Monthly Archives: August 2017
Monthly Archives: August 2017
Royole Corporation – have announced that they will be showing their new “foldable” 3D theatre at the IFA – Hall 11.1, Stand 135.
Royole’s futuristic-looking 3D headset, the Royole Moon, creates a truly immersive environment that enables the wearer to get completely absorbed in the virtual world of a movie or other video or game content. Although not a true VR headset (it lacks the head-tracking of the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift) it creates a curved, widescreen 3D world using some of the most advanced optical and video technology.
To create the ultra-realistic 3D video experience, the Royole Moon uses two 1080p AMOLED displays (with a pixel density of 3000 ppi) for each eye. To ensure that the sound quality matches the visuals, the Royole Moon also includes built in noise-cancelling headphones.
Some have compared this to sitting in a private movie theatre. But with such high resolution in 3D and the complete isolation from the outside with the noise cancelling audio, it is more like actually “being there.”
Unlike some companies that merely adapt off-the-shelf technology, Royole Corporation has a highly active team of technologists. As a result of this, the company has hundreds of patents pending.
The level of clarity achieved by the Royole Moon is astounding. In addition to the high resolution and stereoscopic imagery, the contrast ratio is 10,000:1. To enable people who need glasses to wear and use the headset without their glasses, the two viewing sides can be independently adjusted from -7.0 (for the short-sighted) to +2.0 (for the long-sighted).
The headset can be connected to computers, gaming consoles or television set-top boxes via HDMI, USB or WiFi. It also has its own 32GB storage device, so it can be used where connectivity is unavailable, such as an airplane.
Although described as a 3D Virtual Mobile Theatre rather than a Virtual Reality headset, it is by no means limited to watching movies. It can be used to play games, as long as they do not require actual head-tracking.
At five hours, it also has excellent battery life. And when it comes to controlling the unit, its touch controls are like something out that famous Stanley Kubrick movie – you know which one!
When a price war breaks out it can be a sign of a number of things. One is that the market is maturing and that the only ground to fight for is market share, instead of actually aiming to grow the market. Another is that a new product is about to be launched and the manufacturers want to clear the inventory of the old one before launching the new one. The rationale behind this is that the new product will be so desirable that they will have to discount the old product even more if they wait till after the new one is launched. So when Facebook and HTC slash prices, what are we to make of it?
There is the possibility that one of the products is currently overpriced relative to comparable competition and has to come down in price to compete. But then you usually only get one of the products on the market reduced, not a price war. It could simply be that all the competitors realize that they have saturated the hard-core market that wanted the product at any price and must now appeal to the more elastic portion of the market that counts the dollars if not the cents.
Whatever the reason, a price war seems to have broken out between Facebook (owners of Oculus) and HTC (makers of the Vive). First Facebook temporarily slashed the price of the Oculus Rift by $100 from $499 to $399, for a six week summer sale. Then HTC cut the price of the Vive by $200 from £799 down to $599. But unlike the Oculus price-cut, this one has no set time limit. This effectively reduces the price difference from $300 to $200. But it will drop to only $100 when the Rift returns to its pre-Summer $499 price tag.
At one point this might have put the Rift at a disadvantage as they sold the Touch controllers separately, whereas HTC bundled the controllers with the Vive headset. But Oculus started bundling their controllers with the Rift for $399 as part of the Summer promotion and have announced that they intend to keep them bundled when the normal price returns to $499. This means that both companies will be bundling the controllers with the headset, but a $200 price will separate them.
HTC has fought back in other ways too. The new Vive headset is lighter and more comfortable than the old one. Also, whilst they both bundle two tracking sensors as standard, the Oculus Rift needs a third sensor (costing an additional $59) to get true “room scale” tracking. This effectively narrows the price gap to $41.
But at the end of the day, both headsets have their hard core of followers and it may be the software that comes with it that ultimately serves as the tie-breaker.
Oculus owner Facebook is working on the development of augmented reality glasses that combine a real-world background with superimposed data and imagery. Our spies (or rather researchers) in the US Patent Office, report that Facebook has filed a patent for glasses with a two-dimensional overlay display.
Unlike the Oculus Rift, which is a completely immersive virtual reality headset, this new offering is more of a set of smart-glasses that add imagery or data without completely cutting off the wearer or immersing them in a virtual world. This means that the wearer can move about freely and safety and interact with both the real world and the virtual one that overlays it.
This would put Oculus parent Facebook in direct competition with Snapchat Spectacles and Microsoft’s Hololens, that currently sells in Development Edition form for a “mere” $3000 and in Commercial Suite form for a not so “mere” $5000.
