Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Augmented reality - hololens demo

SAN FRANCISCO — The line for a quick demo of HoloLens snaked through Moscone Center during Microsoft's Build 2016 developers conference Wednesday.
The excitement is easy to explain.

HoloLens is the world's first augmented reality device to hit developers, with shipments starting today. But at this stage it's a bit like when Steve Jobs unveiled that first app-lite iPhone. Impressive, but of limited use.

That's why Microsoft is banking on some of the 5,000 developers that have converged on Build to create applications that may one day cause AR goggles to be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In fact, AR is expected to take a 75% slice of 2020's $120 billion AR/VR pie, according to industry advisers Digi-Capital.

So the question is: In its first-gen state, is $3,000 HoloLens worth the hype?
How about an emphatic yes with a few critical asterisks.

USA TODAY was granted two hours with HoloLens earlier this week, with the majority of that time dedicated to free exploration unfettered by Microsoft oversight. Since previous media access has amounted to short controlled demos, this was effectively the first opportunity to assess what it would be like to own HoloLens.

By coincidence, the experience came just days after this tech reporter was able to spend significant time interacting with a development kit version of Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, one of three high-end virtual reality devices landing this year. While virtual reality seals off the user to teleport them to other worlds, augmented reality overlays interactive holograms over the real world.

Let's cut to the key impressions.

Form Factor. HoloLens sits on your head like a 1.2-pound crown. Inside the clear plastic visor are projectors for the holograms, while on the outside sits a camera as well as sensors that determine your spacial position in a given room.

The most important thing to point out here is HoloLens is an untethered device whose technology resides inside the unit. An equally impressive AR goggle made by Meta is, by comparison, connected by a cable to a powerful computer. That also applies to all of the pricey VR devices coming out this year, which include Oculus, Sony Playstation VR and Sony Morpheus.

One cannot understate the importance of being untethered — no cables to trip over — and therefore the freedom of movement that AR lords over VR. True, VR immersion is wildly lifelike, but as a result many experts advise no more than 20 minutes a day of VR viewing. In contrast, I had HoloLens on my head for 90 minutes straight.

That led to one notable criticism: 1.2 pounds might not sound like a lot, but it feels like a little workout gym for your neck muscles after that amount of time. There's little doubt that technological innovations may one day create AR headsets that feel like the glasses we wear today, and that's the point where adoption might skyrocket.

User Interface. There are three ways to interact with HoloLens, air-touch (hold your arm out, point an index finger to the sky then down), glance (move your head, not your eyes, toward something you want then air-touch) and voice (here Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana does the honors, whether it's asking for a weather update or to bring up a webpage on a hologram browser).

The simplicity of this interface trio is to be applauded, though again over time holding an arm rigidly outstretched proved a bit fatiguing. Perhaps HoloLens is secretly being positioned as a virtual computer-slash-workout device.

Looking through the headset, one could see the hotel room overlaid with a variety of holograms fixed in position. These ranged from a little dog in one corner to posters on the wall. The Microsoft team had cleverly positioned a virtual TV screen exactly over the screen of the room's real television. Any of these holograms could be moved by the user by looking at them, pinching two fingers together and dragging them to a desired position in the room.

All of this was mastered fairly quickly, which says less about this reporter's AR skills and more about the way HoloLens engineers thought through the UI challenges. The main critique here: one wished for a slightly larger field of view when watching video content in HoloLens.

Applications. The idea of HoloLens is to ultimately have it replace many of the objects we use to interact with our digital lives. Instead of reading up on the latest news on a PC or a tablet, in HoloLens you fire up a hologram browser, choose its size and navigate to a site by typing one character at a time (real keyboards connected to HoloLens by Bluetooth can also handle this task).
I typed in USA TODAY and was brought to our mobile site. While it was fascinating to see a story floating in space Minority Report style, navigating through the website proved problematic and, ultimately, I abandoned that quest.

Far more successful was accessing a holographic tour of Rome, which cleverly wove together a voice-over tour guide with real footage of the Eternal City interacting with historical animations. At one point, the floor dropped as the guide explained how in ancient times the city streets were many feet below today's level. I could easily have spent an hour on this virtual historical tour.

Also of note was playing a video game that found me literally running around the room shooting aliens with my finger-turned laser gun. When they shot at me and I ducked, I could see the blasts just missed me. Here again the lack of tether exponentially expanded the interactive possibilities of HoloLens.

