VR and Eye Gaze Tracking in Autism Research

Fascinating overview of research into social difficulties in Autism, and the use of Virtual Reality in those efforts. Animated characters and VR headsets allow for a great level of control in research studies, including isolating and eliminating variables to get closer to the root of a problem. And the safe space afforded by simulations could lead to more people with Autism getting involved with the research itself.

As the researchers, Nathan Caruna and John Brock, wrote on Spectrum:

We need tests that allow us to precisely measure behavior in complex, reciprocal social interactions. To achieve this goal, we and others are investigating the use of virtual-reality technology as a tool for research and, potentially, therapy.

So far, so good – on several fronts:

Using these technologies, we have confirmed that problems with joint attention—the ability to coordinate with someone else so that you are both paying attention to the same thing—persist into adulthood. We’ve also gained important insights about the roots of these problems. We also hope that adults with autism can one day practice their social skills within specially designed virtual environments.

In our research so far, participants have interacted with a virtual character on a computer screen. The next step is to use fully immersive virtual-reality headsets to recreate more realistic social interactions, in which individuals must evaluate multiple social cues at once, including eye gaze, head orientation, hand gestures, speech and facial expressions.

We, among others, are also considering clinical applications of new immersive virtual-reality technologies. Virtual simulations could perhaps be used for social-skills training in which elements of a social interaction are introduced gradually. Virtual meeting spaces could also allow people with and without autism to interact in a safe and controlled environment that reduces anxiety and sensory overload.

The possibilities for VR in healthcare are just immense right now.

(via Scientific American)

MLB Adds VR to Baseball Broadcasts


Video in the new At Bat VR app won’t be in VR. Rather, the app places you behind home plate and shows you graphical depictions of each pitch. That includes a colored streak — red for strikes and green for balls — tracing the ball’s trajectory.

The data come from sensors Major League Baseball already has in its stadiums.

Traditional TV coverage of the games will appear on a virtual screen in front of you.

MLB has been leading the way for years now when it comes to live streaming of sports, if not all events. No surprise they’d be at the front of the pack when it comes to experimenting with VR.

I’ve watched “VR” broadcasts of basketball games, which have basically been 360-degree videos shot from courtside. They’re fun as a gimmick, but not really watchable for a full two-plus hour game. MLB’s approach sounds like a better first step towards adding real value to the traditional user experience of watching a ball game.

USA Today has an eyes-on preview of the new app, which launches June 1 on Google’s Daydream VR platform.

British Couple Get Engaged For Real in VR Simulation

Apologies for linking to a tabloid, but photos are worth a thousand words. A Brit named Robin King responded to a national search looking for someone ready to propose to their sweetheart, and to do so with the help of virtual reality. A first? Yes – at least in Britain – according to the article.

More importantly, she said Yes.

Arguably more important than that? Robin’s new fiancee, Kate, was wearing what looks to be a Samsung Gear VR.

Snapchat, Facebook Fuel AR Growth in U.S.
VR? Not So Much.

More than 12% of Americans will use some form of Augmented Reality on a monthly basis this year, but only 3% will make regular use of Virtual Reality, according to a forecast from eMarketer. Most of that AR use is coming from Snapchat Lenses, and the report cites the relative low cost and ease of use as the main driver of AR adoption over VR.

“Users of Snapchat Lenses comprise the vast majority of our AR estimates,” said eMarketer forecasting analyst Chris Bendtsen. “Snapchat growth will continue to contribute to AR users in the future, but in the next several years eMarketer also expects Facebook Stories to be a significant growth driver of AR usage, since it is now widely available to Facebook’s user base.”

Not to be confused with Spectacles, Snap’s $129 connected sunglasses, Lenses is a software feature that lets users overlay animations and other visuals onto camera images in real time. CNBC’s Todd Haselton has a nice walkthrough of how to use Lenses to, yes, make it look like a mushroom is growing out of your desk.

Snap, Inc. stock has rebounded slightly since tanking after the company’s first earnings report in early May. But shares are still down roughly 10% from their March IPO price.

Hello World! Dispatches From the Reality Business

Welcome to Extra Real. Put on your goggles and tell the neighbors: We’re taking a journey into the future of reality.

I’m your host, Noah Kravitz. After close to a decade covering the rise of the smartphone in the mid 2000’s, I crossed the content fence from where bloggers and journalists hang out to the land of marketers and comms people. I spent some time on staff at Nokia/Microsoft and Salesforce, and a lot of time consulting for Intel, NVIDIA, Samsung, and some really cool companies you’ve probably never heard of because they’re small, business-to-business shops.

That adds up to around 15 years of work in B2B and B2C tech, staying close to everything from the algorithms behind AI to countless attempts to dethrone the iPhone. I also got a crash course in marketing and selling enterprise software to tiny nonprofits and the Coca-Colas and Western Unions of the world, alike. All of this on the heels of my “first career” as a teacher and educational technologist, way back in the ’90s.

A few months ago I decided to wind down my main consulting gigs to take a breath and figure out what’s next. It took all of a few weeks to realize what my professional circles had been telling me for months: Augmented and Virtual Reality is next. From game developers to corporate marketers to Ph.D researchers, people see the potential in immersive digital experiences across virtually every realm of human life.

Money – big money – is already being thrown at AR and VR. From consumer plays like Oculus, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear VR to B2B solutions for research and training, the space is heating up. But it’s still early days; very early days.

I’m lucky to have already had some behind-the-curtain looks at what tech giants and boutique development shops are doing with the technology. And I’ve seen for myself – and through the eyes of my two young kids – the allure of strapping on a headset and diving into a new reality. So it only made sense to me to throw up a blog and report on what I find out there.

Extra Real will cover Augmented and Virtual Reality from a business perspective. I’ll get into announcements and reviews of individual consumer products, for sure. But this won’t be a throwback to my days unboxing every new cell phone on YouTube. Most of the posts on here will be of the big picture, summary and analysis variety. Info and insight you can consume quickly and digest throughout your day as you figure out when and how AR and VR fits into your own business.

At least, that’s the plan right now. Always gotta skate to where you think the puck is going, right?

I gave myself some leeway since this is my introductory post, but already the word count is getting long. Thanks for stopping by. Now sign up for the newsletter and tell a colleague.

Okay then, on to new realities!