06 October 2019

VR Vibrating Floor from Microsoft

Microsoft has filed a patent for a floor mat that could prevent you from crashing into furniture while you're exploring new worlds in virtual reality. It's also an indicator the company is still interested in bringing VR to the Xbox ecosystem, after it axed virtual reality plans for Xbox One. While some VR systems warn users when they're straying outside of their safe play space, there's still a chance they could hit surrounding objects, potentially damaging items or injuring themselves. 

Some VR users already employ a floor mat to give them a tactile sense of their space, as Variety notes, but Microsoft explained its mat could include markers a VR headset would scan to establish or adjust a safe zone. The application also discusses markers for a start position you'd stand on before hopping into VR as well as pressure sensors for the mat. In addition, Microsoft suggests it could provide haptic feedback through vibrations.

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03 October 2019

VR Artificial Skin

Scientists based out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, have developed a skin-like material that, when worn over a users’ body, simulates a far more realistic sense of touch than that of current haptic feedback technologies. Referred to as “Closed-Loop Haptic Feedback Control Using a Self-Sensing Soft Pneumatic Actuator Skin,” the device is composed of a stretchable material only 500 nanometers thick, allowing it to form to a user’s body. Lined with a series of pneumatic actuators, the ultra-compliant thin-metal film strain sensor creates a highy-realistic tactile sense via vibratory feedback.

The skin uses pressure triggered by inflated membranes to create a sense of touch far more realistic than that of current haptic feedback solutions, which rely primarily on mechanical vibration technology to replicate a sense of impact. This layer of membrane can be altered to various pressures and frequencies by pumping air into it; deflating and inflating the membrane rapidly will cause the skin to vibrate. Sitting on top of the membrane is a sensor filled with electrodes that track the deformation of the skin and report data back to a microcontroller, which in turn controls the haptic sensations. The material can even be stretched up to four times its size for up to roughly 1M cycles.

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29 September 2019

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Article 2019

A few days ago, HCI Lab researchers, published a paper at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience entitled ‘Progressive Training for Motor Imagery Brain-Computer Interfaces Using Gamification and Virtual Reality Embodiment’. The paper presents a gamified motor imagery brain-computer interface (MI-BCI) training in immersive virtual reality. The aim of the proposed training method is to increase engagement, attention, and motivation in co-adaptive event-driven MI-BCI training. 

This was achieved using gamification, progressive increase of the training pace, and virtual reality design reinforcing body ownership transfer (embodiment) into the avatar. From the 20 healthy participants performing 6 runs of 2-class MI-BCI training (left/right hand), 19 were trained for a basic level of MI-BCI operation, with average peak accuracy in the session = 75.84%. This confirms the proposed training method succeeded in improvement of the MI-BCI skills.

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27 September 2019

Sonogenetics Control the Behavior of Brain Cells

Neuroscientists are always looking for ways to influence neurons in living brains so that we can analyze the outcome and understand both how that brain works and how to better treat brain disorders. For the last two decades the go-to tool for researchers in my field has been optogenetics, a technique in which engineered brain cells in animals are controlled with light. This process involves inserting an optic fiber deep within the animal’s brain to deliver light to the target region. Ultrasound is a great way to control cells. Since sound is a form of mechanical energy, if brain cells could be made mechanically sensitive, then they can be modified with ultrasound. 

This research allowed the discovery of the first naturally occurring protein mechanical detector that made brain cells sensitive to ultrasound. The technology works in two stages. First new genetic material is introduced into malfunctioning brain cells using a virus as a delivery device. This provides the instructions for these cells to make the ultrasound-responsive proteins. The next step is emitting ultrasound pulses from a device outside the animal’s body targeting the cells with the sound-sensitive proteins. The ultrasound pulse remotely activates the cells. Researchers discovered that neurons with the TRP-4 protein are sensitive to ultrasonic frequencies.

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25 September 2019

Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog On Sale

Boston Dynamics has started selling its four-legged Spot robot, but you probably won’t be able to get your hands on one-yet. The company is only going to sell the robot to companies that can put it to practical use and develop custom modules that can be attached to its back to help perform specific tasks. It’s the reverse of the traditional sales process: firms need to send pitches to Boston Dynamics, which it will then assess them for suitability.

Boston Dynamics only has 20 of the robots available right now, but it’s hoping to manufacture about 1,000 for use out in the field. So it has to be very choosy about who gets one. It hasn’t disclosed how much they will cost. Spot could check for gas leaks using methane sensors, map the interior of a building with a lidar module, or even open doors using its arm. The robot is designed to withstand rain, so it can work outdoors, too.

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