Room2Room: Skype meets augmented reality

Skype, the most famous video calls app in the world, changed our lives in a significant way: maybe many of us don’t realize this, but the possibility of calling friends and family living far from us and looking in their eyes while we talk is a think that wasn’t taken for granted until some time ago. The advent of Skype, plus an internet every day more available, wide and fast, changed and improved our habits.

Now Microsoft, owner of Skype, is working on a new step in the ongoing change process: imagine you can go beyond the screen while calling someone on Skype, and to have the possibility of seeing the other person in front of you, as you were comfortably sitting in the same room. Microsoft Research division is working to make all this possible: the project is called Room2Room and will create holograms of other people in front of us while calling them.

How? It will be possible thanks to a system of projectors and Kinect sensors, plus the help of another Microsoft Research’s product, the augmented reality project for videogames RoomAlive.

Tests are already ongoing from some time, and the results highlighted how this system, even while still not being perfect on the side of space perception, is more productive than the normal Skype’s version. A test was about the solution of a puzzle by seven couples in different rooms: reading the data published on MIT Technology Review, when the couples worked face to face the solving time was 2 minutes, when through Room2Room was 7 minutes, while with traditional Skype was 9 minutes. In the researchers note in the paper created by Microsoft Research for the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing conference in San Francisco: “Quantitative results suggest that, predictably, face-to-face communication is superior in terms of task completion time, sense of presence, and efficiency of communication”.

For now there are no news about a launch on the market soon, but for sure Microsoft will use this technology for something amazing.

Would you like to have more control on what happens while you ski or snowboard? You should try augmented reality, and GogglePal is the tech gadget perfect for you!

No, we are not talking about another pair of glasses or bulky headset: the creators, fans of snowsports themselves, thought about this too; GogglePal is an insert adaptable to any kind of ski or snowboard goggles that permits you to have right in front of your eyes a Head Up Display (HUD), a display that let you see information without moving your eyes from the track. The device, that was protagonist of a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, has been launched in four different models: Sport, Connect, Play and Play Gold (this last one is just different in the color), all lightweight and highly portable.

GogglePal’s features are similar to other wearable devices created for sports or driving that we saw earlier (e.g. BMW Digilens and Skully, presented at CES 2016): attaching the insert to the lens, and doing so implementing augmented in your ski goggles, it will be possible to access some important information as speed, vertical, calories burned, acceleration, time and direction, and see it all in real time from a small heads up display right in the corner of your eye.

There is a gamification part too: GogglePal’s app connects you with your friends through a message service while keeping track of their position as well, but also activates games and challenges that you can race with them to gain points as you travel distances and find chests on a special, virtual map.

The device has been created with snowsports in mind, but the creators are thinking also of future models for other sports in need of a HUD.

No more available on Kickstarter, GogglePal can be pre-ordered on their official site; for now there is only a iPhone version of the app, we don’t know if in the future will be made available also an Android one.

You can see more in the video below:

PTC buys Vuforia and brings AR to enterprise

It’s not an isolated opinion anymore to think that the web is coming to a turning point: two of the most valued trends for 2016 are in fact Internet of Things and alternative realities, and step after step they are coming to an harmony.

This is the thought also of Jim Heppelmann, president and CEO of the company PTC: “The digital and physical worlds are converging,” he said last week during the live-streaming of Thing Event “This convergence is transforming everything. It’s transforming how we design and manufacture things, how we operate and service them.

PTC is a company known for software design that now, after these considerations, decided to wide its competences following the two trends we just talked about. In Happelmann’s opinion, the change we are seeing is not just about the Internet of Things, but also related to an area that is yet not fully developed: how people interact with the devices. In this field there’s still a void space and augmented reality will fill it. This is why the company is betting on this new technology and proved it by buying the augmented reality platform Vuforia for no less than $65 million from Qualcomm.

PTC aims for the creation of a business for enterprise: in Happelmann’s opinion, one of the main potentials of augmented reality is being able to help employers working better.

At the moment the company already put into practice its ideas about augmented reality with two big brands as Deere & Co and KTM; these two realities are using PTC’s new technology in their business as support to the technician in the difficult work of fixing and maintaining complicated machines.

If you think gym is boring and you search for something more exciting, maybe you should try Brooklyn Boulders: sure, for some it is pretty far, but who knows how many would happily travel to try their new system that turns rock climbing in a videogame. How? Through augmented reality, of course!

Some months ago Jon Cheng, member of the gym and founder of the startup Randori, had the idea of creating a game for rock climbing walls called “Time Trial“; the gym gave him the possibility to present his idea during their Community Night, and the other members liked it so much that Brooklyn Boulders decided to try the system inside their spaces.