Facebook plans to integrate the new AR glasses with existing games consoles and personal audio. But they also have more ambitious plans, closely related to their social networking comfort zone. They recently started Facebook Spaces, a kind of virtual version of their social network, using the Oculus Rift, animated avatars and virtual environments.
Facebook and Oculus see a bright future for AR smart glasses a few years down the line. But they face stiff competition from Microsoft, who hold a clear lead with the Hololens, and Apple, who are still trailing behind. Apple, however, are poised to join the fray in October or November of this year with the release of the iPhone 8 and its new iOS 11 operating system. The iOS 11 features extensive AR support.
And, of course, one cannot ignore one other major player in the AR field: Google. The original front-runner in the AR pack, with their 2013 Google Glass, Alphabet (Google’s 2015 post-restructuring parent), is now placing its hopes on a redeveloped Google Glass with an emphasis on business.
Apple’s recent entry appears to be more software oriented. They have yet to develop an AR or VR headset.
Apple’s impending Augmented Reality support for the iPhone, promises to be disrupting in a good and positive way. Some pundits are referring to to it as a game changer.
The iPhone 8 heralds the debut of iOS11. And Apple has promised Augmented Reality as part of iOS11. Indeed the new iOS holds out so much promise, that it is almost certain that older hardware in the iOS ecosystem will be upgraded to the new OS when it becomes available.
Apple’s dedicated hard core customer base effectively makes the commercial success of the iPhone 8 a foregone conclusion (barring a Samsung Note 7 style debacle!). That alone, together with the millions of customers who upgrade their old iPhones and old iPads, will give Apple an enormous ready-made audience for compatible AR offerings. This in turn will make the new operating system all the more tempting for third parties to write new software taking advantage of the breakthrough features. And more third party support will create a positive feedback loop that will drive sales even further.
Up until now, Apple has taken a rather standoffish position on both VR and AR. But there have been hints for a long time now, that at least in the realm of Augmented Reality, Apple has spotted some clear commercial prospects. But this combination of a new iOS with AR support and a new iPhone to take advantage of it, has a good chance of putting Apple at the front of the grid for the next lap in the VR/AR race. This means that Apple will not only lead the pack, they will also be in a position to set the terms.
Apple has already given early developers a head-start in creating AR content for iOS 11, at the 2017 WWDC, with the issue of ARKit, a developer framework for the system. In addition to giving the market a heads-up on Apple’s strategy, this also enables developers to have their AR software ready for launch in conjunction with the iPhone’s official debut – slated for November, or possibly a month earlier.
The real promise of AR is spread across practical apps and games in equal measure. AR works by superimposing virtual images on top of real ones. So it is possible to introduce a virtual intruder into your home, for you to fight against, or to visualize that extension to your house that you’ve been thinking about. However, this will only happen, if Apple also comes up with suitable hardware for superimposing the virtual over the real. A phone screen on its own, just won’t cut it.
Not everyone agrees on this hardware prerequisite however. Apple observer Gene Munster thinks that simply holding up one’s phone and letting the software superimpose data over the camera’s image will be enough to change the game. He gives the example of holding up one’s camera in a supermarket to find the goods one is looking for or locating one’s seat in an auditorium. But that alone is hardly an advance. An audio prompt would work just as well and without requiring one to gaze at a computer screen.
East Anglia has become the focal point of redoubled efforts to cut water waste using a range of advanced technologies, including virtual reality. The initiative has been launched by Anglian Water that holds the franchise for the area. With a network of water pipes stretching some 37 million meters (almost equal to the circumference of the earth) Anglian knows that any leak is costly because it takes time to locate and large volumes of water can be lost in the meantime.
So the company has brought in a range of state-of-the-art technologies to tackle the problem. Included among them is VR, along with drones and robots. Thus in the rural area of Norfolk, drones are being used to identify water leaks from Anglian’s subterranean pipes.
The drones have cameras and sensors. But the cameras do not need to see any actual water to identify a problem. Instead the sensor can identify variations in the soil temperature that can indicate leaking water from a ruptured underground pipe. This makes it possible to pinpoint the burst pipe more quickly, without having to engage in exploratory digging over a wide area. This makes the process less costly – as well as less of a burden on residents of the affected area where the leak is taking place.
Anglian Water’s Sarah Dobson said: “In 2015-16, we achieved our lowest ever level of leakage, beating the target Ofwat set us by three percent. Our 200-strong leakage team now includes new detection teams tasked with uncovering hard-to-find leaks, which have specialist training to use the drone technology.”
