Reality Check is where we keep tabs on the fast-moving world of XR. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most exciting news in immersive tech.
Earlier this month, Colorado State University (CSU) deployed a 100-headset lab built around immersive learning, called the Immersive Reality Training Lab. The lab, which is a part of their Health Education Outreach Center, allows students to interact with detailed anatomical imagery and lifesize virtual cadavers.
The space supports 100 headset-users at once, clustered in groups of four so that students can analyze the 3D anatomical imagery in collaboration. Students use Samsung Odyssey+ headsets powered by 100 HP PCs to run ‘BananaVision,’ a proprietary VR software developed by CSU Research Associate Chad Eitel. The software’s multi-user support also allows an instructor to bounce between the VR experiences of each group to check progress and answer questions.
VR is now one piece of a larger anatomy education where students study in traditional anatomy labs, practice on real cadavers, take assessments on iPads, and—as of this month—study in VR. “Students can dissect a virtual cadaver, create cross-sectional images and study a variety of volumized medical imaging in the immersive lab any day of the school week,” says Jordan Nelson, a member of the school’s Biomedical department and one of the Immersive Reality Training Lab operators. “We’ve worked hard to create an anatomy curriculum that is not only hands-on and exciting but is accessible and impactful.”
CSU is joining a wave of higher education institutes using VR to develop skills, give their students immersive and exciting exposure to their future careers, and familiarize them with the future of medical education and spatial computing.
Microsoft recently published a patent originally filed in April 2018 for a “virtual reality floor mat activity region,” which hints at a renewed interest in VR console gaming.
The major need for the format is born out of the potential for accidents when gamers wearing VR headsets play games in a crowded living room: a smart floormat could help gamers stay in a safe zone by sending warning messages or pausing the game when the user nears the edge of the mat. Some gamers use third-party products or rubber mats to help them stay in an uncluttered area, but Microsoft’s patent details a host of other spatial computing synergies to make gaming a more immersive experience, such as haptic feedback (vibrations based on in-game events) and pressure sensors for additional user input opportunities.
This announcement might come as a surprise, seeing as Microsoft abandoned VR support after the Xbox Kinect, which was discontinued in Fall 2017. VR gaming has had mixed success: while it has been a source of buzz and excitement for years (and features more and more standouts as the years go by), but some feel that unreliable hardware and lack-luster software have kept XR gaming from reaching its full potential. As prices fall and technological developments continue to improve the quality of the hardware and the fun-factor of XR games, however, interest in VR gaming has held steady. Perhaps Microsoft’s patent could be a hint that the gaming giant plans to reinvest in at-home VR gaming?
Earlier this month, The Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science published a study that measured rates of stress, anger, fatigue, and calmness with and without a VR intervention. 33 volunteer participants were studied before giving blood at an American Red Cross donation center to help researchers understand how VR can affect mood in times of stress and discomfort.
Discomfort around needles is extremely common, and routine blood draws are a source of stress and exhaustion for a significant number of donors, not to mention the number of people that avoid donating blood or seeking medical treatment to avoid needles.
In the study, participants were shown a 4-minute VR experience made by VR producer Healium, in which a barren tree slowly regains life and color. “This study demonstrated that an inexpensive and brief VR intervention can have a significant positive impact on mood just prior to a needle stick, reducing tension and fatigue and increasing feelings of calmness and happiness in an adult population,” said Dr. Jeff Tarrant, director of the Neuromeditation Institute and chief science officer for Healium.
Dr. Tarrant points to VR’s sense of presence as the chief reason it’s so successful as reducing stress and anxiety. “Presence,” he explains, “is defined as the subjective feeling of being in another place. As there are multiple visual and auditory cues in a traditional hospital or blood donation setting that could trigger or exacerbate an anxiety response, removal of these cues may be helpful in reducing anxiety. In addition, rather than simply removing a potentially stressful environment, VR can replace these stressful cues with an environment designed to be soothing, comforting, and mood enhancing.”
Thanks to its properties of presence, therapists and researchers have turned to XR have turned to immersive technology for exposure therapy and treatment plans for victims of PTSD. It’s exciting to witness the new ways researchers and XR experts are using the technology to mitigate stress, bolster treatments, and improve the quality of living for its users.
At the end of September, award-winning XR content-creator Jaunt XR announced a sale of all its tech and software assets to Verizon. For the past several years, Jaunt XR has been an industry leader in VR software, hardware, and, most recently, AR streaming tech including XR Cast, which allows real-time capturing and distribution of volumetric video.
Verizon is no stranger to the world of XR: in addition to using VR in their employee training, Verizon has committed significant support to research regarding interactive AR advertising on its Moments ad platform and the delivery of XR content over its 5G cellular network. By acquiring Jaunt XR’s assets, Verizon is taking a leap toward being a leader in large-scale creation and distribution of XR content. This will likely include consumer hardware optimized to support XR media, developer tools to create XR content, and infrastructure to support the delivery of XR media over cellular networks.
At this point, it’s unclear whether Jaunt XR will continue to operate as an independent business. However, Jaunt XR CEO Mitzi Reaugh released the following statement: “We are thrilled with Verizon’s acquisition of Jaunt’s technology. The Jaunt team has built leading-edge software and we are excited for its next chapter with Verizon.”
For less than $20, superfans can have an immersive front-row seat to concerts from the likes of Billie Eilish, Post Malone, Imagine Dragons, Imogen Heap, Liam Payne, and Panic! At the Disco. With apps like MelodyVR and Oculus Venues, limits on live performance attendance are fading to the background: for only a few bucks, an unlimited number of fans can watch some of the world’s biggest artists from anywhere on the globe.
For decades, music consumption has become digitalized: from records to CDs to MP3s to music streaming services, music lovers have come to expect their experiences on demand. While VR headsets aren’t currently in enough homes to outshine the revenue earned by live music events, there is, therefore, a precedent for an explosion of digital, on-demand music experiences.
On top of extreme accessibility and a fractional cost, VR offers advantages over in-person concerts: viewers can switch perspectives at will, watch the concert when it’s convenient for them, avoid the discomfort of crowds, and are guaranteed crisp, high-quality audio.
VR concerts succeed because of VR’s sense of presence, it’s ability to completely transport viewers into immersive, engaging environments. If financial backing is any indicator, these types of experiences could be a legitimate and widespread way of engaging with popstars and consuming concerts. MelodyVR, for example, secured more than $60 million in funding and is pursuing a subscription-based model for music superfans.