Saturday, April 11, 2015

Farm to Table VR - Food Industry and virtual reality

 There is a lot that still needs to be done before virtual reality is a mainstream thing, but what I know will help is when I see people in non-tech related industries embracing VR to use in their own professions. One example of this is a set of experiences I discovered a friend from the food industry is doing using virtual reality for a food blog she produces content for called Nopalize. I had a chance to briefly catch up with her and ask her these questions.

Tell us a little about yourself and Nopalize.
"My name is Lauren Stokes, I'm a native Texan, nutritionist, and yogini residing in San Francisco. I am a food lover and food media producer. By day I am a yoga instructor and by night I produce videos for

Started in 2013, Nopalize is an industry-backed food media movement sharing access to growers, producers and makers in our local food community, both online and offline. Our mission is bringing people and food closer together. We are proudly sponsored by Nopa and Nopalito Restaurants in San Francisco, CA."

Why are you interested in Virtual Reality? 
"The experience of VR engages feeling and emotion as I have never experienced before through traditional media. I think VR will help people understand how things are orchestrated in the food world, giving a personal real life experience that is captivating, educational, and engaging. It will enhance the message we are trying to spread about food and food culture."

How do you feel it will enhance your story and communication?
"The advantage to VR is that it gives the individual control to create their own experience by adjusting their focus to what makes the most sense for them to absorb and process the information, whether it be watching someone's technique on how to make something or looking at their face having them explain it. While the director is still controlling what is in the shot, the viewer can personalize the experience by having control over what they want to look at in the scene."

I see you have plenty of videos and other media on Nopalize. Any VR content yet for people to experience on the site?
"Not yet on the site but we are working on a few virtual reality videos with the help of a leading VR company. This is a very exciting project so expect to see something soon. Stay tuned to our website and blog for more information!"

Check out Nopa and Nopalize restaurants in San Francisco and mad props to the Nopalize team for using virtual reality to immerse us into the story behind our food for healthier living. Truly a VR story I definitely think all can sink their teeth into.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

VR Hackathon Update: 360° and Growing

Here is a quick post to share some cool VR Hackathon news and info on upcoming events.

360° video of the Oct. 2014 event
The MindVR team was cool enough to shoot the October 2014 event in 360° video and then post it on Vrideo, an immersive video platform. I need to dive deeper into Vrideo and its features, but at a glance it seems to be a platform for hosting and viewing 360° video that is also VR enabled. Once you start the video below, left click and hold to grab the video and move your mouse to look around. This video on mobile devices requires you turn with the device to look around.

*if the above embed doesn't work here is a link to the video.

The Growing Community 
With the success of the last event here in San Francisco and the growing interest by developers and designers of immersive technologies to have a weekend of creating and building, the VR Hackathon is expanding to new locations and age groups. There are events this year planned for San Francisco, Seattle, Cameroon, South Africa, and Albania. Check out the website for more details on upcoming events.

Also, the first VR Hackathon MINI for grade school students and young adults will be held in New Jersey this May. This event, initiated by tech savvy teachers, will give students in grades 5th-8th a full day of creating virtual and mixed reality content via tools like Minecraft, PlayingMondo, and Unity3D. I may get the chance to participate in this event as a guest so I am super excited to see what the next wave of VR creators will make.

That is all to share for now but what a start to an event that kicked off just six months ago.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

REAL 2015 - Where the Sensor meets the Maker

 This past week was the REAL conference, an event organized mainly by Autodesk to explore the convergence of the professional 3D sensing, making & visualization industries.

From the website:
"REAL is both an exclusive executive summit, REAL TALK, & a world’s fair of cutting-edge 3D demos, REAL LIVE. REAL is new and different: an immersive, hands-on, high-level gathering in a historic venue with a unique program. REAL is real people, doing real-world work with reality tech. REAL is Reality Computing.