The one thing that I wasn't able to experience was perhaps one of HoloLens greatest selling points, which is its collaborative power.

Multiple HoloLens wearers can be in the same room looking at the same virtual image, as was the case with the Case Western University professors who appeared at Build to show how they are teaching medical students about anatomy while all huddled around the same hologram.

There's no doubting that virtual reality is a brilliant leap forward in our ability to fully teleport into other realms for either entertainment or instructional purposes. But what a few hours with HoloLens reveals is that augmented reality — once its form shrinks and its use-cases mushroom — is more likely to become woven into the fabric of our daily lives.

Artificial gills - $299

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

VR dome for military performance analysis

By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public Affairs

NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 24, 2016) -- For researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), there just may be no place like dome.

Thanks to its new virtual-reality dome, NSRDEC's Cognitive Science and Applications Team will be better able to study the impact of real-world operational situations on a Soldier's cognitive abilities and performance.

"The new VR laboratory will provide the Cognitive Science and Applications Team the ability to conduct research using more operationally relevant scenarios while still maintaining experimental control in our studies," said Dr. Caroline Mahoney, team leader for NSRDEC's Cognitive Science and Applications Team. "This capability brings our tightly controlled laboratory work one step closer to the field/operationally relevant environment."

The concave virtual-reality system provides a full 180-degree horizontal field and uses high-density, front-projection to create a high-resolution, visual world. The system enables participants to have immersive experiences in seamless virtual environments, which are modeled after real-world locations.

"This NSRDEC virtual reality capability affords novel applied, interdisciplinary science and technology activities that close traditional translational gaps between laboratory and field," Mahoney said. "The integration of multiple input modalities, along with multisensory feedback, increases the realism, immersion and engagement on behalf of users subjected to prolonged, workload-intensive activities.

"These novel integrations provide unprecedented opportunities to monitor and optimize human behavior during real-world task execution, and to evaluate and predict the impact of innovative human-systems technologies on operational performance."

In the virtual dome, users can interact and alter the environment through hand-held and weapon-based devices, which control movement, orientation and weapon aiming.

"Individual-level behavior can be elicited through immersive, scripted scenarios, and measured through location and orientation tracking, eye tracking, physiology and neurophysiology," Mahoney said.

The virtual dome will enable researchers to assess the impact of the environment on Soldier cognition, including decision-making, spatial memory or wayfinding. NSRDEC researchers will also be able to assess the impact of new equipment on cognitive abilities.

"For example, the Cognitive Science and Applications Team is currently working with Dr. Dave Darkow and the Mission Information Team to develop metrics for measuring cognitive workload during mission tasks and will use these tasks to measure the impact of new technology on Soldier cognition in operationally relevant environments," Mahoney said.

NSRDEC and outside equipment developers will eventually use the Cognitive Science Team's virtual dome data to aid in the design and development of Soldier technology and equipment.

In the future, additional and improved capabilities will be incorporated into the virtual dome. The future additions will include whole-body motion tracking, low-frequency vibration and directional wind. Vibro-tactile collision feedback -- which combines vibration and touch to help give participants a physical sense of constraints in a virtual environment -- will also be included.

"In the coming years, additional input modalities and multisensory feedback will be developed and integrated into the system to increase immersion," said Mahoney.

Overall, the dome will provide extensive new insights into the thinking processes of Soldiers in the field.

"Our new, virtual-reality capability provides unprecedented translational value to basic and applied cognitive sciences, allowing us to bridge the gap between highly controlled laboratory research and the inherent richness, dynamics and complexity of real-world Soldier experiences," said Dr. Tad BrunyƩ, a member of NSRDEC's Cognitive Science Team.


The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. 


It’s not the Star Trek holodeck but a computer-generated reality “dome” in Massachusetts should immerse warfighters in a virtual environment that not only tests their skills, but allows Army researchers to assess soldier cognitive abilities.

The virtual reality dome is the creation of researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, where a Cognitive Science and Applications Team hopes to study the impact of real-world operational situations on decision-making, spatial memory and wayfinding.

The simulations will be modeled on real-world locations.

“The integration of multiple input modalities, along with multisensory feedback, increases the realism, immersion and engagement on behalf of users subjected to prolonged, workload-intensive activities,” cognitive science team leader Dr. Caroline Mahoney said.

