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TECH SPACE
Virtual reality girds for test in marketplace
By Rob Gloster
San Francisco (AFP) March 17, 2016


Broomstick flying or red-light ping-pong? Gadgets at German fair
Hanover, Germany (AFP) March 17, 2016 - Virtual reality and 3D printing are among top technologies showcased by thousands of IT companies attending this year's technology show CeBIT in the northern German city of Hanover.

Here are some eye-catching gadgets from the annual fair:

Quidditch on a broomstick

Harry Potter fans dying to get a taste of what playing quidditch on a flying broomstick feels like can climb on a plastic lookalike and put on a pair of virtual reality glasses and earphones offered by LocomotionVR.

The German company offers encounters with "dragons, unicorns and magic owls" through its virtual reality technology.

Users can imagine scenarios that "do not exist, which are yet to exist or no longer exist," it said.

Belt-tightening, literally

A group of students from the University of Applied Sciences at Osnabrueck have created a belt called Bob that helps its user save money.

Linked to a smartphone, the belt tightens itself when the user spends money using his or her mobile phone.

To avoid leaving spendthrifts out of breath, Bob stretches back to its original breadth after delivering its message.

Red-light ping-pong

For pedestrians who get fidgety while waiting for the green light, German company Urban Invention has replaced crosswalk signal buttons with touchscreens that offer a modern version of the videogame hit "Pong".

The opponent: the pedestrian on the other side of the road.

Print your own toys

Can't find new toys to keep your child entertained? How about letting little ones have fun creating one themselves?

TinkerToys offers software allowing a child to make his or her toy, before printing it out with a 3D printer.

Not satisfied with the final product? The bioplastic material is easily recyclable.

Air quality arbitrator

Too hot? Too humid? Too dusty? Airboxlab created Foobot -- a gadget it described as a "good-air guru" -- to help the user determine the finer details of air quality -- from CO2 levels to optimal temperatures.

The device sends the measurements directly to a smartphone.

A middle-aged white man sees himself as a young black woman being taunted by a racist.

An Israeli grandmother glimpses herself as a Palestinian teen. A star athlete experiences what life would be like in a wheelchair.

These are not plots of dystopian movies. They are experiences that take place in virtual reality, which technologists believe will be the next major platform for everything from gaming to social interaction and perhaps even global diplomacy.

Marketers predict VR headsets will soon top wish lists for kids and young adults from the Silicon Valley to Hong Kong.

The computer-generated images beamed to devices strapped around a person's head allow users to experience "presence" -- the sense that they're entering video games or movies, climbing a treacherous Vietnamese mountain or scuba diving at a coral reef.

Potential benefits include hands-on teaching with a classroom of far-flung students, or holding a business meeting whose global participants sense they're rubbing elbows.

The upcoming rollout of the Oculus Rift -- a $599 headset offering studio-quality VR to the general public -- is expected to jump-start industry sales.

Sony meanwhile announced at this week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco it would launch its PlayStation VR headgear priced at $399 in October. Many others have VR equipment hitting the market.

Along with its cousin, augmented reality, VR is forecast as a huge market that could push aside smart phones and computer tablets.

- From a California garage -

VR has been a dream of futurists and tech geeks for decades. But until recently, devices were relegated to research labs because of their exorbitant cost, clunky construction and quality issues that included motion sickness.

At Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, experiments were done until 2014 with a $40,000 device that gave users neck aches; now the lab uses a lightweight Rift at a fraction of the cost.

"I believe in virtual reality and I believed it could be amazing, but that was not a view that was shared by everyone," Rift inventor Palmer Luckey said.

The Rift, created in 2011 by Luckey in his parents' California garage when he was 18, uses images and sounds (smell and touch may come later) to convince users' brains they are flying over a city or standing on a skyscraper.

At the San Francisco conference, users pivoted to shoot would-be attackers and flinched at imaginary flying objects.

"Vision is really important. You rely on it for a majority of your senses," said Jason Rubin, who as head of worldwide studios oversees content development for Oculus.

"So if we can take over your eyes, we can get control of your belief system."

Oculus, bought by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion, is competing with companies such as Google, Samsung and Sony in creating VR devices, with analysts expecting sales of 12 million headsets by the end of this year.

- 'Bigger, more disruptive' -

But Tim Merel, founder of technology advisory firm Digi-Capital, says VR will be eclipsed by augmented reality, or AR, within a few years.

VR is fully immersive, meaning a user can't walk down a street wearing a headset. AR is partly immersive: a person can do everyday tasks while augmenting them with virtual images, using holograms (such as flying dinosaurs) superimposed on the user's field of vision.

While Merel thinks VR will cannibalize video games and become a $30 billion market by 2020, he sees AR as taking over the smartphone and tablet market and accounting for $90 billion in annual sales in the same period.

"Our broad view is that AR will be bigger, more disruptive and faster in terms of its effects than mobile was compared to the original Internet," Merel said.

While most VR content now focuses on gaming, it has the potential to impact everything from architecture to military training to travel.

Developers envision its use in dealing with phobias and addiction, or in helping youngsters combat bullying. The United Nations is using a VR film to give people a sense of living in a Syrian refugee camp. The New York Times and others are using VR films for immersive news reports.

Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford professor of communication who founded the lab, said school children might use VR for empathy training. But he acknowledged limits.

"Could this work in the Mideast conflict? I don't know," he said. "It's not a magic bullet or anything."

There also are potential risks, such as overuse or people discovering they're more comfortable in a virtual world.

"When porn feels like sex, how does that affect reproduction rates?" Bailenson asked.

The Rift, about the size of a brick but considerably lighter, will be shipped March 28 to customers who pre-ordered it. Oculus is not yet saying when the device will be available in stores. Many users will need a new computer to run the Rift, potentially tripling the $599 price.

Luckey, who attended the developers conference in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops, acknowledged the Rift is still too expensive and limited in its capabilities, but that with improvements "it is going to go well beyond being a toy."

"I think it's going to be the next smartphone and the last smartphone. Once you perfect virtual reality, there's no reason to create anything else," he said. "I see people continuously moving between the real world and the virtual world."

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Previous Report
TECH SPACE
First code of conduct for the use of virtual reality established
Mainz, Germany (SPX) Mar 13, 2016
Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany have prepared a list of ethical concerns that might arise with the use of virtual reality (VR) by researchers and the general public. Along with this list, Dr. Michael Madary and Professor Thomas Metzinger have produced concrete recommendations for minimizing the risks. According to Madary and Metzinger in their article ... read more


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