In Newmarket, a “sewer robot” reminiscent of the pipe-welding robot in the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever, is being used to spot cracked pipes and sewage leaks. However, unlike the welding robot in the Bond movie, the sewer robot does not function with complete autonomy. Under the control of an engineer above the ground, and armed with a high definition camera, the robot transmits images back to a computer that can analyse them.
Anglian Water is also working with engineers at the University of Sheffield to develop ways of using 3D printing to produce low-cost customized parts, such as filter nozzles.
But most significantly, Anglian Water is using VR technology to design entire engineering projects in 3D for water treatment plants, to test run them in simulation mode and identifying design flaws before commencing construction. For the water industry, this is an historic first.
It’s hard to say whether the idea is clever or tacky, but very soon you will be able to go on a virtual tour of Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear accident in 1986 near Kiev in the Ukraine. (While we’re on the subject of tacky, there was an old joke going around at the time. What has wings and feathers and glows in the dark? ANS: Chicken Kiev.)
But regardless of whether visiting the site of a disaster is tacky or educational, you will soon be able to do so on the PlayStation VR thanks to the forthcoming Chernobyl VR Project just announced in the PlayStation Blog on August 15. The idea is that even though the site is still radioactive, owing to the long half-lives of Uranium and Plutonium, you’ll still be able to go there… albeit virtually.
The disaster was triggered by a late-night safety test designed to simulate a power-failure in reactor 4 (a light water reactor at the Chernobyl power plant). As part of the test, safety systems were deliberately turned off. Ordinarily, this would not have been a problem. However the operators configured the reacted core in a way that was not approved by the safety checklist. In addition to this, the reactor suffered from certain design flaws that had not at the time been identified.
This caused an uncontrolled reaction. When cooling water flashed into steam, it was boiled rapidly, leading to a steam explosion. This in turn led to a fire in which the graphite moderator that normally slows down the neutrons passing through the fuel rods, combusted. The fire burned for nine days, generating updrafts that carried radioactive fission products into the atmosphere. This was in addition to the radioactive material that was released in the initial explosion.
At least thirty people died in the disaster and the reactor had to be closed down and encased in lead. But problems continued because the lead “sarcophagus” trapped heat and led to further problems. The entire area ultimately had to be evacuated and has been vacated ever since – except for occasional visits by scientists to monitor the situation and take measurements. At the time of the mass evacuation, the people were told that they would be able to return a few days later. However, once the scale of the problem was understood, it became clear that such a return was not possible. Three decades on, it is still not safe for them to return.
It is possible to visit the area on the virtual level, thanks to an interactive journey created by the Chernobyl VR Project. The game is available on Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. It is about to become available on the PlayStation VR, taking people through the power plant itself as well as other local sites of interest such as the school, the hospital and even an amusement park in the area.
The people who shot the footage to create the virtual tour had to take some risks to gather the video material. This included carrying a geiger counter with them at all times, in case they strayed into a high radiation area.
The original Apple watch worked in conjunction with the iPhone and was essentially a peripheral device. It is still around, but it never quite created the waves that Apple intended. But that may all be about to change.
According to the rumor mill (well CNBC actually) Apple has been holding Top Secret talks with Aetna Insurance to supply the watch to millions of Aetna customers. Already Aetna has given away 50,000 of the old Apple watches to their staff as corporate perks. But not all Aetna customers are iPhone users – and it is unlikely that they will switch to iPhones just to get the benefit of being able to use a free Apple Watch.
This has given rise to speculation that Apple is about to launch a new generation of Apple watches, but this time a standalone device rather than a peripheral. In other words, they may be planning on a launching an iWatch that has not only internet connectivity but even 4G phone connectivity!
But why an insurance company? One possible reason might be the kind of functionality that a wristwatch can provide. Because the rumor mill is also speculating that Apple might be working on a continuous-operation blood sugar monitor that can be used by diabetics. As diabetics are a high risk group for insurance companies, any new technology that can monitor their blood sugar levels can variously lower their premiums or increase the profits of the company that insures them, by providing up-to-the-minute information.
This creates a good “fit” between Aetna and Apple.
It could also bring about the spy thriller writers dream: the international communication device at the end of your wrist!
Sony pictures have signed a deal with video headset maker Royole Corporation to supply movies for the Royole Moon video headset via an app called Royole Lounge.
The Royole Lounge is an integrated digital video service for delivering movies to the Royole Moon, taking advantage of its high resolution and stereoscopic 3D in a closed-off environment. In a deal exclusive to North American customers, new purchasers of the Royole Moon will be offered three free movies from Sony Pictures (in 3D, HD or SD. These will be redeemable through the Royole Lounge App.
