Recapping the top stories covered on the VRScout Report, a weekly live video show and podcast discussing the best in VR, hosted by Malia Probst. You can enjoy the full audio recording below:
In this week’s VRScout Report, we discuss Oculus Story Studio’s Henry Emmy win, NASA training astronauts with virtual reality gloves, Snapchat flirting with augmented reality, HTC Vive trying to go wireless, and iPhone laying potential plans for VR/AR.
1. HOLLYWOOD LOVES HENRY
Although the big studios have largely utilized the medium as a marketing companion to traditional media releases, Hollywood has been increasingly fascinated by virtual reality – and this growing interest is validated by the Emmy win by Oculus Story Studio. Their VR short, Henry, is about an adorable yet spiky hedgehog who has logistical issues with hugging and was narrated by Elijah Wood and directed by Ramiro Lopez Dau, who worked on films like Brave, Cars 2, and Monsters University. Henry is the first original narrative in VR to win an Emmy – last year a VR promo from Fox for the series Sleepy Hollow won for user experience and visual design (oh, and T-Swift got the nod for her 360 music video for Blank Space, too). Oculus Story Studio is the interactive film arm of Oculus, which is usually regarded as a VR gaming company– so this big-time validation of their narrative prowess should only encourage more cinematic experiences that help develop VR storytelling style.
2. NASA TRAINS ASTRONAUTS WITH VR
Manus VR is a company developing virtual reality gloves – so instead of using controllers as data input, we use what comes naturally: our hands. NASA and Manus VR have partnered to prepare astronauts to go to the International Space Station, utilizing virtual reality and Manus gloves. Using the Unreal Engine 4, NASA has created an extremely detailed and realistic VR model of the interior of the ISS, and astronauts use the Manus gloves in the model for training simulations. This is not NASA’s first foray into mixed reality – they also have a partnership with the Microsoft Hololens for support on the ISS as well. Cosmic virtual reality experiences are a satisfying stand-in for that civilian urge to see space, so it’s somewhat ironic that VR is also training people to actually go to real space.
3. SNAPCHAT KEEPS FLIRTING WITH AR GLASSES
Speculation has been swirling around Snapchat: are they developing augmented reality wearables? Well, they just joined the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which is a prerequisite in order to use Bluetooth in any hardware device – and they joined as an adopter, which mean that they would be building the Bluetooth-enabled products. This recent move adds to an already-large list of evidence of Snapchat’s bigger goals: they acquired Looksery (facial modification technology that powers Snapchat lenses), Vergence Labs (which was working on a headset similar to Google Glass before Snapchat bought them in 2014), hardware specialists from GoPro and Nokia, and technical recruiters from Microsoft Hololens and Google’s Project Aura (the group responsible for Google Glass).
The company’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, was photographed earlier this year sporting what appeared to be a smartglasses prototype with embedded cameras. Snapchat is huge: it is currently valued at $18B and their 150M active daily users (of which over 80% are under the age of 35) already expect silly augmented filters in everyday life and are primed for an always-on digital future. Snapchat also recently did a campaign with Warby Parker, the fashionable and innovative eyewear maker – do I smell a future partnership?
4. CUTTING THE CORD RAISES QUESTIONS
Wires are a real buzz kill to great virtual reality experiences, and a Bulgarian company called Quark VR recently announced they are working with the HTC Vive to kill the cord… or at least put them in your pocket. The two companies are working together to create a pocket-sized wi-fi transmitter that would stream VR footage between the headset and PC – so, although your headset is no longer tethered to the computer there would still be a single wire from the HMD to the pocket transmitter. As latency over a few milliseconds can disrupt the immersive nature of good VR and create nausea, the dependability of consumer-level wi-fi is brought into question. Also, how will the HTC Vive run wirelessly? Will they make a pocket power solution, or put a battery (and weight!) to the headset? VR backpacks are sort of looking practical now…
5. NEW IPHONE 7’S DUAL CAMERAS COULD MEAN BIG THINGS
It’s a well-known secret in the VR/AR industry that Apple has been working behind the scenes on this tech despite not releasing any products and remaining tight-lipped on their plans. Another key to Apple’s larger plans might have just been revealed: the dual camera in the iPhone 7. As the smartphone will be able to measure and map depth, this could be a big step to enable the iPhone to dynamically augment the real world in 3D. The dual camera could also open up the iPhone to gesture recognition, so you could communicate with your smartphone via hand motions. Most industry watchers expect Apple to wait until VR/AR has obvious and attainable use cases in order to maintain the company’s standards as a high-end brand– but they sure have been working hard behind closed doors.
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