AR & VR Tech Digest - February 2017

Helping people see

Researchers at Stanford’s Computational Imaging Lab, working with a Dartmouth College scientist, are developing a VR headset which adapts to suit the user’s individual eyesight. They call the underlying technique adaptive vision. The researchers are testing hardware and software that alter the focal plane of a VR display. The team tested two hardware solutions: the first involved joining an adjustable liquid lens to the headset (which can alter focal length); the second solution was to enable the eye-to-display distance to be increased or decreased as needed. Using eye-tracking technology, software could use gaze direction to judge and set the most comfortable visual display for the individual user, taking into account eye defects such as astigmatism. When tested, the adaptive focus was shown to work across a wide range of people and ages.
A University of Oxford spinout called OxSight has developed a pair of smart glasses that can help the partially blind or visually impaired. The smart glasses use a specially developed camera system and computer vision algorithms to detect and contrast objects with the background. The image which is displayed on the glasses’ lenses can be zoomed, the contrast changed, or overlays can be added to enhance object detection, all in real time. OxSight claims that the glasses can help in navigating the environment, avoiding collisions with objects, and seeing in the dark.
Another company working along similar lines is eSight. Its latest product is the eSight 3 AR smart glasses that use contrast enhancement. The glasses have a live video feed displayed on two OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes. The company claims that there is virtually no lag and that the company’s Bioptic Tilt technology will eliminate nausea and balance problems commonly associated with immersive technology.

Oculus demo stations to be closed; Lowering thresholds to get hands on VR headsets 

Facebook has announced that it will be closing around 200 of its 500 Oculus VR demo stations at US Best Buy stores. According to news reports citing an Oculus spokesperson the closures were due to seasonal changes since it inaugurated its in-store demo program in August 2016. An anonymous Best Buy worker expressed concern that this was due to the lacklustre interest of consumers in the VR headset. 
Further repositioning has been occurring with HTC and Facebook both announcing new sales tactics. HTC has announced that it is offering a payment plan to get customers buying, allowing them to spread the cost of an HTC Vive headset over 12 months for– USD 66 per month. Currently the plan is only available in North America. There has been no movement on the original price tag of USD 799.
However, Oculus have moved the price tag. The company’s Rift headset has been reduced to USD 499 from USD 599 and the touch system also reduced from USD 199 to USD 99. Some speculate that this is due to poor sales figures compared to HTC Vive and PlaystationVR.

Samsung's MXR glasses

Samsung displayed its AR & VR remote desktop smart glasses, Monitorless, at Mobile World Congress 2017. The glasses connect to a Samsung smartphone via a direct Wi-Fi connection which will then use 4G capabilities to connect to the user’s personal computer, allowing the user to see their desktop in the glasses’ display. The personal computer can then be controlled via the smartphone screen. The glasses have electrochromic glass that enables the glasses to be either occluded or not depending on desired use-case, which allows the user to switch between AR and VR modes. 

VR wedding

A couple have decided to carry out their wedding ceremony via VR. Using services from AltspaceVR (a social VR company designing VR events and communication platforms) the couple will be wedded in a virtual space environment, and colour their robotic avatars as they wish. Furthermore, the couple’s far-flung relatives and friends will also be able to attend by wearing VR headsets and entering the VR chapel. The ceremony will take place in May 2017.

Chrome to support WebVR content

Google has recently announced that the latest version of its Chrome web browser will support WebVR – an open source web-based VR content creator. WebVR content will be viewable on devices which can use Google’s Daydream VR headset, or as 360-video-type content similar to Google’s Street View.  Google is currently working with developers to increase the amount of WebVR content. The company also stated that it plans to open the WebVR content to other VR headsets. 

Hand tracking gloves 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has demoed Oculus’ latest prototype – movement-tracking gloves. The company claims that the gloves will enable a user to type on a virtual keyboard or execute high-accuracy drawings within VR space. Currently the gloves are not attached to the Oculus tracking system. Instead they rely on an array of magnetic sensors focused on the space within which the gloved hand moves.

Real-time colour changes to video

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have demonstrated a novel way to implement intrinsic video decomposition (IVD). IVD is a procedure of separating out a video stream into its components – primarily colours and shading. This allows for real objects’ colours to be recoloured or re-textured. In a video released by the researchers they showcase the effectiveness of their technique compared to similar techniques, and claim it produces a more consistent, shading resistant effect, as well as being applicable in real-time. The effect of shadow on the recolouring is hardly noticeable; they also show that they are able to alter the appearance of fabric so that cloth can look like silk. 

Loook helping with mine planning

Loook, a holographic computing software company from Seattle, USA, in collaboration with BGC Engineering, has developed a mixed reality (MR) app for Microsoft HoloLens. The geotechnical engineering visualisation app enables BGC and other clients to visualise engineering problems, plan mines, model debris flow and carry out site inspections all in augmented, interactive 3D holograms. With BGC Loook has created a proof of concept visualisation to help with planning a mine closure enabling investors to see the final reclaimed landscape.

VR arcades

IMAX has recently opened a VR arcade in Los Angeles, US – The IMAX VR Experience Centre. The centre is similar to old-school arcades or a modern movie theatre. Customers pay for a VR experience. They then enter an individual pod (12’x12’) to experience VR with top of the range environment setups including HTC Vive and StarVR headsets. The movie theatre chain plans to open five other pilot centres including in China, UK, New York City and California by the end of the year. 

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