REAL is 500+ leaders and innovators — professionals from across industry, investing, research, and media. REAL brings together real work spanning disciplines from: Architecture to Art, Engineering to Entertainment, Manufacturing to Media, Heritage to Health, and Sports to Science… REAL is executives & engineers, developers & designers, inventors & investors, architects & artists, makers & meteorologists, surveyors & scientists, entrepreneurs & educators. 

 From drones to autonomous cars, industrial robots to major engineering works, and game consoles to tomorrow’s mobile phones, 3D sensors are suddenly everywhere. And several decades after first grabbing headlines, VR and 3D printing are hot again, attracting billions in investment, and moving beyond early adopters to professionals. But it is the sum total, where sensing meets making, where big change is brewing. While the ‘Internet of Things’ grabs headlines, a 3D revolution is quietly building."

Although I only was there for one day, this was quite the event and I rank it among the best I have ever attended. Yes it had cool exhibitors and great speakers, but my high marks come from it bringing together communities that normally don't mix, even though they are complementary and or share technologies. Most parts of the '3D life cycle' were present.

Autodesk pretty much owns the 3D modeling tools space, so 3D creation from that standpoint was in the house if not directly represented on the expo floor. Most, if not all, of the 3D creation was from scanning and capture technologies and companies like Leica, Matterport, Occipital, and Floored.

Companies like Arup and Autodesk showed off interactive 3D and VR applications while immersive technology companies including IrisVR and Metaio dazzled folks with virtual and augmented reality demos.


A little light on the 'Make' side, the event did showcase some digital fabrication art installations with Fathom and a few other companies demonstrating how 3D and scanned data can be used for digital fabrication (mainly 3D printing).

Topping things off on the last day, Matt Sonic and the San Francisco Virtual Reality Meetup group had their eighth meeting at the close of the REAL event that included thought provoking presentations and VR devs showing off some VR demos (unfortunately none related to the theme of the conference).

This event was a great #1 and I can't wait to participate in the whole event next year to see what 3D technologies they invite next. This is definitely an event that as it grows, the world of 3D is going to get very REAL.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

UPLOAD VR - making the SF virtual reality scene a cool one

Over the past couple years, there has been a rise in groups that focus on virtual reality here in the SF Bay area (mainly due to Oculus' success).  It used to be just the Silicon Valley and San Francisco VR Meetup groups, but now there are at least half a dozen groups, and growing, focused on some element of the VR ecosystem. Normally VR meetups are 95% men that are the usual geeks and enthusiasts. I can say this because I am one of them and attend quit a variety of VR and related events.  One such Meetup group that is doing a great job of marketing VR to a much larger audience than the usual VR developer is UPLOAD VR.

UPLOAD VR self proclamation is as, "An international VR community dedicated to accelerating the development of the virtual reality industry. We are an eclectic group of designers, developers, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, investors and innovators pioneering the future of virtual reality. We bring virtual reality to the masses through experience driven events."

I applaud the organizers Taylor, Nick, AJ, and Will for making VR cool and hip. Their events always have great demos, good music, and a diverse crowd of VR developers, content creators, and enthusiasts. Recently they have decided to take their VR event on a world tour and kicked things off last month with a UPLOAD VR Virtual Reality World Tour Kickoff held at City View on top of the Metreon.

The World Tour Kickoff was by far the best VR event I have ever attended. It easily had several hundred people there when I showed up, tons of VR demos, a DJ spinning great tunes, performance dancers, projection mapping, interactive art, and more. A majority of the hardware and software vendors big and small were present with some new VR startups showing off their wares. 

The gents are now moving the event on to other cities including New York and Austin. I highly recommend this group and its events to all that want to be cool, and not just geeky, with virtual reality. Keep uploading the VR coolness UPLOAD VR!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Head Mounted Displays and Augmented Reality Headgear

 The idea of immersing ourselves deeper into an augmented and or virtual reality has captivated many of us thanks to sci-fi books like Snow Crash and Rainbows End. It has also created an explosion in growth the past few years of Head Mounted Displays (HMD) and augmented reality glasses projects. AR glasses and HMDs have been around for some time but people really started to get excited about augmented reality headwear when Google announced Glass back in 2012. So let's start the review here.

