31 May 2016

Comenius University Talk

On the 16th May 2016, I gave an invited talk entitled ‘Designing and Examining Virtual and Augmented Environments’ at the Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, Comenius University, Slovakia. I present different virtual and augmented reality interfaces for both indoor and outdoor environments and my talk consisted of two parts.

In the first part, focus was given on creating and interacting with these interfaces that can be used for designing novel applications. In the second part, I demonstrated how virtual and augmented reality environments can be used as a medium for understanding human perception through BCI Encephalography (EEG) technologies.

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22 May 2016

Physicists - the Brain is Calling You

From modeling the biomechanics of brain development to improving neuroimaging techniques to processing and analyzing the data from studies using those techniques, physics expertise is urgently needed in all areas of neuroscience. The brain is, of course, not new ground for physicists. Two biophysicists, Aaron Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley (with John Eccles), shared the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how the neuron, the brain’s basic cell, transmits signals. And the groundbreaking theoretical model of neural networks emerged from work by physicist John Hopfield and others.

One of the major challenges for neuroscience has been figuring out how to see what is happening inside the living brain, which is opaque and, in the case of most vertebrates, encased inside the skull. Since 1990, functional magnetic resonance imaging has enabled researchers to detect activity in specific regions of the brain, and scientists continue to push the technique toward higher power and resolution. But much of the action today involves technologies that record the activity of single neurons, potentially allowing researchers to map out entire brain circuits and explore the brain’s computational code.

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21 May 2016

RecoVR Mosul

A few months ago, the militant group known as Islamic State posted a video online showing the destruction of antiquities in and around the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq. Statues and other artefacts in the museum were smashed, and ruins around the city were broken up using hammers and pneumatic drills. For its first venture into the new medium of virtual reality, The Economist has collaborated with Rekrei, a non-profit group formerly known as Project Mosul, to recreate the museum and many of the lost artefacts, explain why they matter and examine how they were virtually reconstructed. The result is 'RecoVR Mosul: A collective reconstruction', which is now available on a range of VR platforms. The experience takes the form of a tour of the museum, with a voiceover that explains the background to the project.

According to archaeologists, Mosul has the majority of the country’s archaeological wealth, with more than 3,500 sites of significance. The city remains under the control of Islamic State. As well as destroying artefacts for publicity and recruiting purposes, the militants are believed to have smuggled some of them out of the country to be sold; such racketeering is thought to be a significant source of the group’s revenue. The advent of digital reconstructions raises questions about their ownership and use, and the extent to which they can act as substitutes for the originals. There are also worries that focusing on artefacts risks diverting attention from human suffering in conflict zones. These issues are explored in two podcasts that accompany the VR experience, which consider the role of technology in preserving cultural heritage and making it more widely accessible.

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20 May 2016

Portraying Social Anxiety in a Game

In a game called 'The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne (Samantha Browne)' it is possible to explore social anxiety through a simple lens: players help college student Samantha go down into her public dorm's shared kitchen to make some oatmeal. Stand up, walk down a hall, make oatmeal. Sounds easy. Yet all along the way, there are these tiny obstacles in Samantha's mind. She is hungry, but is afraid of what she will run into when she steps outside of her safe space. Will she have to talk to other people if she goes to the public kitchen? What will she say if she does? What if those people talking in their rooms are speaking about her? Are those girls in the kitchen laughing at something she did? Should she speak to them? Is she making her oatmeal right? Should she ask for help, or would people judge her for that? Her mind is a quagmire of ways for life and the people around her to make her feel bad about herself. The possibilities of screw-ups and embarrassments swirl in her head. For the player, every decision also contains a small failure, and the every decision, no matter how small, can lead to the culmination of Samantha's fears. Had Samantha Browne featured an optimum path, it would encourage the thought that people with social anxiety just need to make the right decision in order to get through it. With a stress-free route, it shows a correct way through the game's challenges. From Ayres' own experience, this is not what social anxiety feels like. Hiding and not feeding herself seems the least stressful option. It means she can stay in a safe spot and hide from her fears. But this will lead to harm to her body. For players who've saved the universe or fought ancient evils, this should be easy. How hard is it to make the right decisions and succeed at making a meal?

