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AI in Virtual Reality

2022dec technavimage realworld and virtualOne thing that both artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology have in common is that they have been around for longer than people think. While early attempts look little like today’s solutions, both have existed in recognizable form for more than 70 years. AI technology, specifically software-based artificial intelligence, was first created in 1951 at the University of Manchester, in the UK. Two programs were created, one to play checkers and the other to play chess. If we broaden our definition of artificial intelligence, we find history is littered with examples of “automata”, mechanical figures that were capable of simple decision making. Some examples date back thousands of years.

Similarly, virtual reality can be argued to be almost 200 years old, if not older. In 1838, Charles Wheatstone invented the stereoscopic viewer, which created the illusion of a 3D scene from pairs of photographs. In 1929, Edward Link built a flight simulator that was used to train pilots prior to World War II. In the 1950s, Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama, an arcade-style cabinet that immersed the viewer in a stereoscopic display with sound, fans to generate wind, and a vibrating chair to simulate motion. In 1965, Ivan Sutherland described the first modern virtual reality system, including the use of a computer to generate the imagery for the system. But, like Artificial Intelligence, if we broaden our definition, we can find examples throughout history that meet the basic criteria of virtual reality: to artificially create a sense of immersion.

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Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality

article1 icir technav 11 2022It would be hard to find a technology more breathlessly hyped than Artificial Intelligence, but Augmented Reality is probably a close second. Both technologies share some interesting traits. In addition to being wildly popular additions to any good sci-fi novel, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality have also been a topic of research for decades. AI has literally millions of citations on Google Scholar. AR has more than 400,000. Both have had some successes, but both have had their share of disappointments and setbacks. Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality are also both inherently complex, relying on a variety of cutting edge technologies.

For Artificial Intelligence, a principal bottleneck has been processing capability. The rise of incredibly powerful GPUs and processors optimized for AI has helped drive advances in deep learning and other new types of AI algorithm that have shown considerable promise. Applications range from serious data analysis, drug discovery and design automation, to deep fakes and whimsical AI art generators. While no true Artificial General Intelligence has been developed, narrowly focused Artificial Intelligence is clearly gaining ground.

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The Differences between 3DoF and 6DoF, and Why

article2 icir technav 11 2022pngIf you engage with any of the types of Extended Reality (XR), from virtual reality to augmented reality and everything else in between, sooner or later you will encounter the terms 3DoF and 6DoF. DoF is an abbreviation for “degrees of freedom”. It refers to the number of ways an object can move. In order to create a virtual or augmented experience, it’s vital that you have good motion tracking so that the virtual components of their experience line up accurately with the real world components in 3D space. This is particularly important when tracking the movements of the person using the augmented reality or virtual reality headset. There are two types of motion to consider: rotation and translation, and both have three degrees of freedom.

There are two types of motion to consider: rotation and translation, and both have three degrees of freedom. There are three types of rotation: roll, pitch and yaw. If you imagine an airplane, roll occurs when one wing is higher than the other. Pitch occurs when either the nose or the tail of the airplane is higher. Yaw occurs when the plane rotates around its middle, such as when the plane turns left or right while taxiing on a runway. Combined, roll, pitch and yaw are three degrees of freedom. Typically, if a system can track roll, pitch and yaw, it is referred to as having three degrees of freedom, or 3DoF.

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Ethics in Virtual Reality

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Throughout history, technology and ethics have often had an uncomfortable relationship. Many engineers have regarded the ethical dimensions of their work as irrelevant; they were simply creating technology—how it was used was not their problem. While understandable, this is a naïve and increasingly untenable position to take. As noted by Brian Patrick Green, a Director at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, “The reason technology ethics is growing in prominence is that new technologies give us more power to act, which means that we have to make choices we didn't have to make before. While in the past our actions were involuntarily constrained by our weakness, now, with so much technological power, we have to learn how to be voluntarily constrained by our judgment: our ethics.”

While the nuances of what is considered good or bad can be challenging to define, there are some clear areas where common agreement on acceptable behavior benefits the system as a whole. Any such agreement has to address the fact that this is not about just one ethical issue, but rather a complex group of interrelated issues. Failure to create a viable, broad ethical framework has a detrimental effect over time, often leading to negative outcomes such as the exclusion of already marginalized groups.

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How Virtual and Augmented Reality Will Reshape Retail

2022dec technav article virtual augmented reality reshape retail

Any retailer needs sales, and sales come from enticing customers to buy a product. But a perennial challenge for any retailer is how to display their products so that customers will buy them. One the one hand, consumers will only buy a product if they are aware of it and have seen it. On the other hand, physical floor displays are expensive to create and maintain. They are also fraught with challenges. Imagine your primary business is home decor. The individual items you sell may be compatible with a wide range of design styles. But will a fan of modern minimalism respond to a shabby chic display? Probably not. Simply by placing your product in some form of context, you could dissuade some buyers from making a purchase. Then there are logistical challenges, such as large items, or items with many variants? Can you really afford to have all 20 colors of couch available on the shop floor? Most likely not.

Traditionally, the retail market has worked around these challenges using techniques such as catalogs, product brochures, or in-home trials. But the simple truth is that a catalog or brochure cannot fully convey a product. You cannot judge how a specific couch might fit in your own home from a 2D photo on a printed page. In-home trials solve this problem, but they are incredibly expensive for the retailer, and many customers will object to non-refundable deposits that would cover the expense.

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How Virtual Reality is Changing Health Care

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Virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality all have a role to play in health care, but it might not be quite what you expect. Medical virtual reality is often associated with complex applications, such as virtual surgical training for a medical student. In truth, virtual reality and augmented reality in health care falls into two broad categories: practitioner facing and patient facing. Practitioner-facing medical VR can be used by a broad range of healthcare professionals, not just surgeons. In contrast, patient facing VR technology is designed for use by patients receiving healthcare.

There are many opportunities within the healthcare industry, and new ideas are continually evolving.

For a medical professional, probably the most common application area for augmented reality and virtual reality is training and simulation. Virtual reality technology can be used to simulate a range of complex medical situations, allowing everyone from a medical student to a highly qualified surgeon to learn new skills and experience different patient scenarios. Sooner or later, every medical professional has to work with a real patient, but virtual reality and augmented reality can offer an unlimited amount of preparative training.

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Intelligent Reality

2022dec technavimage intelligent realityIf you are unfamiliar with the term Intelligent Reality, your initial reaction may well be, “Do we really need yet another term?”. We already have virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and extended reality. Surely these are enough? Despite the seeming similarity to existing terms, Intelligent Reality actually describes something rather different. VR, AR, MR and XR are all closely related. In many ways, you can think of them as existing in a continuum. In virtual reality, the real world is entirely replaced with a virtual environment. In augmented reality, a virtual environment is added to the real world. Mixed reality lies somewhere in between, and extended reality is an all-encompassing term that includes all of the others. For each of these terms, the distinction between them comes down to how much reality is present, and how the virtual environment is experienced.

In contrast, intelligent reality is not primarily concerned with how the virtual component is experienced. Instead, it is focused on making actual reality, the literal world around us, more intelligent and responsive to our needs. As such, an intelligent reality experience could be delivered as augmented reality, mixed reality or virtual reality. Intelligent reality is fundamentally about augmenting human intelligence through the seamless application of technology.

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Metaverse Implementations

2022dec technavimage metaverse implmntnsThe topic of the Metaverse is rarely out of the news media for long, despite, or perhaps because of, a lack of agreement about what the term even means. Many large corporations have announced metaverse projects, and analysts are breathlessly touting metaverse technology as a “next big thing”. In perhaps the boldest example, Facebook renamed itself Meta and has invested billions in the creation of a metaverse platform. But is the metaverse really something new? Or is it just another immersive experience, similar to what we can experience today in virtual reality or augmented reality?

Many find the idea of different virtual worlds appealing, especially if they can create their own personalized virtual space within it. Perhaps the Metaverse can become the new form for social media? Will we all abandon reality and the real world for a virtual environment where we all build and customize our own digital assets? And what role will artificial intelligence play in this non physical world? Read on to learn more.

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Metaverse Technology

2022dec technavimage metaverse techOver the past couple of years, the term “Metaverse” has become quite popular. In addition to Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, a large number of organizations have been touting metaverse strategies, and analysts have been sizing up the metaverse market. Metaverse development and metaverse technologies have become a priority for many organizations, and there is a sense of “gold rush” intensity as companies rush to bring novel ideas to market.

Virtual reality lies at the core of the metaverse. The fundamental idea is a vast and interconnected virtual world, somewhat like the world wide web but as a 3D reconstruction of reality. And of course, we don’t have to stop at reality. The metaverse can contain literally anything we can imagine, however fantastical, as long as it can be displayed on a VR headset. Corners of the metaverse could be devoted to digital twins and digital avatars.

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Real World and Virtual World

2022dec technavimage realworld and virtualYou might think it would be easy to separate the real world and the virtual world, but it is an increasingly blurry distinction. As computers and software have permeated our society, the line between bits and atoms has become very blurred. A smartphone seems like a very real device, but without the software to make it function, it’s useless. Similarly, some physical products, like newspapers, maps, CDs and video tapes, have been replaced with purely digital playlists and links. Traditional communication, from postcards to letters and phone calls, has largely been superseded by social media. The atoms have been replaced by bits.

Using virtual reality, we can create an entire virtual world to explore. Using augmented reality, we can overlay the virtual world on top of physical reality. Any virtual environment, whether used in VR or AR, can create its own reality, regardless of the actuality of the physical world. As the concept of the metaverse evolves, we may find that the distinction between real life and virtual life becomes as blurred as the line between bits and atoms. Early attempts at virtual worlds, like Second Life, are easy to make fun of, but they may well prove to be the neolithic ancestors of future virtual worlds used by billions.

