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

Holokit mixed reality headset

Startup Holokit has demonstrated its Google Cardboard-like mixed reality (MR) headset that allows a user to insert a smartphone into a cardboard head mounted unit. The device consists of a pair of mirrors that reflect the smartphone display onto an angled, semi-transparent Fresnel lens meaning the wearer sees the real world and the overlaid virtual image simultaneously – meanwhile the phone is using its camera and sensors to monitor and track the user’s real-world environment.  The holokit currently supports iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and Pixel phones. 

Walmart uses VR to train employees

Walmart, the global supermarket chain, is using VR to help train its new employees. The VR world simulates real world situations to test skills and reactions. The tech is being used to familiarise workers with situations that they might face day to day such as stocking the fresh produce section or handling crowds during special shopping days such as Black Friday. Walmart says that from trials of the system it has discovered that employees who went through VR training better retained the training information than those that didn’t. The training system will be rolled out to 200 of the supermarket’s Academy facilities by the end of 2017. 

Welsh Water use virtual reality to help design waste water works

According to the BBC, Welsh Water, a UK utilities company, has used a virtual reality igloo – a circular room on the walls of which are projected virtual images to provide a 360° view allowing designers, engineers and architects to better design and visualise the space – to design its water and waste water works. The company says that the costs for the technology were recouped on the first project – a GBP32 million water treatment works in Wales that serves 100,000 people. The technology is now being applied to 50 more projects.  

Apple releases its AR development kit

Apple announced its ARKit for developers on iOS 11. The ARKit will allow developers to create augmented reality experiences for iPhone and iPad. Apple’s overview of the ARKit mentions three abilities that ARKit will enable: 

1. Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO): enables accurate tracking of the environment and a device’s location within a room. 

2. Scene understanding and lighting estimation: ARKit enables devices to analyse the scene received through the camera and find horizontal planes like tables and floors, allowing for virtual object placement. The software also detects ambient lighting levels and correspondingly adjusts the virtual object’s light intensity. 

3. High performance hardware and rendering optimisation: designed to work well on Apple’s A9 and A10 processors to provide a fluid experience. 

Medical school to build VR, AR education building

The University of Nebraska, USA, plans to build a USD119 million centre for virtual and augmented reality medical training. The Davis Global Center, funded by private and public sources – including the US Department of Health and Human Services – will be 192,000 square-foot, will feature a 130-seat holographic theatre, a quarantine simulation centre, and a 280-degree curved screen room for VR experiences. 

Helping focus in VR

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an approach to VR displays that could help reduce eye-strain experienced by users. The approach uses optical mapping. This means that a 3D image is built using layers of 2D images – tricking the eye into seeing a 3D object and providing it with focusing cues in a more natural way than standard VR displays. The optical mapping near-eye (OMNI) technology was built into an OLED screen with four subpanels each displaying different parts of the video image – in this case black and white footage of cars at varying distances from the camera. The researchers are working to reduce the size, weight and power consumption of the technology to make it a viable commercial product. 

Ads in VR

Google’s Area 120, the technology giant’s experimental ideas division, is testing ways to include advertising in VR content. One concept it has developed is presenting a cube to the user with the option to interact with it – tapping it or gazing at it – to open advertising content. Area 120 argues that ads should be customizable, easy for developers to implement, native to VR and useful and non-intrusive for users. 

Qualcomm continues work on VR headset

Chip manufacturer Qualcomm has announced a partnership with Ximmerse to help it develop its standalone head mounted display. Ximmerse will work to optimise controllers for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Mobile Platforms to enable drift-free tracking and low latency. Ximmerse produces the Flip VR controller which provides 3 DoF (degrees of freedom). 

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