14 December 2017

A Worm Brain in a Lego Robot Body

The brain is really little more than a collection of electrical signals. If we can learn to catalogue those then, in theory, you could upload someone's mind into a computer, allowing them to live forever as a digital form of consciousness. But it's not just science fiction. Sure, scientists aren't anywhere near close to achieving such a feat with but there's few better examples than the time an international team of researchers managed to do just that with the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. C. elegans is a little nematodes that have been extensively studied by scientists - we know all their genes and their nervous system has been analysed many times.

In 2014, a collective called the OpenWorm project mapped all the connections between the worm's 302 neurons and managed to simulate them in software. The ultimate goal of the project was to completely replicate C. elegans as a virtual organism. But they managed to simulate its brain, and then they uploaded that into a simple Lego robot. This Lego robot has all the equivalent limited body parts that C. elegans has - a sonar sensor that acts as a nose, and motors that replace the worm's motor neurons on each side of its body. Amazingly, without any instruction being programmed into the robot, the C. elegans virtual brain controlled and moved the Lego robot.

More information:

11 December 2017

Starbucks AR Experience

Starbucks has ordered up a venti cup of AR to make the visit more interactive. The company's new Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, will be the first Starbucks location to employ AR powered by Alibaba Group's scene recognition platform to integrate the on-site and online customer experiences. Shoppers can point the cameras of their mobile devices at points of interest and use the Roastery's web app or Alibaba's Taobao app to access AR content about Starbucks and coffee.


The AR platform also provides a digital menu that displays details of the coffee bars, brewing techniques, and more. Access to the experience is more convenient for users of the Taobao app. Using its location-tracking feature, the app notices when users enter the location, and then serves up site content. Moreover, Starbucks has added an element of gamification to the experience, challenging customers to collect digital badges and earn a custom Roastery filter.

More information:

10 December 2017

AR Twitter

News travels fast on Twitter, making it one of the most powerful social media channels for disseminating or collecting information. Now, you can immerse yourself in the data firehose of Twitter in augmented reality AR). The Twitter client gives users the ability to perform a few basic functions in AR, including zooming into the wall by moving their iPhone (or iPad) closer to the virtual display, and tapping on tweets to extract them from the wall and view replies.

Users can also compose tweets, retweet and like tweets, reply to tweets, view mentions, and even perform searches. However, the app is missing a few features, such as the ability to follow links to other sites, one of the key features on Twitter. Also, while pictures are visible, I wasn't able to view videos or gifs. This is a great peek at the future of immersive social media. But, as it stands today, it's more of a gimmick than a utility.

More information:

03 December 2017

Sumerian Browser-Based tool for AR and VR

Amazon is jumping onto the augmented and virtual reality bandwagon with the launch of Sumerian, a new application that’s supposed to make it easier for people to develop 3D experiences for a wide variety of platforms. The browser-based tool is available in limited preview today. At launch, Sumerian enables developers to put 3D models together in scenes for use in VR and AR applications. It includes an object library full of models that people can put to use, as well as support for importing assets from FBX and OBJ files. On top of this, developers get access to a set of hosts (3D characters that they can customize to interact with an end user). These hosts integrate with Amazon Polly and Lex to provide natural language capabilities similar to those underpinning the Alexa virtual assistant. Sumerian is designed to be straightforward enough for developers who are new to building 3D experiences, while retaining the power needed to create engaging content.

As more developers look to support AR and VR, and platform owners continue to expand what devices can do, Sumerian could help make AWS a key home for developing the applications of the future. Sumerian also dovetails well with AWS’s ongoing push to attract game developers to its cloud platform. The company already released its own Lumberyard game engine, which is supposed to provide a substrate for people who are building interactive experiences. Once users have built an experience in Sumerian, it can run on hardware such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and iPhone. Sumerian will also support building AR scenes for Android devices that are compatible with ARCore in the near future. Another upcoming key feature is the ability to import data from Unity projects. That engine is widely used among AR and VR developers, and providing a bridge between Unity and Sumerian could help attract developers.

02 December 2017

VR Hallucination Machine

A team of scientists in the UK say they have built a machine that can allow people to hallucinate without taking potentially dangerous drugs like magic mushrooms. Researchers used virtual reality headsets and artificial intelligence technology to create the 'Hallucination Machine' in the hope of learning more about consciousness and how the brain processes what we see. Employing Google's Deep Dream technology, scientists at Sussex University's Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science were able to create 'cyberdelic' images which overemphasise certain recurring details to make the brain work in overdrive.

One experiment saw a group of 12 volunteers shown an altered panoramic video of the team's university campus. The participants were then asked whether they felt disoriented in anyway, and whether they saw patterns and colours. They reported experiencing visual hallucinations similar to those brought on by psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. A second experiment, this time involving 22 volunteers, saw no evidence that participants felt any sense of temporal distortion, or a warped sense of time, suggesting the machine is unable to replicate all the effects of a psychedelic drug 'trip'.

More information: