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Microsoft Edge gives VR boost to Virgin Galactic

Virtual SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic’s website offers a multimedia-enhanced VR view of VSS Unity, the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership. (Microsoft Edge / Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic hasn’t yet started taking tourists into space on its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, but the company now offers a virtual SpaceShipTwo tour on its website, with a big assist from Microsoft Edge Web Showcase.

The upgraded website is a lot clickier — and continues to provide basic information about Virgin Galactic as well as videos, stills and online updates. But the centerpiece is a 3-D, VR-enhanced digital model of VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo plane that’s undergoing tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.

Start your tour by tapping on the website’s “Explore” button.

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How artists add humanity to virtual reality

Sandy Cioffi
Seattle filmmaker Sandy Cioffi has a laugh over an experimental virtual-reality project that brought participants together in real life as well. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Virtual reality may have gotten its start with shoot-’em-up video games and porn, but now artists are making VR that puts the emphasis on reality as well as humanity.

And Seattle filmmaker Sandy Cioffi argues that the Pacific Northwest could well blaze the trail on the multimedia frontier.

“If anything is this powerful, you have to do something more with it than design it to make money,” said Cioffi, the founder and executive director of fearless360º, a new media and VR production company. “And Seattle is the place to do it.”

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VR takes you on a trip to Mars and other worlds

Mars rover in VR
“Access Mars” provides 3-D views of the Red Planet as captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

NASA has been offering virtual-reality tours of Mars for years — but now, with Google’s help, the space agency has come up with one of the most accessible tours yet.

“Access Mars” lays out a 3-D terrain for five of the spots scanned by NASA’s Curiosity rover, ranging from its landing site to the place where it’s hanging out now, more than five years later.

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Oculus shows off standalone VR headset

Oculus Go
The Oculus Go headset is designed to be comfier than a smartphone holder for virtual reality. (Oculus Photo)

Oculus is filling the virtual-reality niche between smartphones and its high-end, wired-up Oculus Rift headset with a standalone mobile headset that’ll sell for $199.

The Oculus Go headset, unveiled today in conjunction with the Oculus Connect conference in San Jose, Calif., is due to ship early next year, the Facebook subsidiary said in a blog post.

At today’s conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the product fills a “sweet spot” in his company’s campaign to get a billion people using virtual reality.

Oculus Go is compatible with mobile apps and content produced for Samsung Gear VR, the smartphone that’s optimized for Oculus. But it has a comfier facial interface, built-in speakers for spatial audio (plus a headphone jack) and wide-angle lenses.

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Video arcades are back, with virtual reality

Teen playing virtual reality game
Max Tomlinson, a 13-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., brandishes controllers as he walks a virtual plank, seemingly suspended 50 stories above street level, at the Portal VR arcade in Ballard. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Remember the days when arcades were the places where kids could play the coolest video games? No? Well, now you can get in on that experience, this time with immersive virtual reality adventures instead of Frogger and Pac-Man.

Portal, at 2601 NW Market St. in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, is the latest local addition to the genre – joining other hangouts such as Odyssey VR in Redmond and Virtual Sports in Tukwila.

“Our primary target was twentysomethings, tech workers,” said Tim Harader, a technology evangelist who founded Portal in league with his wife, Page. “But what we found is that the target market is just all over the place. Whether they’re 8 years old or 80, they’re all just blown away.”

Portal’s vibe is different from the arcade environment of the ’80s. “You won’t hear a cacophony of blaring arcade sounds here,” the establishment says on its website. “Instead, you’ll enter an atmosphere of comfortable coolness.”

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‘Mission: ISS’ puts you in virtual space station

Virtual space station
“Mission: ISS” lets you use Oculus Touch controllers to interact with a virtual-reality version of the International Space Station. (Oculus Rift Illustration)

Oculus has just launched “Mission: ISS,” a virtual-reality simulation that takes advantage of the company’s headset and handheld controllers to let you explore the International Space Station and even perform a virtual spacewalk.

The computer-generated environment, designed for Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch, provides yet another hint at the shape of things to come at the intersection of virtual and augmented reality with space exploration.

For years, NASA and other space agencies have been closing in on the creation of real-life, 3-D environments that folks can experience through 360-degree video and VR devices as simple as Google Cardboard.

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Xinova and Aetho join forces on AR and VR

Aetho Thrive
Aetho’s telepresence platform, known as Thrive, creates a virtual space in which participants can converse and share documents. (Aetho Illustration)

A Seattle-based invention factory called Xinova has made a deal to collaborate with Aetho, a San Francisco-based venture, on new technologies in augmented reality and virtual reaility.

The agreement, announced today, sets the stage for Aetho to license intellectual property from Xinova in support of its push into AR and VR products.

Xinova was spun off from Intellectual Ventures last year. It’s a standalone company that focuses on the co-development of innovations  by a network of 10,000 inventors in more than 30 countries.

Some of the intellectual property managed by Xinova is critical to Aetho’s plans.

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What it’s like to take a virtual walk on Mars

Virtual walk on Mars
Aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle, explores NASA’s Curiosity rover and its surroundings on Mars in virtual reality at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

I’ve been to Mars to kick the tires on NASA’s Curiosity rover – and you can take that trip as well.

Not in reality, of course, but in virtual reality: The tours of Curiosity’s surroundings near Mount Sharp are being provided courtesy of Seattle’s Museum of Flight during this weekend’s SpaceFest gathering.

There’s a whole program of activities, built on the theme of “Ladies Who Launch.” Speakers include Nathalia Holt, the author of “Rise of the Rocket Girls”; South Korean astronaut Soyeon Yi; women from Boeing, Vulcan Aerospace, SpaceX, Planetary Resources and Blue Origin; and Amy Shira Teitel, who’s the author of “Breaking the Chains of Gravity” and the blogger behind Vintage Space.

The virtual reality tours are sure to be a hot ticket as well. In cooperation with Valve, the VR/gaming company based in Bellevue, Wash., the museum made the Mars experience available during last year’s SpaceFest. Hundreds took turns wearing an HTC Vive headset and pacing carefully around a virtual Red Planet.

“We put 300 people on Mars before NASA did,” exhibit designer Peder Nelson joked.

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Museum of Flight offers VR tours inside planes

Image: VR tour at Museum of Flight
Visitors to Seattle’s Museum of Flight can use smartphones equipped with VR glasses to look into the interior of historic airplanes. (Credit: Microsoft via YouTube)

It’s not easy to crawl through the guts of a World War II bomber, but a new virtual reality project from Microsoft and Seattle’s Museum of Flight turns it into a snap on a screen.

The Aviation Pavilion Virtual Tour is actually a series of VR tours, highlighting interior views of planes ranging from the B-17F Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress to Boeing’s 737 and 747 jets.

“For the first time, visitors – both on site as well as remotely – will be able to ‘step inside’ the cockpits and interiors of these carefully preserved artifacts through high-fidelity 360-degree virtual tours,” the museum says.

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Crawl through King Richard III’s grave online

Image: King Richard III's grave
A virtual 3-D reconstruction shows King Richard III’s grave. (Credit: University of Leicester)

One year after King Richard III’s remains were reburied, the much-maligned monarch’s skeleton has been exposed once again – this time, in virtual reality.

Internet users can zoom in on the 15th-century remains as they were found in 2012, lying beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester. You can change your virtual camera angle on the scene, and get a guided tour by clicking on numbered points of interest.

The virtual reconstruction takes advantage of a photogrammetry program called Agisoft Photoscan and a 3-D sharing platform called Sketchfab – but most of the credit goes to the University of Leicester researchers who snapped so many pictures of the site before the bones were removed.

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