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Smart Sensor Technology

article4 icir technav 11 2022The past decade has seen a rapid rise in the availability and deployment of Smart Sensors, but what exactly are they and how are they used? This article will explore what defines a smart sensor, how they differ from traditional sensors, and discuss some of the opportunities Smart Sensors present.

Smart Sensors are a key component of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT). A smart sensor is any device capable of measuring some kind of quantity and sending that data for further processing. There are many different types of sensor. Smart sensors commonly found in devices you already own might include: a temperature sensor, a pressure sensor, an indoor air quality sensor, a water level sensor and, or a motion sensor. When multiple smart sensors are combined, the result is a smart system that can deliver a wide range of benefits.

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Virtual Intelligence versus Artificial Intelligence

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Like any advancing area of technology, the field of Artificial Intelligence is full of a dazzling array of technical terms, with new terms being created almost daily. Some are simple to understand, such as Narrow AI (also called Weak AI), and Strong AI, sometimes called General AI. But many require far more explanation, from the definition of a neural network to terms like computer vision and natural language processing, deep learning and augmented intelligence.

Let’s start with the basics. What do we mean when we say “Artificial Intelligence”? Probably the simplest definition of artificial intelligence is simply intelligence exhibited by a machine. While the definition of intelligence is also tricky, in this context it is generally accepted to mean that the machine is capable of taking actions based on data without explicit programming to take that action. In a traditional computer program, a robot might be programmed to walk towards a goal if given a command to walk. The walk command would include the direction, details of how to take each step, timing and many other details. In an AI system, the robot might “understand” how to walk, and be instructed to reach the same goal. However, the AI system would not be given explicit instructions on the direction to travel in, how many steps to take, or many of the other details a non-AI system would need. The AI will fill in those gaps based on the available data.

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Virtual Reality Business Intelligence

article6 icir technav 11 2022Traditionally, the term Business Intelligence (BI) has meant a collection of strategies and technologies used by companies for the analysis and management of business information, exemplified by products such as Power BI from Microsoft. The overall purpose of Business Intelligence is to gain insights into the performance of a business. Typical functions of BI include reporting, analytics, the development of dashboards, and business performance management. In more advanced cases, analytics can include data mining, complex event processing, benchmarking and a variety of predictive and prescriptive analytics. However, as new technologies arrive, such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, the nature of Business Intelligence is changing.

Business Intelligence is fundamentally about processing and learning from data. In today’s complex world, that increasingly means working with big data, often augmented by artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract meaning and context. Processing big data has become easier. Learning from that data is still very challenging.

The sheer volume of raw data involved in Business Intelligence is often staggering. Most BI implementations spend a great deal of time developing dashboards that summarize relevant data, because a spreadsheet containing millions of values is of no practical use. But when it comes to data visualization, pie charts and bar graphs can only take you so far. Some companies have suggested the addition of an AI presence to help interpret data, but it can be challenging to train an AI to be useful.

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Virtual Reality Security

article7 icir technav 11 2022Virtual reality, and related technologies like mixed reality and augmented reality, has received a lot of attention in both mainstream and technical media. Whether covering a new VR headset, some other type of VR device, or AR glasses, the conversation quickly gets into nuances of technology and design. Unfortunately, one topic that is rarely discussed is security.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality pose some unique security challenges, ranging from the usual security vulnerabilities of any electronic device, to the possibility of physical harm and the potential to leak highly personal and sensitive information. This goes well beyond the typical scope of cybersecurity and the normal work of security professionals.

This article will discuss each of these areas, and how they apply to AR/VR headsets and VR technology in general. We’ll also look at the reality of the current state of security in virtual reality and provide some suggestions and tips for good security and how to best stay safe when using virtual reality.

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Virtual Reality Urban Planning

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On first glance, Urban Planning and Virtual Reality might seem like an odd pairing. Urban planning often brings to mind a picture of a faceless and nameless bureaucrat hidden away in a basement somewhere. But in truth, modern cities are incredibly complex systems and planning them effectively is incredibly challenging. Urban Planning increasingly requires not only a diverse range of skills, but the ability to ingest, process and interpret an enormous amount of ever changing data. Obviously, effective urban design has to consider current and future city planning. But urban design also must consider traffic, transit needs, affordable housing, the impacts of climate change, the effects of new construction on the rest of the city, and many many other factors. If you are lucky enough to live in a Smart City, you may have even more data available to you to aid in urban planning and urban design. But for the urban planner in a regular, non smart city, it may be much harder to gather the information they really need.

One universal strength of virtual reality is its ability to display, and enable interactions with, complex data. Humans have evolved to be highly visual creatures, and virtual reality technology can really take advantage of that. The same is largely true for augmented reality and mixed reality too. Imagine your urban environment represented by a 3D model. Animated live data feeds can be overlaid on that 3D model to show live and historical traffic, transit, weather and energy data. City planners can explore the impact of different changes in virtual reality without impacting the real world at all. And they can explore those changes faster and more effectively in virtual reality than any other medium.

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