Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR) Tech Digest - April 2017

Virtual reality helping physiotherapists 

inMotionVR has launched a pilot scheme in 20 physiotherapy practices in the Netherlands to test its Corpus VR physiotherapy treatment. Patients wearing the headset are immersed in a game environment in which during playing/exploring they naturally begin moving their body, hence exercising without any conscious effort. The therapist’s feedback app informs him/her of the player’s range of motion, and data that can be used to inform future treatment regimes. The movements required by the VR world can be made more or less difficult depending on the patient’s requirements. The company plans to incorporate sensors into the treatment to measure stress, track movement data and further motivate patients. 

University of Birmingham sets up VR learning environment

The University of Birmingham, UK, has set up the Centre for Virtual Reality (VR) Learning and Rehabilitation to investigate and treat brain injuries using VR. The university claims this is the only such centre in Europe and one of only three in the world. The centre will contain a multisensory dome to study and develop VR rehabilitation treatments, by acting as a safe place to perform complex motor activities under the guidance of neurological experts. 

AR preferred to VR for stock trading

FlexiTRADER’s FlexAR is an AR application for Microsoft’s Hololens head-mounted-display (HMD) which is designed to enable stock traders to interact with markets with the assistance of AR. FlexAR offers the user an interactive blotter (record of all trades made), trade ticket and charting within the visual field of the HMD. The company says it originally experimented with VR to provide the service but found it was too isolating. The company aims to introduce additional features to future versions of FlexAR such as alerts, basket visualisation and presentation of third-party data. 

AR astronauts and engineers

Finish research company VTT has developed an AR tool for use in space station maintenance and real-time monitoring. The device, which has been tested at the European Astronaut Centre, allows astronauts to receive real-time information about the thing requiring maintenance. Information the astronaut needs to fulfil the task is displayed on his/her AR glasses in the form of text, video and images.  The system guides the astronaut step-by-step. The glasses can also display real-time telemetry data from equipment onboard the space station through an IoT (Internet of Things) interface. Systems such as this could be used in any industry that deploys complex equipment at customer premises, in the field or at remote locations. 
PoindextAR is a company doing a similar thing here on earth. The system from Gravity Jack tracks real world objects in 3D without using tags. It does this by using a previously scanned or created live 3D model of the object, the app tracks the position of the object and whether the object or user is moving or not. It works on smartphones. The company sees the simplicity of the device and its ease of access – only needing a smartphone – as elements that would make this particularly useful for industry. 

Haptic feedback glove

VRgluv, an American VR equipment developer, has put its haptic feedback VR glove on Kickstarter. The company’s website says that the glove features hand tracking, variable force feedback and pressure sensitivity. Further, the VRgluv enables users to feel objects’ degree of hardness as though the objects were really in their hand owing to its pressure sensitivity feature. The glove is compatible with HTC Vive and Oculus VR headsets. It is due for release in December 2017. 

Samsung reading muscle movement for improved avatars; MindMaze also

FaceSense, from Samsung’s C-Lab, is a technology that tracks movement of a VR headset user’s face. The technology, that is housed in the frame directly touching the user’s skin, uses electrodes to gather bio-signals and EOG (electrooculography - an eye movement measurement system) data to read a user’s facial expression and gaze. In a video on its website Samsung showcases the potential of the system to provide more natural avatars in the virtual space, with an avatar accurately copying the facial expressions of a human user. A prototype of a headset including the technology was displayed at the VRLA Expo 2017 in Los Angeles. 
Another company offering a similar product is MindMaze with its Mask. Mask’s hardware can be added to any VR headset including mobile headsets such as Daydream. 

Democratising robot control

University of New York scientists have developed an app that uses AR and a smartphone or tablet to control robots’ movements. The app allows the user to swipe and tap on screen to move robots around a superimposed grid matrix. Robot and object are identified by the app through fiducial markers (tags whose position is captured by cameras) attached to them. The developer of the app believes that this is a device that could enable people not trained in robotic control to better control robots. 

Eye tracking add-on for HTC Vive

7invensun, a Beijing based start-up, has announced the release of an eye-tracking module for the HTC Vive in China in May 2017, with backing from HTC. The aGlass will cost USD220. The modular devices (being two separate tracking glasses) can be placed into the existing headset and programmed though a USB interface. The eye pieces use sensors to detect eye movement and apply foveated rendering – which adjusts the image so that it blurs at the periphery and is focused in the centre, just like natural human vision. The company says this allows for faster frame rates and requires less processor power.  

Facebook’s AR platform

Facebook revealed its new augmented reality platform at its F8 conference. The beta which has already launched was demonstrated being used to tag real world objects, a function that allowed Nike to integrate user information with AR overlays. The camera effects would enable virtual graffiti to be tagged onto real world locations and would be viewable to others using the app when they go to that locale. Facebook says the technology uses simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), object recognition and 3D mapping. 

Augmented reality glasses using light field technology

Avegant has released information on its light field augmented reality (AR) headset. Avegant says its patent pending light field technology enables the visualisation of objects in multiple focal planes for use in business, industry or consumer markets. Avegant says its technology enables realistic AR visualisation even at close (virtual) proximity – something that has been a challenge – as well as at (virtual) distance. 

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