One of the important aspects of what Ayres wanted players to experience with Samantha Browne was the simple ways in which social anxiety affects people. It is something more than regular nervousness, and affects every aspect of a person's life when they have to interact with others. A grand moment might have helped players instantly connect with the fear, but it is the disorder that Ayres wanted players to experience. Samantha Browne catalogues these failures in various ways, showing the player a gradually increasing the stress bar, Samantha's inner monologue, and her movements and pauses. Samantha stops to ask the player what to do often, which is useful for keeping them engaged, but also shows how often she has to halt her actions and think them over. Every step to the door and through the hallway asks the player to consider what they are asking her to do, as she runs through every possibility that can go wrong. This can stir up several emotions surrounding the character. It can make players frustrated that they have to navigate something that seems to be so simple to them, mirroring Ayres' own frustrations with social anxiety. It can also show the player just how the mind works in these situations, drowning every decision in a torrent of ways it can go wrong. No matter what, these decisions make the player feel something along with Samantha, giving them a little sense of what it is like for her. Part of social anxiety is acting like you're fine and that none of this is bothering you, even though your mind is a raging storm of horrible possibilities. In that, Samantha Browne's exterior works best when it appears happy and fun. The art style tells the player that this will be a light-hearted romp, and in its action, it can be. There is still that awful stress that runs beneath everything, though. The game says that your loved ones, happy as they may appear, can be hiding some pain within them that makes their lives extremely difficult. It tells us to look deeper.

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18 May 2016

Memories Can be Inherited

Our life experiences may be passed on to our children and our children's children - and now scientists report that they have discovered that this inheritance can be turned on or off. Epigenetics is the study of inherited changes in gene expression, changes that are inherited, but aren't inherent to our DNA. For instance, life experiences, which aren’t directly coded in human DNA, can actually be passed on to children. Studies have shown that survivors of traumatic events may have effects in subsequent generations. The question, of course, is how are these genetic 'memories' passed on and this is what a Tel Aviv University (TAU) was seeking to answer when they reportedly discovered a mechanism that makes it possible to turn the transference of environmental influences on or off.

According to their study, epigenetic responses that are inherited follow an active process as it gets passed on through generations. They showed that worms inherited small RNAs following the starvation and viral infections of their parents. These small RNAs helped prepare their offspring for similar hardships. They also identified a mechanism that amplified heritable small RNAs across generations, so the response was not diluted. They found that enzymes called RdRPs are required for re-creating new small RNAs to keep the response going in subsequent generations. Scientists were able to determine that specific genes, which they dubbed Modified Transgenerational Epigenetic Kinetics (MOTEK) are also involved in turning epigenetic transmission on and off.

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17 May 2016

Roto VR Chair

The technology of virtual reality this year really is experiencing a real boom. Towards Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive who is slowly coming to the first customers, there are also various other devices for VR. Following the recent announcement for pre-VR peripherals leg and 3D spherical VR camera 360 degrees, now came the VR chair itself with the engine. The company Roto his chair so trying to solve the situation of motion in VR-in. Chair includes a tracking device head that is placed on the user’s CMS.

Head Tracker chairs coupled to the motor stool and the chair rotates in the direction in which the user turns his head. This allows the user more comfortable VR experience, but also allows the research to 360 degrees. Developers do not need to add support for a chair in their games, but the company will issue an SDK that will give you that opportunity. Chair can complement the game in which the cockpit is present, through Rotos Utility programs can be set and cockpit mode that reduces the rotation to 10%.

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13 May 2016

Holographic Flexible Smartphone

Canadian researchers have developed what they are claiming is the world's first holographic flexible smartphone, with a bendable display that allows multiple people looking at the device to see different 3D images depending on their perspective. The smartphone sports a Full HD LED display with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. When the device displays images, it renders them into 12-pixel wide circular blocks. Over the top of the display is a thin 3D-printed microlens array, consisting of over 16,000 fisheye lenses.

When the pixel blocks are viewed through the lens array, it makes the images look 3D to the viewer depending on their angle, when in fact they're actually only two-dimensional. The one downside to this technique is it makes the appearance of the display decidedly more pixellated. Once the Full HD resolution is effectively down-sampled via the image-rendering process, you're left with a pretty chunky-looking 160 x 104 resolution image.

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