Friday, August 28, 2015

First Virtual Reality theme park: The Void

Coming summer 2016 to Pleasant Grove, Utah

Have you ever wished you could jump into your favorite video game or live inside a movie? Those are only some of the possibilities offered by The Void, the first company to seamlessly blend virtual reality experiences with real, physical environments, for the sake of entertainment and fun.
Tech Insider was the first media outlet to visit The Void's headquarters in Utah, and we got to try some of the company's first creations. These experiences are still far from final, but what we saw was impressive and entertaining. The possibilities are truly endless in The Void.
Produced by Corey ProtinReport by Dave Smith

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hyperloop groundbreaking 2016

Elon Musk’s hyperloop is actually getting kind of serious

Construction on a full-scale, passenger-ready Hyperloop to start in 2016.

The hyperloop sounds like science fiction, Elon Musk’s pipe dream: leapfrog high-speed rail and go right to packing us into capsules that fling us across the country in hours using what are, essentially, pneumatic tubes. It sounds crazy, when you think about it.
It’s starting to look a little less crazy.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies announced today that it has signed agreements to work with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum and global engineering design firm Aecom. The two companies will lend their expertise in exchange for stock options in the company, joining the army of engineers from the likes of Boeing and SpaceX already lending their time to the effort.
“It’s a validation of the fact that our model works,” says Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. “It’s the next step.”

The Hyperloop, detailed by SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in a 57-page alpha white paper in August 2013, is a transportation network of above-ground tubes that could span hundreds of miles. With extremely low air pressure inside those tubes, capsules filled with people would zip through them at near supersonic speeds. Musk published the paper encouraging anyone interested to pursue the idea, since he’s kinda a busy guy.

That timing lined up with the beta launch of JumpStartFund, a startup that combines elements of crowdfunding and crowd-sourcing to tackle ambitious projects like revolutionary transportation infrastructure. JumpStartFund created Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc, which brought together engineers willing to spend their free time working on the design in exchange for stock options.

The startup plans to start construction on a full-scale, passenger-ready Hyperloop in 2016. The prototype will run 5 miles through Quay Valley, a planned community rising from nothing along Interstate 5, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ahlborn says he’s got several potential investors.

The startup also announced today that it has 400 “team members” working on the project. They aren’t employees, but women and men with regular gigs at places like NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX, who spend their spare time on Hyperloop in exchange for stock options. It’s easy to see why they want to get involved: it’s the chance to work on a truly revolutionary form of transportation—even if some remain convinced it’s never gonna happen.

The partnerships with Oerlikon and Aecom are a big endorsement, suggesting the prototype may be a real thing, not an idea whipped up by Don Quixote. It shows the project is worthy of time and effort from two publicly traded companies with shareholders to answer to. And these companies know what they’re doing. Oerlikon has been in the vacuum business for more than a century and has worked on projects like the large hadron collider at CERN.

“I don’t think the construction hurdles are significant compared to other technologies that are already out there,” says Carl Brockmeyer, Oerlikon’s head of business development. “From a technical point of view, it’s not a challenge. We are used to much higher and harsher applications.”
The hard part on the Hyperloop project, Brockmeyer says, will be “to remain within other constraints,” like energy consumption and cost.

Oerlikon has put a half-dozen employees on the project. They’re simulating how much energy it would take to clear the Hyperloop tube to near zero pressure and what it would cost. Brockmeyer declined to give exact figures, but says “you will be surprised” by how little energy is required. In fact, he says the energy could be generated by the solar panels and wind turbines Ahlborn plans to erect in Quay Valley. All that aside, there’s another reason Oerlikon signed on.
“I thought, ‘Traveling in a vacuum tube? This is something we should be involved in,'” Brockmeyer says.

Aecom is there to help get it built. It’s routinely involved in major architecture and infrastructure projects, including Brooklyn’s Barclays Center arena, the Crossrail tunnel being built under London, and the Alameda Corridor freight rail expressway in Southern California. Andrew Liu, VP of new ventures for the Fortune 500 company, says the technology needed to make Hyperloop work is here, now. “He has some very realistic plans,” Liu says of Ahlborn. “He’s approaching this the right way.”
It remains to be seen how this will pan out, but having these two companies sign on makes it more likely than ever that the future of transportation may not be autonomous vehicles or supersonic jets, but capsules flying through vacuum tubes.
This story originally appeared on Wired.

Metabolic switch

MIT, Harvard find 'master switch' behind obesity


Doctors may have found a way to override the body’s evolutionary habit of storing fat with a discovery of a master switch for the body’s metabolism.
According to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School discovered a new genetic pathway that controls human metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn away fat.
“Obesity has traditionally been seen as the result of an imbalance between the amount of food we eat and how much we exercise, but this view ignores the contribution of genetics to each individual’s metabolism,” said senior author Manolis Kellis, a professor of computer science and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and of the Broad Institute, in a release.
Until now. Previous research had shown there was a strong association with obesity in the gene region known as FTO. Researchers started there, experimenting with more than 100 tissues and cell types, changing the genomic controls within that region to see if fat storage could be programmed independently of the brain.
Once researchers discovered evidence that there was a switchboard, researchers looked at fat tissue from Europeans with differing versions of the region, finding that those at risk for obesity had switchboards that turned on two distant genes — IRX3 and IRX5.
Further research into these genes showed that they act as master controllers of how fat cells either burn fat as release the energy as heat, or store it.
The discovery ultimately comes down to one letter nucleotide difference in these genes, which turns on these genes and ultimately turns off the body’s way of burning fat, leading to storage.
Changes in that one nucleotide changed the way the genes functioned, and made the cells burn energy instead of storing it.

“Knowing the causal variant underlying the obesity association may allow somatic genome editing as a therapeutic avenue for individuals carrying the risk allele,” Kellis said. “But more importantly, the uncovered cellular circuits may allow us to dial a metabolic master switch for both risk and non-risk individuals, as a means to counter environmental, lifestyle, or genetic contributors to obesity.”
Researchers proved their findings in mice, by reprogramming the genes and finding that there was dramatic changes in body weight and fat storage, as well as a complete resistance to a high-fat diet.
“By manipulating this new pathway, we could switch between energy storage and energy dissipation programs at both the cellular and the organismal level, providing new hope for a cure against obesity,” Kellis said.

The discovery is a promising start to ultimately finding a therapy for those who have the genetic code triggering fat storage. Researchers said they are partnering with other academics and industry partners to create obesity therapeutics, and are also using the approach to understand the circuitry of how other diseases might be tied into the human genome.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

China brainwave robots

Block facial recognition

Dark shades aren't enough to go incognito in the age of face recognition camera systems. For that you need the Privacy Visor developed at Japan's National Institute of Informatics. The visor consists of a lightweight, wraparound, semitransparent plastic sheet fitted over eyewear frames. It works by reflecting overhead light into the camera lens, causing the area around the eyes to appear much brighter than normal.

VR headache

One of the biggest problems virtual reality headsets have yet to overcome is the headaches they cause in a subset of users. For a lot of users, this is caused by needing to rapidly switch your focus between objects that are (virtually) near and far away. "Trying to focus on 'far away' objects on that stereoscopic screen means keeping a fixed focal distance but changing the 'vergence' angle of your eyes—in essence, going a little cross-eyed for a moment." Fortunately, researchers at Stanford have figured out a partial solution.

They "created a prototype headset (PDF) that includes a translucent LCD panel sitting about 1cm in front of a standard, opaque LCD. With some GPU pre-processing, this 'light field stereoscope' headset can display nearby objects on the front LCD and farther-away objects on the rear, creating what the researchers call a '4D' image that layers a basic virtual light field on top of the usual stereoscopic left/right eye 3D separation." This provides an easy, low-tech way to let the eyes focus more easily, and alleviate the strain that causes headaches.

Car hacking

Security researchers presented work at the USENIX conference today showing an easy way to hack into a car's electronics using a small gadget that plugs into modern dashboards. The port they're taking advantage of is commonly used to monitor the location and speeds of these vehicles. Once the researchers' dongle is attached, they can use SMS messages to transmit commands to the car's internal network. They demonstrated this by remotely cutting a Corvette's brakes. "Though the researchers say their Corvette brake tricks only worked at low speeds due to limitations in the automated computer functions of the vehicle, they say they could have easily adapted their attack for practically any other modern vehicle and hijacked other critical components like locks, steering or transmission, too."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