The dome is a concave virtual-reality system that provides a full 180-degree horizontal field, using high-density, front-projection to create a high-resolution, visual world.

Other scientists at the Natick lab are developing metrics for measuring cognitive workload during mission tasks. This will enable researchers to assess how new equipment and technology born by soldiers effects their cognitive abilities, according to Mahoney.

The data from those measurements will eventually help in the design and development of soldier technology and equipment by center researchers and outside equipment manufacturers.

Down the road the lab will add to the dome’s capabilities. New features will include whole-body motion tracking, low-frequency vibration, directional wind and “vibro-tactile collision feedback” – merging vibration and touch to give participants a sense of physical constraint.

“In the coming years, additional input modalities and multisensory feedback will be developed and integrated into the system to increase immersion,” Mahoney said.

Bryant Jordan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

brain signals for learning

Education of the future? Scientists figure out how to UPLOAD knowledge to the brain

A GROUP of scientists claim to have created a simulator which can upload knowledge directly to your brain.

In a breakthrough which promises new technology like that from The Matrix, researchers at HRL Laboratories have developed a programme which they say can upload new skills and knowledge directly to your brain.

The California-based institution analysed electrical signals in the brain of a pilot and fed the data to people who didn’t have the knowledge to fly planes via electrode-embedded head caps which stimulated the correct regions of the brain.

The participants who were fed the information via electrodes were then pitted against a placebo group on a realistic flight simulation test, which found that the former performed an average of 33 per cent better than the latter, according to the results published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Lead author Dr Matthew Phillips explained: “Our system is one of the first of its kind. It's a brain stimulation system.

"It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there's large scientific basis for the development of our system.

"The specific task we were looking at was piloting an aircraft, which requires a synergy of both cognitive and motor performance.

"When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuro-plasticity.

“It turns out that certain functions of the brain, like speech and memory, are located in very specific regions of the brain, about the size of your pinky.”

He added that this could be the future of learning: “What our system does is it actually targets those changes to specific regions of the brain as you learn.
“The method itself is actually quite old. In fact, the ancient Egyptians 4000 years ago used electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain.

“Even Ben Franklin applied currents to his head, but the rigorous, scientific investigation of these methods started in the early 2000s and we're building on that research to target and personalise a stimulation in the most effective way possible.

“Your brain is going to be very different to my brain when we perform a task.

"What we found is … brain stimulation seems to be particularly effective at actually improving learning.”

While scientists may have figured out how to upload knowledge to a brain, a Russian billionaire is working on uploading his brain to a computer.

Dmitry Itskov has said he will make it possible for humans to live forever in the next 30 years by connecting human brains to computers.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Anonymous Hacks Trump's Voicemail, Leaks Messages

anti-human trafficking law signed by GW. Bush prevents immediate deporting

U.S. border chief: Surges across southwest border could be new trend

By Jeremy Redmon - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The yearend spike in Central American children and families illegally crossing the southwest border – a thorny problem with big implications for Georgia and other states – may be part of a “new normal,” the nation’s border chief said during a stop in Atlanta Friday.
“We are watching it pretty carefully — we are concerned,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who was visiting with police in Buckhead about human trafficking. “Perhaps we are seeing a new normal with a lot of people wanting to come across that southern border into the United States.”

Fleeing punishing poverty and brutal gangs, tens of thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras started surging across the border in 2014. Their numbers fell toward the end of that year and stayed lower in early 2015 before rising sharply again. Between October of 2015 and January of this year, apprehensions on the southwest border were more than double the number from the same period the year before. Most of those who were caught are from Central America. Some are from Mexico.

Since last fall, 717 of the apprehended children and teens have been transferred to the care of sponsors in Georgia, mostly in Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. That brings the Peach State’s total since 2013 to 3,792.Many have enrolled in public schools in North Georgia, sending educators scrambling to accommodate them.

A 2008 anti-human trafficking law — signed by President George W. Bush — prevents the government from immediately deporting them. Instead, the government is required to feed, shelter and provide medical care to them until they can be released to the care of sponsors, who are usually relatives. Meanwhile, the children undergo deportation proceedings in federal immigration courts in Georgia and other states where they can seek relief to stay in the U.S.
But many of them and their parents have been ordered deported. And that has triggered immigration raids in Georgia. In January, federal authorities arrested 121 adults and children in Georgia and elsewhere as part of a nationwide crackdown targeting Central Americans who were caught illegally crossing the border and ordered to leave the country. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced last month the crackdown would continue, despite objections from federal lawmakers and advocates.