Google Glass:
Before the recent announcement of it being discontinued but now "graduating" from the Google X experimental projects incubator to become its own independent division (that will report to Nest's Tony Fadell), Google Glass was a $1,500 type of wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). It was developed by Google with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer. Tailored mainly to work with Google products, Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format.

The Promise:

The Reality:

 Despite the public backlash to Google Glass as seen in the Daily Show clip, there is an increasing number of HMD and AR glasses coming onto the market. Sony debuting Morpheus and Facebook buying Oculus Rift for a couple billion certainly got folks serious and interested in the subject and it seems lately everywhere I look some company is releasing or someone is Kickstarting a HMD unit or AR glasses. Let's take a look at the head gear currently available, coming soon, and in the future.

Oculus Rift:
  The poster child for VR headsets, the Oculus Rift is a VR success story and by far the most popular HMD not yet on the commercial market. With an original goal of raising $250,000 on Kickstarter back in 2012, the Oculus team raised over $2.4 million with that campaign and then were acquired by Facebook back in March 2014.
Dev Kit 1
Dev Kit 2

I was a backer of their Kickstarter campaign and that got me a DevKit1. The DevKit2 is now available to developers but it has been reported the commercial unit will not ship until February 2016. Facebook has not said what they plan to do with Oculus yet, but recent VR related acquisitions and these comments by Mark Zuckerberg keep the excitement strong for what is coming next regarding immersive technologies and the world's largest social network.

 Technical Illusions' castAR is another Kickstarter success story I have reviewed before. According to the Technical Illusions team, castAR is mixed reality mode glasses, allowing for social Projected Reality and fully immersive Virtual Reality.

The castAR system is available to developers for pre-order starting at $345. This package includes the castAR glasses with its built in tracking system, a magic wand, and the 1 meter by 1 meter surface. No date has been set for when a commercial product will ship.

Samsung GearVR:
 In collaboration with Oculus, Samsung developed their own HMD called GearVR, which they released to developers late last year. GearVR is a $199 cordless head mount that turns any Samsung Galaxy Note 4 into a virtual reality headset. I personally rate this one as the best mobile VR unit to date.

Atheer One
 Atheer Labs is the creator of Atheer One, a pair of AR glasses that are supported by their platform called Augmented Interactive Reality (AiR). Their SDK is built upon the Android APIs and supports 3rd party toolkits such as Qualcomm’s Vuforia SDK and the Unity3D engine. Claiming to be the only portable and immersive smart glasses supporting natural interaction, the One and AiR platform combines immersive 3D augmented reality with natural gesture-based interaction for AR that you can touch.

  Formed in 1997, Vuzix has been in the HMD and AR glasses space for a while and has a variety of glasses products. Currently, Vuzix is under contract with DARPA to design and build a next generation heads up display for military ground personnel.

With primary focus on the gaming industry, OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) is an initiative to bring open source VR to the masses. Comprised mainly of hardware vendors, it is an ecosystem that strives to be fully open-source with their OSVR Hacker Developer Kit schematics and drawings for the headset available for download so one can quickly build their own or improve on existing VR-Glass designs. OSVR software supports multiple operating systems, plugs into leading game engines and is freely available under a Apache 2.0 license.


MoverioSmart Glasses:
 Japanese electronics company Epson (Seiko Epson Corporation) has had a pair of Augmented Reality glasses on the market for a few years now. According to Epson, "The next-generation Moverio BT-200 smart glasses are designed to change how you experience the world around you. With new and improved features and a more compact size, these innovative smart glasses are setting the new standard in Augmented Reality."