Previously, users of the Royole Moon had to upload movies onto a hardware box that came with the headset. But “the addition of the Royole Lounge app and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment content” according to Bill Liu, founder and CEO of Royole Corporation, “now allows Moon 3D Virtual Mobile Theater users to select from scores of the best, most popular, compelling film titles. Moon users can now enjoy select HD and 3D movies, straight out of the box, with the highest quality mobile cinematic experience available.”
The Royole Moon headset features two 1080p (1920 x 1080) AMOLED displays with greater than 3000 ppi resolution. The arrangement, with independently set eyepieces, creates a virtual curved screen with 3D (depending on the source material). The headset – looking like something out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2000 – a Space Odyssey – also features a foldable design that can be flipped up and down instead of being removed completely, when the user needs to temporarily return to the real world.
The Moon’s operating system (Moon OS) is based on Android. However the hardware includes many proprietary features, including capacitation touch control. With HDMI WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, it has 32 GB of internal storage it can be used as both a video viewer and in connection with a games console. It also has a built-in browser and is available in black, white and gold.
Of the deal with Royole, Pete Wood, the Senior Vice President of Digital Sales and Distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment said: “We are constantly looking to drive innovation and engagement around our extensive catalog of feature films, and the Royole Lounge allows us to do just that while creating a next-generation entertainment experience for the end consumer.”
Qualcomm® is making waves with its new Spectra Module image signal processor. The processor is not a camera but rather a set of technologies engineered from the ground up to be integrated into their next generation Snapdragon™ processor. This technology enables manufacturers to build different types of functionality into their cameras such as iris scanning, passive depth sensing and active depth sensing.
The iris scanning can be used to facilitate identity checking and unlocking of Android phones with a simple Iris scan.
The technology is designed for maximum flexibility to camera manufacturers, especially in the application of dual lens cameras. Thus one variation involves telephoto viewing or ultra-sharp black and white images.
A more advanced implementation, however, involves depth sensing. This uses two cameras and can be used – amongst other things – to create a “bokeh” effect (from the Japanese for blurred) in which the subject is sharp but the background (and foreground) blurred. This is in many cases similar to macro photography, yet it can be implemented in the processing stage, using two cameras to detect different depths of field.
Another system uses an infra-red camera and an active IR projector to fire dots at a target that are detected by the IR camera, thereby building up a depth image map. The technology also makes it harder to deceive facial recognition security implementations with a two dimensional image.
The announcement is rumoured to have been timed to beat Apple to the punch over the forthcoming unveiling of the iPhone8 in a month’s time. Speculation has been rife that the iPhone 8 will also feature depth sensing. Qualcomm’s move seems calculated to steal a march on their rivals (and former customers) with whom they are currently engaged in a vicious legal battle over modem chips and royalties.
Despite the announcement, it is likely that the iPhone will hit the market first. But based on Qualcomm’s announcement, it is highly probable that a whole range of products incorporating the Qualcomm Spectra technology will show up in the market in the early part of 2018.
International delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS) is shifting from touchscreens to virtual reality headsets to train its drivers.
In a move aimed at making driver training more realistic, UPS has introduced VR modules to create realistic 3D representations of streets and road hazards. Setting a trend that could be extended to training drivers in general – and thus lowering training costs – the training program is scheduled to start in September 2017.
Initially, the new VR-based training is to be rolled out at its nine Integrad training facilities. According to the company, some 9000 drivers have been successfully trained at the Integrad facilities since they first opened in 2007.
The training comprises lessons in driving UPS delivery trucks in a simulation of a city and identification of road hazards. However, until now the training program has used conventional flat touch screens.The new program has chosen Virtual Reality headsets because of their greater realism in general and their ability to recreate true 3D in particular.
In the road hazard modules, students are required to identify (verbally) various types of hazards, including parked and mobile vehicles and pedestrians. They are also required to turn their heads, to identify hazards coming the sides and even behind, simulating real driving situations.
According to UPS chief information and engineering officer, Juan Perez: “Virtual Reality offers a big technological leap in the realm of driver safety training. VR creates a hyper-realistic streetscape that will dazzle even the youngest of our drivers whose previous exposure to the technology was through video games.”
Although the program is initially limited to training package delivery truck drivers, UPS is considering extending the program to the training of tractor trailer (articulated lorry) drivers too. They are also looking into the possibility of using Augmented Reality, along with pure VR, in the training program.
The software training modules and headset hardware and being supplied by HTC Vive, the current joint leader in the VR race.