The influx of these children has also reignited the contentious debate over immigration Georgia. It became a flash point in the 2014 gubernatorial race between Gov. Nathan Deal and then-state Sen. Jason Carter after Deal sent a scathing letter about the issue to President Barack Obama.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday, Kerlikowske pointed out that apprehensions started falling in January. He added the government is in a better position to respond to the surges this year because it has opened several processing centers — converted warehouses — for the apprehended immigrants in McAllen, Texas. At those centers, authorities try to identify their smugglers and the routes they took to get into the U.S. The government, he said, has also sent officials into Mexico to observe and train immigration authorities there.
At the same time, Kerlikowske pushed back against notions that lax border security is the cause of the problem and that building a wall there would solve it. Those illegally crossing the border, he said, are coming here to escape violence, reunite with relatives, find work and send money to families back home. Many are giving themselves up to U.S. Border Patrol officials when they reach the other side, he said, hoping they will be allowed to stay here for humanitarian reasons.
“It isn’t like we have large numbers of people that we are chasing and trying to apprehend,” he said. “They have been told by the smuggler, ‘Look for the person in a green uniform because you will be protected.’”

Kerlikowske didn’t mention Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump by name, but Trump has proposed building a wall along the southwest border at Mexico’s expense. Kerlikowske pointed out there are a lot of obstacles there, including the Rio Grande and swaths of private property. Further, he said, the existing fencing along the border needs expensive upkeep. The government is also using horseback patrols, video cameras, motion detectors and unmanned aircraft to protect the border, Kerlikowske said.
“It’s an incredibly complex problem,” he said. “And whenever someone has a simplistic answer to a complex problem, you can pretty well bet it is wrong.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

Ted Cruz has something on his lip

Did anyone notice the little white whatever-it-was that appeared on Ted's lip in last night's debate? It was kind of hard to miss.

I did a youtube search for "ted cruz debate something on his lip" and immediately got a couple of hits, so it was pretty noticeable.

Update: More detailed notations on this debate by many others here. I was just musing over what I witnessed first thing the next morning, obviously I was not alone. Plus, I missed the first half of the debate and missed the exchange whereby Trump and Rubio questioned the size of each other's manhood.

I don't know if it was a pus chunk or a left over popcorn tid bit or quite what, but without a doubt it was not just a spit bubble. It emerged and kind of hopscotched back and forth between upper and lower. One can only speculate at what point it hit his radar, but he finally gave it the hook:

Honestly, Ted, it would have been better to wipe it away and even acknowledge it, maybe hold it up for the camera and speculate about what it might be for the audience. "As President I will never give up the fight, just like this piece of cauliflower that has apparently been clinging to my lower incisors since dinner."

It's hard enough to take him seriously with that oh-so-serious expression, those eyebrows pointing up like he's giving a eulogy.  But, add on a dancing pus nugget and I'm shaking my head.

Also, Rubio landed an impressive zinger after The Donald had been roasted repeatedly for flip-flopping his position on so many issues and defended by saying great leaders have to be "flexible".

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Russia and Syria are using migration as a weapon

 NATO commander says Russia and Syria are using migration as a weapon

US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove says Europe is faced with a resurgent Russia to the east and a mass migration crisis to its south.

A top United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commander said Tuesday that Russia and Syria are using migration as a tool to destabilize their European neighbors, and warned of “resurgent and aggressive” Russian behavior in the region.
US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, Commander of the US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, said that the migrant crisis facing Europe is allowing terror elements into the continent undetected, with actions by the Islamic State (IS), Moscow, and Damascus pushing people out of Syria and Iraq and into the European system.

“Europe faces the dawning challenge of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse, a migration that masks the movement of criminals, terrorists, and foreign fighters,” Breedlove said at a Pentagon press briefing. “Within this mix, [IS] is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks.”

Breedlove also said that his information suggests that radical foreign fighters have left from Europe to join groups like IS and subsequently reentered unchecked.
“As many as 9,000 fighters have gone, and as much as 1,500 fighters have returned back to Europe,” he said, adding that they bring with them the potential for future terror attacks.

