given how familiar you are with the idea of using your hands in a game.

It’s amazing how quickly you slip into the role. The Engineer stays busy shifting power to shields or prepping the engine for warp speed or repairing the ship. The Tactical Officer scans objects that appear on a radar. If the objects are out of range, the Captain can ask the helm officer to move toward the target. As Tactical Officer, I also had to raise or lower the shields, which can take some precious seconds. If the shields are up, you can’t use your transporter.

Google selects Android app and game nominees for the 2017 Play Awards

VB Summit 2017 has just announced its line-up of pre-eminent speakers who are using AI to grow their businesses. Join us on June 5-6 and learn more!

Google has unveiled the nominees for the Google Play Awards 2017, scheduled for May 18 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific during the company’s I/O 2017 developer conference. There are 12 categories this year, including four new ones: Best VR/AR Experience, Best Multiplayer Game, Best Social Impact, and Best Accessibility Experience.

Google explains that nominees were selected “much like last year by cross-functional teams throughout Google who work hand-in-hand with the relevant categories and product areas.” There are category-specific criteria as well as the common requirements: high star rating, technical performance, and freshness (a launch or major update since April 2016).

This is Google’s way of recognizing developers of quality Android apps and games from across the world. Nominees come from a variety of countries, including Vietnam, France, Russia, Brazil, Uruguay, South Korea, China, and more.

Without further ado, here are the 12 categories and…

HP moves into VR and AR with investment in Venture Reality Fund

Hewlett-Packard is putting on its headsets. One of the world’s oldest technology companies is investing in the fledgling virtual reality market by becoming an investor in The Venture Reality Fund.

The exact amount wasn’t disclosed. But HP Tech Ventures, the new corporate venture arm of HP, has joined as an investor The VR Fund, which has become one of the most active investors in VR, augmented reality, and mixed reality startups. It is HP’s first move into VR investments.

The VR Fund has invested in a number of early-stage startups developing infrastructure, tools, platforms, content and apps for the mixed reality ecosystem.

The VR Fund will provide HP with early access to leading AR/VR/MR technologies with commercial applications in HP’s target markets including office, retail, healthcare, manufacturing and education. The VR Fund’s…

Cool Jobs: Doing real science in virtual worlds

virtual reality
virtual reality

Strap on a virtual reality headset and you’ll enter a different world. Without leaving your house, you can fly a spaceship through a make-believe galaxy. You can play pool with friends. Or you can perform surgery on an alien.

Virtual reality, or VR, uses special technology to trick the brain into thinking these experiences are real. A technique called stereoscopy (STAIR-ee-OSS-kuh-pee) sends a slightly different image to each eye. This can create the illusion of depth. It certainly makes video games feel more realistic. But VR isn’t just for fun. It also can help scientists do their research or share it with others.

Scientists are using VR to learn more about people and the planet. One engineer uses this technology to let kids build mountains and carve out rivers with their bare hands. A scientist who studies language puts people in a virtual restaurant to learn what happens in their brains as they converse. A doctor takes patients on a virtual field trip to swim with dolphins. The worlds they visit are not real, but the science is.

Decoding dialogue

David Peeters loved learning foreign languages when he was growing up. His first language was Dutch. He studied three others at school — German, French and English.

In college and graduate school he focused on linguistics. It’s the science of human language. And the more he learned, the more Peeters began to wonder what happens inside our brains as people converse. He began to look at language through the lens of neuroscience — the study of the brain.

“There’s a lot about the way the brain processes speech that we don’t understand,” he says. Peeters is a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (Nih-MAY-jin), a city in the Netherlands. Peeters studies the way people communicate. To answer some of his questions, he built a virtual restaurant.

Real people stroll into it. To do this, they wear 3-D glasses. The small room they walk in has screens on every wall. It’s called a cave automatic virtual environment — CAVE for short. It’s basically a theater with a 3-D movie projected on every wall. To someone wearing 3-D glasses, it feels almost like a real world. (For people familiar with Star Trek: Next Generation, CAVEs are essentially a real-life version of the holodeck.)

Story continues below image.

Virtual restaurant
This restaurant isn’t real, but it’s helping linguist David Peeters study language. He observes what happens in the brain as real people talk to virtual diners in this digital eatery.

The screens show scenes inside the virtual restaurant. Each person who takes part in the study “becomes” a waiter or waitress through an avatar. That avatar is a make-believe character. It can be moved around and used to talk to others in a virtual world. Participants move their avatar simply by walking around the CAVE.

Peeters wants to find out what happens in people’s brains as they speak with virtual restaurant customers through their avatar. He does this by having each person wear a cap covered in electrodes.

