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XR experts see health care as the killer app

Augmented-reality surgery
Philips’ Azurion augmented-reality platform makes use of Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to guide surgeons through an operation. (Philips Illustration)

Virtual reality? Augmented reality? Mixed reality? Today at a Seattle symposium, experts settled on extended reality, or XR, as the catch-all term for devices that put computer-generated visuals in front of your face. And they settled on health care as one of the most promising frontiers for XR.

“I believe health care is going to drive the mass adoption of XR,” Vinay Narayan, vice president of platform strategy and developer community at HTC Vive, said at XR Day, an event presented by the University of Washington’s Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering.

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Mixed reality takes you on an expedition to Titan

Expedition Titan
GeekWire’s Alan Boyle (foreground) and University of Washington planetary scientist Baptiste Journaux take a thrill ride through an ice volcano, courtesy of Expedition Titan, a mixed-reality experience at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

It’s doubtful anyone alive today will get to ride through the ice volcanoes of Saturn’s largest moon — but you can do the next best thing at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, thanks to a mixed-reality experience called Expedition Titan.

The walk-through production is the latest showcase for Hyperspace XR, a startup-in-residence that’s pioneering the frontiers of mixed reality at the science center.

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How ‘avatars’ will let you travel virtually

Kevin Kajitani
Kevin Kajitani, co-director of ANA’s Avatar division, talks about virtual teleportation as a travel experience during the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

When it was time for Kevin Kajitani to put his ideas for traveling through telepresence to the test, he chose a familiar experimental subject: his son.

Kajitani — the co-director of the Avatar division at ANA Holdings, the parent company of Japan’s biggest airline — set up a mobile Beam robot at his home north of Tokyo, crept into a closet, and rolled the robot out to greet his 2-year-old son Aoi with his face looking out from the video screen.

“The first time I approached my son with the avatar, he said, ‘Papa!’ And we started playing,” Kajitani said Oct. 9 at a lunch talk sponsored by ANA at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

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Amazon lays out a way to guide deliveries with AR

Augmented reality for deliveries
A schematic shows how information about a delivery drop-off location might be overlaid on the display of an augmented-reality headset. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Efficient package delivery is one of the keystones of Amazon’s retailing business, and a newly issued patent opens up a new frontier in efficiency: augmented reality.

The patent, published today, outlines a scheme for alerting a delivery agent about the best times to make a delivery, the best routes to take and even the best places for parking — all overlaid on the agent’s AR headset.

Why do it, in this age of navigation apps?

“Experienced delivery agents often learn information about the delivery routes and delivery areas that is not reflected in a delivery route generated by a routing application,” Amazon inventor Robert Niewiadomski writes in his application, filed back in 2016.

Such lore can include gate codes, the precise location of the preferred delivery entrance and “the most efficient or best places to park when making a delivery to a destination or a group of destinations,” Niewiadomski notes.

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How VR can make things go better in the real world

VR anatomy
Freelance science writer Berly McCoy uses a VR headset and controller to manipulate a virtual human brain at the Maryland Blended Reality Center. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Can being in the middle of an opera take your mind off pain?

Here at the University of Maryland, scientists are studying the therapeutic value of experiencing a virtual-reality recording of Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” The hope is that, at least in some situations, the distraction of an immersive virtual experience can provide pain relief without having to turn to opioids.

“The pathways through which we receive pain are the same pathways through which distraction travels,” computer scientist Amitabh Varshney told journalists last week during a tour of the university’s Maryland Blended Reality Center.

To see whether the idea could work, a research team recorded a performance of “Dialogues” in VR from three vantage points, including a 360-degree camera mounted right on the stage. Headset-wearing users can switch between the vantage points to experience the opera as if they were watching from the orchestra pit or standing in the midst of the action. The experience can be far more powerful than merely listening to audio or watching a video.

“We are working to see how far we can take this,” Varshney said.

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AI experts turn soccer videos into ‘holograms’

Computer scientists have trained a neural network to transform the action from pre-recorded videos of soccer games into immersive augmented-reality “holograms” you can shrink down onto a tabletop.

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Blended-reality mirror shows off virtual clothes

Amazon mirror
A diagram shows how Amazon’s blended-reality mirror could put an observer into a virtual scene. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

How would that glitzy cocktail dress look on you when you’re on the dance floor at the GeekWire Gala? Now Amazon has a patented technology for that: a blended-reality display that puts your image into a virtual scene, and puts you in a virtual version of the dress.

The magic mirror would be a step up from Amazon’s Echo Look camera, which is currently being marketed on an invitation-only basis as a fashion “style assistant.”

Echo Look lets you take your picture with the assistance of Amazon’s voice-commanded Alexa AI assistant, and then produces blended-reality photos that show you wearing the clothes you’ve picked out.

The blended-reality display, described in a patent published today, relies on a system of cameras, projectors, displays, mirrors and lights that can add layers of pixels to your moving image on a real-time basis.

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Augmented-reality shopping on your phone?

Augmented-reality concept
An augmented-reality shopping app could provide a realistic-looking view of a virtual wristwatch on your smartphone, complete with bling. (GeekWire Photoillustration / Alan Boyle)

It’s no secret that Amazon is intrigued by the potential applications of augmented reality for e-commerce – and one of those applications is explored in a newly published patent.

Imagine that you’re shopping online for a classy watch or bracelet, and you want to get a sense for how it’ll look around your wrist. Just point your smartphone camera at your hand, and an augmented-reality app will show you the item superimposed on the camera video.

But what about the bling? The patent published today, based on an application filed back in 2013, focuses on how to add the sparkle to the virtual image of the bracelet.

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Will HoloLens put travelers into mixed reality?

HoloLens on flight attendant
An Air New Zealand flight attendant tries out the HoloLens headset. (Air New Zealand via YouTube)

Imagine a world where headset-wearing flight attendants can instantly know how you’re feeling based on a computer analysis of your facial expression.

Actually, you don’t need to imagine: That world is already in beta, thanks to Air New Zealand, Dimension Data and Microsoft HoloLens.

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U.S. military takes HoloLens to the next level

Marine Commandant tests HoloLens
Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller uses a HoloLens augmented-reality system to manipulate virtual objects during a demonstration at Camp Foster on Okinawa in April. (U.S. Marine Photo / Tayler P. Schwamb)

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality system is scoring victories with the U.S. military, which means the goggle-eyed headsets are more likely to pop up at a wargame near you.

Last November, the HoloLens system was incorporated into a platform known as the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer, which lets Marines plan missions and conduct “what-if” simulations while looking at a real or virtual terrain.

The experiment, conducted during training exercises at Camp Lejeune, N.C., worked so well that the Marines are now distributing HoloLens kits to 24 infantry battalions around the country.

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