VR forecast from Time

It's going to be a wild ride—and it starts this Christmas

In the August 17 cover story of TIME, we take a deep look at the mainstreaming of virtual reality, the long-promised technology that is now becoming widely available to consumers. Headsets from Facebook’s Oculus, Valve, Sony, Microsoft, Google and many others will start going on sale this year, and competition will increase dramatically through 2016. Throughout this year, we set out to try every major in-development headset out there. These devices promise to change not only entertainment, but education, health, and work. Here’s some of what we learned:
1. Palmer Luckey, the creator of the Oculus Rift, is not your typical nerd…
He’s cheery and talks in normal sentences that are easy to understand. He was homeschooled, and though he did drop out of college, it was California State University, Long Beach, where he was majoring not in computer science but in journalism. He prefers shorts, and his feet are black because he doesn’t like wearing shoes, even outdoors. He doesn’t look like a guy who played Dungeons & Dragons so much as a character in Dungeons & Dragons. He’s a nerd from a different century, working on the problems of a different century.
2. …and he kicked off this revolution by tinkering in his garage.
As an 18-year-old who took apart smartphones and fixed them for cash, Luckey figured out that the solutions to the problems virtual-reality engineers weren’t able to solve were right inside his phone. Now 22, he sold his company, Oculus VR, to Facebook last year for $2.3 billion, allowing it to grow to more than 350 employees in offices in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Dallas and Austin as well as in South Korea and Japan. That’s because, as fantastical as Luckey’s dreams were, Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the tech industry had a much bigger hope for the sensory-­immersion goggles Luckey used to carry around in a yellow bucket in order to hold loose wires. They had seen the Internet get disrupted by mobile and were wary of being blindsided by the next platform for accessing ­information—which they think might just have been hiding in Luckey’s yellow bucket. (Here’s how Mark Zuckerberg explains VR.)
3. Silicon Valley is pouring money into the concept like crazy.
Venture capitalist Mike Rothenberg, who runs a VR accelerator, says his firm has already secured enough money to invest in a second round of virtual-reality companies this fall. “It’s hard for people to write checks for virtual reality until they try it. Then, not that hard,” he says. He likens this opportunity to the Internet in 1995. “No one calls a company an ‘Internet company’ anymore. In 10 years, everyone will have VR as part of their company.”
4. But Luckey doesn’t feel pressure to bring out the Rift by Christmas, even though others will have come out by then.
“If the iPhone were introduced in any quarter, it would have been a hit. I doubt they were saying, ‘What’s important for the iPhone? We have to hit Christmas,’” says Luckey about letting his ­competition beat him to market.
5. Google already has a low-tech version, dubbed Cardboard (because that’s what it’s made of), on the market.
Through a program called Expeditions, Google has already sent 100 classrooms a field trip in a box; teachers use Cardboards to lead kids through natural, architectural and Martian wonders. The company worked with partners like the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to create 3-D images not unlike those in the plastic viewfinders that were popular in the 1970s. This comparison isn’t lost on Google, which has a deal with Mattel to put out a version of Google Cardboard in a View-Master.
6. Valve, the gaming company that will be first of the high-end manufactures to market with its Vive headset this year, is full of true believers who can’t wait for you to get your hands on VR.
The Vive is different because it lets you walk around in a virtual environment, rather than staying seated in your chair. The headset alerts you when you’re near a wall, but it requires you to have a 16-by-12-ft. (5 by 4 m) empty room in your house. Jeep Barnett, who has worked on the project from the beginning, isn’t worried. “Sell your dining-room table and eat over your sink,” he says. “If you have a pool table, get rid of that. Get a Murphy bed. People are going to find a space. You have a space for your car because you have to have the superpower of getting downtown in 20 minutes.”
7. Sony, which also has a headset coming out for the Playstation 4, says the hardware is becoming less important than the software.
Richard Marks, a senior researcher at Sony, says that in the past few months it has gotten the hardware far enough along that the software will now matter more. Already, he says, what game designers call “talent amplification” is more impressive than he imagined. “I can point at something and have the force and levitate it, and it really feels like I’m doing it. When you play a game, you say, ‘I died.’ But in virtual reality, man, it’s even more powerful.” I try a few more games before I’m ushered out so they can clear the room for a VIP. As I walk out, Steven ­Spielberg walks in.
8. Some of the coolest applications have nothing to do with gaming.
In the most impressive virtual-­reality experience I have, I use a program called Tilt Brush (since purchased by Google, which has a bunch of high-end virtual-reality projects it’s keeping quiet) to paint in three dimensions. Walking around dripping neon, I paint in the sky in a way that makes me never need to try LSD.
9. Microsoft is trying to leapfrog everybody else with its own Hololens, which is technically augmented reality since it projects holograms onto the real world.
Alex Kipman is in charge of the Hololens, having overseen Microsoft Kinect, the Xbox add-on that allowed people to control what happens onscreen by waving their hands and using their voices, like in Minority Report. When the first version of Kinect was released five years ago, it was the coolest thing Micro­soft had ever made. Kipman is also cool. He’s got a Brazilian accent and dresses like a man who takes Burning Man seriously: shiny gray pants; a long jacket with embroidery; blunt, shoulder-length hair. “If I told people at Microsoft I wanted to make virtual reality, they would have nodded their head yes,” he says. But Kipman wants to save us from spending yet more time on our computers instead of with one another. “Virtual reality is not embracing that which makes us human. Kinect was about ­embracing what’s in all of us. Humans exist in the real world. Holograms say, ‘Hey, technology has become sophisticated enough today that we’re ready to go beyond being stuck behind pixels all day long.’” Holograms, he believes, will reverse our isolation and inactivity.
10. There’s debate within the community about what VR is really good for.
Jeremy Bailenson, who founded Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab in 2003, doesn’t think that his life’s work is the final platform. He thinks people will get hurt walking into walls or when a dog darts across the room. He thinks the glasses will never be comfortable to wear for long periods. And that an all-virtual world is creepy. “I’m actually a Luddite. I don’t play video games. I don’t have a Facebook account,” he says. At the Tribeca Film Festival’s symposium on virtual reality this year, he warned the audience against making entertainment for virtual reality. “Do you want to be in the trash compactor in Star Wars? No, you don’t. If Jaws felt like what you just did in my lab, no one would ever go in the ocean again.” VR, he believes, is an empathy machine and should be saved for that purpose.
11. Hollywood also has had mixed reactions.
But when one VR pioneer showed virtual reality to director James Cameron—the technology-pushing cre­ator of Avatar, Titanic and Terminator—in May 2013, Cameron stated that he had no use for it. “This has very little to do with controlling the viewers’ attention,” says a colleague. “It’s not necessarily a medium for filmmakers.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015