These small sensors on wires attach to the outside of the head. Cells in the brain communicate with each other by sending tiny zaps of electricity back and forth. Electrodes listen for these electrical impulses and then report them to a computer. The computer records this brain activity as a set of wavy lines called an EEG. That’s short for electroencephalogram (Ee-LEK-troh-en-SEFF-uh-low-gram).

Peeters uses the EEG data to see which parts of the brain are most active during a conversation. This gives him clues about how the brain processes or understands different patterns of speech.

For example, there are direct and indirect ways to say something. “Please bring me another soup” is a very direct way to communicate a need, Peeters points out. But a lot of our conversations are indirect. In the virtual restaurant, a customer may simply say, “My soup is cold.”

“We understand this means the customer wants another soup, even though they didn’t ask for it,” says Peeters. That’s indirect language.

Peeters studies the differences in brain activity when a person hears direct versus indirect speech patterns. He hopes such research will one day help scientists better understand disorders such as autism. That’s a condition in which people have a hard time processing speech and communicating.

A new way to relax

For many years, Wim Veling used VR to help patients overcome phobias, or fears. As a psychiatrist, he treats patients with mental-health disorders. Veling works at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

A person with a fear…

Cool Jobs: Doing real science in virtual worlds

virtual reality
virtual reality

Strap on a virtual reality headset and you’ll enter a different world. Without leaving your house, you can fly a spaceship through a make-believe galaxy. You can play pool with friends. Or you can perform surgery on an alien.

Virtual reality, or VR, uses special technology to trick the brain into thinking these experiences are real. A technique called stereoscopy (STAIR-ee-OSS-kuh-pee) sends a slightly different image to each eye. This can create the illusion of depth. It certainly makes video games feel more realistic. But VR isn’t just for fun. It also can help scientists do their research or share it with others.

Scientists are using VR to learn more about people and the planet. One engineer uses this technology to let kids build mountains and carve out rivers with their bare hands. A scientist who studies language puts people in a virtual restaurant to learn what happens in their brains as they converse. A doctor takes patients on a virtual field trip to swim with dolphins. The worlds they visit are not real, but the science is.

Decoding dialogue

David Peeters loved learning foreign languages when he was growing up. His first language was Dutch. He studied three others at school — German, French and English.

In college and graduate school he focused on linguistics. It’s the science of human language. And the more he learned, the more Peeters began to wonder what happens inside our brains as people converse. He began to look at language through the lens of neuroscience — the study of the brain.

“There’s a lot about the way the brain processes speech that we don’t understand,” he says. Peeters is a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (Nih-MAY-jin), a city in the Netherlands. Peeters studies the way people communicate. To answer some of his questions, he built a virtual restaurant.

Real people stroll into it. To do this, they wear 3-D glasses. The small room they walk in has screens on every wall. It’s called a cave automatic virtual environment — CAVE for short. It’s basically a theater with a 3-D movie projected on every wall. To someone wearing 3-D glasses, it feels almost like a real world. (For people familiar with Star Trek: Next Generation, CAVEs are essentially a real-life version of the holodeck.)

Story continues below image.

Virtual restaurant
This restaurant isn’t real, but it’s helping linguist David Peeters study language. He observes what happens in the brain as real people talk to virtual diners in this digital eatery.

The screens show scenes inside the virtual restaurant. Each person who takes part in the study “becomes” a waiter or waitress through an avatar. That avatar is a make-believe character. It can be moved around and used to talk to others in a virtual world. Participants move their avatar simply by walking around the CAVE.

Peeters wants to find out what happens in people’s brains as they speak with virtual restaurant customers through their avatar. He does this by having each person wear a cap covered in electrodes.

These small sensors on wires attach to the outside of the head. Cells in the brain communicate with each other by sending tiny zaps of electricity back and forth. Electrodes listen for these electrical impulses and then report them to a computer. The computer records this brain activity as a set of wavy lines called an EEG. That’s short for electroencephalogram (Ee-LEK-troh-en-SEFF-uh-low-gram).

Peeters uses the EEG data to see which parts of the brain are most active during a conversation. This gives him clues about how the brain processes or understands different patterns of speech.

For example, there are direct and indirect ways to say something. “Please bring me another soup” is a very direct way to communicate a need, Peeters points out. But a lot of our conversations are indirect. In the virtual restaurant, a customer may simply say, “My soup is cold.”

“We understand this means the customer wants another soup, even though they didn’t ask for it,” says Peeters. That’s indirect language.

Peeters studies the differences in brain activity when a person hears direct versus indirect speech patterns. He hopes such research will one day help scientists better understand disorders such as autism. That’s a condition in which people have a hard time processing speech and communicating.

A new way to relax

For many years, Wim Veling used VR to help patients overcome phobias, or fears. As a psychiatrist, he treats patients with mental-health disorders. Veling works at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

A person with a fear…