Meta's SpaceGlasses:
 Meta claims its initial product, called SpaceGlasses, is meant more as a tool for app developers than as a gadget you’d want to actually wear. Like other AR glasses, it needs to be physically tethered to a computer in order to work. It includes a see-through projectable LCD for each eye, an infrared depth camera, and a standard color camera, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. The Meta 1 Developer Kit is available for $667.00.

Cardboard HMDs:
By far the cheapest option for a HMD on this list, cardboard VR units turn any supported smartphone device into a virtual reality headset. It was with the debut of Google Cardboard at Google's I/O conference that got others looking at this low cost alternative and it didn't take long for other cardboard clones to hit the market. Based in San Francisco, DODOcase has entered the VR space by manufacturing a line of their own cardboard units and with a successful Kickstarter campaign for DIYVR (Do It Yourself Virtual Reality).


Sulon Cortex: (Not yet released)
Sulon Technologies released at CES 2015 its Cortex AR/VR headset. Though it's still early days for the company's standalone Cortex AR/VR headset, it's managed to merge immersion and augmentation in some pretty fascinating ways. When it releases to developers, it plans to cost $500 a unit.

Microsoft HoloLens:  (Not yet released)
Microsoft recently debuted their entry into the AR glasses and HMD space with a device they have named HoloLens. It is great to see them get excited about immersive technology and I highly recommend a visit to this article on the Verge about their first hand demo with the unit.

Magic Leap: (Not yet released)
 Saving the most mysterious for last, Magic Leap is making waves in the augmented reality space with their recent raising of $542 million dollars and hiring of Sci-Fi author Neal Stephenson as their ‘Chief Futurist’. Magic Leap has been secretive about how their system works technically, but a plethora of disclosures in their filings provide the broad outline. A lightweight head-mounted device will house a tiny projector comprised of bespoke prisms and lenses that will beam images onto the user’s retinas creating a “dynamic digitized light field signal.” Infrared positioning cameras, GPS modules, and multi-axis accelerometers will assist in blending images and video with the real world. Let's hope it lives up to the promise.


 Quite the list and this is by no means all the headgear devices and HMDs coming soon or available to developers now. While it is still too early to say which devices will reign supreme, it can be said that with this many HMDs and AR glasses coming to the market that our digital and real lives are about to become a lot more immersive and much faster than most anticipate. :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Open and Interoperable Augmented Reality

  In my travels over the years I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that are champions for technology open standards. Sure this may not be the most interesting part of a technology's ecosystem but it is among the most important. True most people I talk with agree that standards are important but the passionate individuals I speak of now not only understand the importance of standards, they also advocate for and are actively involved with how the standards evolve. In the realm of augmented reality, Christine Perey is such a champion and heroine.

 I could write a whole article on the amazing work this lady has done for AR over the years but this post is a shout out to the AR Community for Open and Interoperable Augmented Reality Experiences, an international grassroots community she organizes. Now on their 12th AR Community meeting, this group is made up of members that wish to utilize open interfaces and standards in their AR projects and/or contribute to the advancement of initiatives which promote open interfaces and interoperability to reduce barriers to growth of the AR industry. While open to anyone that wants to contribute, the community comprises some of the biggest names in mobile, desktop, academia, AR, and standards organizations.

 Seems there is a lot going on this year regarding the topic of AR standards and here is what Christine has to say. "Greetings and Happy New Year! Fasten your seat belts! 2015 is off to a great start and promises to be a banner year for open and interoperable Augmented Reality. The AR Community virtual meetings help people to engage with and contribute to the activities of the AR Community between our in-person meetings. Our virtual community meeting program and schedule is described on this page." More on this group can be found at their website and the AR Standards Meeting Youtube Channel.

I highly recommend anyone that truly cares about AR being a part of our everyday to join this community. This is the group that is making the world that TechCrunch bloggers and other media outlets promise when they talk of our augmented reality future. It is for this I say thank you AR Standards Community and thank you Christine for all that you do. I am excited to see what 2015 brings for open AR!