Time Trial is a game that, superimposing augmented reality elements to the training wall, lets the athletes tpractice climbing while playing a videogame, exactly as we seen it many times on our computers’ or consoles’ screens! The system gives scores to the athlete as he goes up in height and reaches the hand holds, touching the virtual graphic elements in the while, and projects the numbers directly on the climbing wall.

The game could seem complex to work, but actually it needs just few limited tools to be activated: simply a laptop, projectors and a camera sensor.
“We use a projector and a laptop connected to our cloud based platform to play. Once that’s all setup, gym staff can login to their account, pick a bouldering wall, and start projecting any game we have in our library” explained Cheng.

Time Trial will be available to try for free during two open events held in the next months: if you are in Brooklyn don’t forget to have a look!

Apple hires a famous VR and AR researcher

It’s some time that we are waiting for the step that surely Apple will be taking in the direction of alternative realities: the last purchase was Faceshift, the company developer of a software known for analyzing the facial motions of an actor and transcribing them as 3D animation (as seen in Star Wars), but the signals in this direction are countless. Earlier there was the purchase of Metaio, the company developer of an augmented reality software, and then of the 3D outfit PrimeSense, usable with Kinect, and also the hiring of a former Microsoft employee that was working on the HoloLens project.

Now another news made the first page of the magazines, and it is again a hiring in the world of alternative realities: Apple hired Doug Bowman, a researcher and professor at Virginia Tech who is specialized in virtual and augmented reality. Bowman is not only a specialist in the research of these two types of alternative realities, but he is also an expert of 3D user interfaces and his work is mainly to develop the design of these interfaces and to study the advantages of immersing in virtual environments. The researcher has won awards for research into virtual and augmented reality, with projects such as “VR for Sports Anxiety” and the augmented reality videogame “Llamas vs. Kiwis”, and also, with a group of colleagues, a grant from Microsoft to conduct research with the company’s augmented-reality Hololens glasses.

Mr. Bowman didn’t release any comment about the news and, it seems, writing to his mail at the University an auto-responder says that he is away for sabbatical leave until August 2016; Apple, on its side, didn’t say what will be the role of Bowman inside the company, but it is easily deducible.

Sundance Film Festival and Star Wars together? It seems impossible, since we are talking about the most famous independent cinema festival and the well known mainstream space saga, but instead…this year it happened thanks to the presentation of The Holo-Cinema, a new technology that Disney is developing.

The Holo-Cinema is a new solution that joins cinema and augmented reality, and it’s in its development phase in the ILMxLAB division of Lucasfilm. For now, this technology has been studied to give the chance to the viewers to enjoy the Star Wars experience directly in their living room: simply wearing a pair of smart glasses, the user is able to explore various places of the saga, as Jakku desert, and to meet some famous characters as C-3PO and BB-8.
A Lucasfilm’s spokesperson explained The Holo-Cinema’s possibilities, including also an idea about opening some “portals” through reality that will permit the users to visit ambient and subplots that weren’t showed in the movies. “We can put more story out there”, he said.

Anyway, The Holo-Cinema is not the only news connected to alternative realities that we will see this year at the festival; another interesting project, in fact, caught the visitors’ attention: it’s called Leviathan Project and it wants to bring to the screens the Scott Westerfeld’s best-selling Leviathan trilogy of novels thanks to a mix of augmented and virtual reality. These are young-adult sci-fi books, so the theme itself is pretty good for a transposition in different kinds of reality: the story has among the main characters no less than Mary Shelley and Charles Darwin, and the period is the WWI one.
Leviathan Project is the result of a three-year collaborative effort between Alex McDowell’s 5D Global Studio, USC’s World Building Media Lab, Intel, and Unity and, thanks to the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets and also to special gloves equipped with motion sensors, it projects the viewer inside the books’ steampunk world, with the promise of letting him interacting with the objects around.

These two projects seem to be just the beginning of a revolution that, in the opinion of cinema experts and professionals, during next years will take to Sundance many projects related to new realities.

One of the most awaited mobile videogames in 2016? It’s called Pokémon Go and it will be born from a collaboration between The Pokémon Company, Nintendo and Niantic Labs. The name Niantic Labs would have to tell you already something: if the company that created the videogame Ingress is among the creators, of course there will be some augmented reality. And, in fact, Pokémon Go will let players capture Pokémon inside the real world: their smartphone will become a kind of radar and, also thanks to the help of GPS, it will make possible to see the famous little monster superimposed to the reality and to catch them.

During the years we saw many Pokémon videogames, but this is probably the most awaited of them: version after version, the japanese saga built a core of fans and enthusiasts that are following anxiously every release. This time the situation is not different, with the addition of the augmented reality twist.