Breedlove also had strong words for Russia, saying that its recent actions have placed it in opposition to US and NATO goals in the region, and that the Syrian government and its ally are “deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”
“Europe faces a resurgent and aggressive Russia,” Breedlove said. “Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term existential threat to the US and to our European allies and partners,” adding that “Russia seeks to fracture our unity and challenge our resolve.”

He went on to say that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Russian military support, has been using weapons such as unguided aerial “barrel bombs” to indiscriminately terrorize Syrians and drive them out toward Europe, bringing with them dangerous elements hiding within the growing refugee population.

“It is a weapon of terror, and it is a weapon to get people out of a location, on the road moving, somewhere else, and make them someone else's problems,” Breedlove said of Syrian and Russian reliance on haphazard IEDs. “[T]his sort of indiscriminate use of unguided, imprecise weaponry has no other value that I know of other than to terrorize and get people on the road.”

Breedlove suggested that the US should increase its troop levels in Europe to counter a Russian territorial push and to prepare for potential terror events, following a steady decline in the American presence there over the past decades.

Around 130,000 migrants have flooded Europe this year, far outpacing numbers from 2015. And while $760 million in aid is planned to be distributed throughout European nations to confront the influx of migrants, many countries maintain tight border controls or are already flooded with foreigners seeking refuge.

Greece is in the midst of a migrant crowding that has created a bottleneck at its border, while nearby countries are closed to migration or are only allowing small numbers of people through each day, while thousands more remain stuck in border camps or on the streets.

“With governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions, inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards,” a United Nations refugee agency spokesperson warned Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

cancer patient to be injected with new tumour-destroying vaccine

British woman becomes one of the first cancer patients to be injected with new tumour-destroying vaccine

'It’s fantastic to be part of something that could be ground breaking'

Kelly Potter, 35, was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in July 2015 and was among the first to be enrolled on a cancer vaccine trial that will run over the next two years involving up to 30 volunteers.

Medical researchers have designed the vaccine to encourage the immune system to react against a part of the cancer cell that allows it to continuously replicate without ever dying.

At the same time, the patients on the trial will be prescribed a chemotherapy drug that should, at low doses, “lift the brakes” on the immune system so that it is no longer prevented from attacking the body’s own cancer cells, scientists said.

Ms Kelly, who lives in Beckenham, Kent, was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer and was eligible for the trial at Guy’s Hospital in London because the disease has unfortunately spread to other sites in her body.

“Although I had excellent treatment at Guy’s where the cancer was stabilised, it had already spread to spots on my liver and lungs. So when I was told that I may be eligible for this trial, I was delighted,” Ms Potter said.

Woman has 16kg tumour removed
“To be part of this trial has changed my life for the better. It’s been a very positive experience and really interesting. I feel honoured to be involved. You get the best treatment anyway at Guy’s but it’s fantastic to be part of something that could be ground breaking,” she said.

Ms Potter was injected with the vaccine on 9 February and has another seven visits to the hospital to complete the treatment. Doctors have warned her that she may experience flu-like symptoms, although none has appeared to far, she said.

“My hope for the future is to beat the cancer for as long as I can, and if I can’t, I have come to terms with that. I would like to go on and inspire others with cancer,” she said.
The vaccine contains a small fragment of protein from an enzyme called human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), which allows cancer cells to divide continuously. It is hoped that by injecting this antigen into the bloodstream, it will stimulate the immune system to make antibodies that attack cancer cells but leave normal, healthy cell untouched, scientists said.

“We know that the immune system in patients with advanced cancer is suppressed, so it’s unable to recognise and kill cancer cells,” said Professor Hardev Pandah, principal investigator on the trial from the University of Surrey in Guildford.
“In this trial we are investigating a form of immunotherapy designed to activate the body’s immune system by administration of a vaccine based on fragments to a key cancer protein,” Professor Pandah said.

James Spicer, the chief investigator on the trial at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre in London, said that low doses of a chemotherapy drug will be given to the patients alongside the vaccine in order to stimulate an effective immune response against tumour cells.

“The unique feature of this study is the use of additional agents to boost the vaccination response. It is hoped this will abolish the inhibitory effect of regulatory immune cells present in the patients’ circulation, which are believed to have limited the effectiveness of previous cancer vaccine approaches,” Dr Spicer said.

“There are very few solid tumours that shouldn’t be susceptible to this sort of treatment. This is a phase one trial, but we are pretty confident that it will be safe – but whether or not it will be effective, we will have to wait and see,” he said.