We already had some anticipations about the game in 2015 , but then the fans were left without news again: no release date, few details. Now an important date is near and this brightens up the hopes again: February 27, in fact, will be the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first Pokémon videogames for Game Boy, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green. Many are the events and the surprises programmed for this date and the hope is that among these there will be also the release of the augmented reality version.

Nevertheless, listening to the rumors, the videogame will end its beta-testing period only at half 2016, so the official launch will be at least in June.

Another revelation for the fans: it seems that there’s a possibility that this new title will feature a new character. Probably it will be no less than Zygrade, combination between Yvetal from Pokémon Y and Xerneas from Pokémon X.

HoloLens: new details and some disappointment

Microsoft HoloLens continues to be on everyone’s lips: the famous augmented reality headset is about to be launched on the market (there isn’t yet a precise date, but it seems that the developer version will be available soon) and little by little details and news are unveiled.

Some news came from the speech in Tel Aviv by Bruce Harris, Microsoft’s Technical Evangelist. Here’s the video:

In this speech, Harris revealed four important details about HoloLens, and unluckily some of them left a bit of disappointment.

The first one is about the battery: its autonomy will be around 5 hours and an half, 2 and an half in case of massive use of the headset. This is way less than what users were expecting, still anyway you can definitely recharge it between games or work sessions.

The second detail is about the field of view: augmented reality fans heard with some disappointment that the experience of wearing and using HoloLens is comparable to having a 15-inch monitor about a foot away from one’s face. This, still being impressive, is still less than expected.

The third detail, on the opposite, was largely appreciated by the future users: one of the nightmares of augmented reality headsets fans is having to wear devices that are uncomfortable and, even worse, full of wires and cables. HoloLens doesn’t need them, because it will be connected via Wi-fi and Bluetooth to the internet and to other devices.

The fourth and last detail is about Microsoft: HoloLens will natively support all Windows 10 apps, making it possible to use it as you would use a laptop.

Augmented reality helmets? F-35 fighter pilots are using them from some time now to have a look to the airplane performance without having to look down; now, thanks to the two devices presented at CES 2016 by BMW and Skully, this new technology entered also the two-wheeled world.

BMW isn’t new to experiments with augmented reality: we’ve already seen the results of their hi-tech tests when they released the smart glasses helping the driver fixing his vehicle and the famous MINI goggles, with that peculiar strange old-style look. At the Las Vegas event they wanted to surprise us again, this time making a step for taking motorcycling to the future: the company presented DigiLens, their new augmented reality helmet that helps bikers driving in a safer way. To explain easily this device, it’s enough to say they are a Google Glass for helmets, just with a wider view: DigiLens is a magnetic, colored display as thin as eyeglasses that can be clipped in front of the driver’s eye. Inside the helmet, in the biker’s field of view, DigiLens shows important information superimposed.

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This technology has the potential to enhance the riding experience by making it easier to see what is behind you, as well as keeping important information in the rider’s field of view,” says Robert Richter, senior advanced technology engineer at the BMW Group Technology Office USA.

Another device related to the world of motorcycling is the augmented reality helmet AR-1 by Skully. At the moment at the end of the crowdfunding campaign, with the device available on the official site for $1499, Skully took part to CES 2016 with a demonstration of the possibilities of AR-1. Skully is an helmet that uses augmented reality to show useful information and also what is recorded with a camera placed on its back directly in the field of view of the biker. Other than this feature, the smart helmet has also an internal audio function that let the driver listen to music and follow the directions given by the navigator.

CES 2016 ended some days ago and left us speechless as usual. This year the alternative realities fans enjoyed it even more, since it’s been inaugurated the Augmented Reality Marketplace, a space entirely dedicated to this theme. And in fact we weren’t disappointed.

One of the leading news came from Google and Lenovo, that during the event announced a pretty interesting partnership that will see them producing a new smartphone, a phablet, the first with Project Tango‘s 3D mapping technology. The objective is clearly to start a new generation of smart devices that could be optimized also for the use of augmented reality and 3D indoor mapping.

The new device wasn’t showed at CES, but some details have been unveiled: since of the dimensions, a wide screen around 6 inches (15 centimeters), it will be a phablet; the cost will be reasonable, remaining under $500, and we will see it on the market probably already from mid-year.

Johnny Lee, leader of Project Tango, in a speech also explained some possible uses for the new device: from helping consumers find their way in a large hotel or mall to taking precise measurements of a room before shopping for furnishings, all this related to the fact that Project Tango’s technology, on the opposite of the GPS one, works also in indoor spaces. Lee told us more: Project Tango “transforms the smartphone into a magical window on the world” and uses depth sensing and motion tracking to create on-screen 3D experiences.

As a whole, this is a pretty important step both for Lenovo, Chinese tech giant, that with this project officially enters the USA market, and for Google, that finally will be able to give a brand new device to the developers for his pretty ambitious Tango technology.