One of the Best New VR Things: Buying a Car

I had a fascinating experience last week. I got to see and experience the new Jaguar I-Pace, the company’s electric answer to the as-yet-unannounced Tesla Y SUV, long before I’ll actually get to see the prototype. I didn’t just get to see the car — I got to understand intimately why the car was created and what went into its design. I got to experience aspects of the vehicle viscerally, without actually getting into it.

My experience was possible due to an alliance between Dell, HTC and Jaguar. It dovetails with a project that Nvidia and Audi have undertaken to showcase cars in dealerships without the dealerships actually having to floor the car. It opens the door, ironically, to an even more localized experience than Tesla has with its store front dealerships.

I think VR eventually will change how we buy most physical things, and I find it amazing that it is starting with cars first. I’ll focus on that this week and close with my product of the week, which has to be this amazing new car from Jaguar. I loved it so much I got on a list to order it.

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Virtual Reality

There are three visual technologies in the process of coming to market right now. There’s augmented reality, which Google Glass showcased and nearly killed. AR overlays information over the real world — usually through some kind of small head-mounted projector muck like a heads-up display. Like heads-up displays, AR doesn’t really change what you see — it enhances or augments it.

The newest of the new visual technologies is mixed-reality, which uses massive computing power to render and blend the real world with what is rendered. In its final form, you can’t tell the difference. It is pretty rough and more proof-of-concept now, with Microsoft’s Hololens the closest to production. That’s largely because it cheats, though — it is more an augmented reality device.

Virtual Reality is a fully rendered technology that places you in an environment. There are low-end offerings that use smartphones, which actually are surprisingly good. High-end versions use high-end PCs, as well as workstations and headsets from firms like HTC and Facebook subsidiary Oculus Rift. They now can create experiences that are ever harder to distinguish from reality. This is the technology that Jaguar, Dell and HTC demonstrated.

Car Showcase

Firms like Audi and Jaguar are working to figure out how to get people more excited about new cars, how to find new ways to engage and drive purchases, and how to assist in the car ordering process. This last is where Audi and Nvidia focused their effort.

Their project enables a space in dealerships where a prospective buyer can put on a VR headset and then see the full range of options. It’s as if the customer’s perfect car were right there. Options include not only interior and exterior finishes and colors, but also features. Customers then can experience each feature or package as they would if they actually were driving the car. They can figure out, before paying for it, whether the car is worth their money.

This is particularly important for newly launched cars. Mistakes often are made in ordering, because people either don’t realize they want a feature or it accidentally gets left out. That happened to me last month, when I got the Mercedes I’d ordered. A feature I’d asked for was left off the final order sheet due to changes made to the ordering system.

Had I been able to see the rendering of the car I’d ordered, I would have caught the omission and not have missed this important feature (built in garage door opener and self-dimming mirrors).

This is just the start, though, and Jaguar, Dell and HTC took it further. (I should point out that the Dell workstations used to create and show this technology used Nvidia graphics solutions, so Nvidia is in both systems.)

VR on Steroids

What Jaguar did was add significantly to this experience by changing the presentation from just a showcase for the car to a showcase for the whole story that surrounds the car. Manufacturers can hope we fall in love with a car at first sight, and some of us certainly do, but a far more powerful way to sell us on a car is to build a compelling story around it. It’s like the difference between seeing actors’ head shots vs. getting to know them and experiencing their art.

They started our tour by taking us up above Earth to about where the Space Station orbits. That gave us an amazing, almost god-like view as they walked us through the birth of the car and built the car out with each storied major component, while both showcasing and telling us the back story.

We then plunged to Earth were we could see the rendered car perform on roads. We got to sit in the car and have each major feature showcased, with Jaguar’s top designer explaining why each feature existed and, in some cases, why particular decisions were made.

As a result, the car wasn’t two dimensional for us. We left understanding deeply why the car was the way it was, and that helped drive a higher level of lust in us.

The Future

I think this is only the tip of the iceberg, because VR will allow you to do this wherever VR capability exists, potentially turning your future living room into a dealership. In addition, you could build driving experiences into presentations and embed cars into other content — like VR games.

The next time you play a driving game, might actually play it with the car you own or the car the advertiser wants to sell you. Finally, they could actually give cars virtual personalities, much like in the movie Cars. Your car, or the car the firm wants to sell you, could be the hero of a coming virtual movie. That would get your kids wedded to the cars you drive and go well beyond what many of us did when young and named them (yes, I did that).

Wrapping Up: Massive Change

This is only one of the massive changes we will see — not only in the automotive market, but also in the appliance market, the home market, and anyplace where seeing something rendered could assist in the offering’s sale or use.

These experiences won’t be limited to VR. As we move to mixed reality, we’ll be able to see products as they would exist in our homes and cities long before they are actually built.

As we move to self-driving cars, this may be how we gain back the fun of driving — by virtually driving in game-like settings while the real-world car we’re riding in safely transports us to where we want to go. I’ve seen the future of cars — and most of everything else — and that future is virtual!!

It is rare I get this excited about a car that doesn’t yet exists. The last time it happened was when Infiniti brought out the FX-45 and made it look just like the amazing show car. I fell in love and bought the first one that came to Silicon Valley.

Well, it happened again with the Jaguar I-Pace, an amazing all-electric SUV that makes the Tesla X look stupid.

Granted, one reason the I-Pace makes the Tesla X look stupid is that Tesla apparently missed the meeting that explained “SUV” means “sport utility vehicle.” The X is not sporty — you’d never take it off-road — and it has poor utility, because the back seat doesn’t fold down.

The X is also incredibly unreliable because of an excess of tech, like the electric gull wing doors, which not only are wicked expensive, but also seem to break constantly.

The I-Pace, in contrast, uses more advanced batteries that help give it a range of 300-plus miles. Its focus is on performance: Its zero-to-60 time is 4 seconds, and if delivers far improved on- and off-road handling. It’s all wrapped in an extremely attractive body.

Jaguar I-Pace Concept Car

The only sad thing for me is that this car likely won’t have the advanced rain and snow eliminating headlights Jaguar has been developing with Intel. They’re due in 2020, while the car arrives in 2018.

Although this is a concept car, I spoke with some of the engineers, and it is almost identical to the final car. The only big difference is that it will have a fold-down back seat, so Jaguar clearly didn’t miss the “utility” part of the “SUV” class name.

One of the interesting aspects of the I-Pace is that it uses water cooling. Heat is the enemy of batteries, so that decision allows the company not only to make the car look more like others, but also to gain value as a result.

In the end, the I-Pace is a drop-dead gorgeous car. I loved it so much I signed up to order one. Further, it is a showcase for how VR can be used to sell cars, so I had two reasons for making it my product of the week.

Sony Xperia VR Headset Rumoured to Launch at MWC 2016

Sony Xperia VR Headset Rumoured to Launch at MWC 2016

A new report is tipping that Sony may have an Xperia VR headset planned for launch at its February 22 event at MWC 2016. The Japanese giant so far has not detailed what it will launch at its MWC event, despite releasing a new video teaser this week.

The speculation is being led by Xperia Blog, the Sony-focused mobile news website, which connects the VR-focused update of Sony’s Privilege Plus app to a possible unveiling of the smartphone-based VR headset. As we already know, Sony has been working on the PlayStation VR headset for a while now, and it will be powered by the PlayStation 4 (PS4) console.

Recent reports indicate Sony has a late-2016 launch planned for the PlayStation VR headset, but if the most recent report of an Xperia VR headset are true, the company may release a smartphone-based virtual reality headset ahead of the PlayStation VR’s launch.

To get back to the topic at hand, Xperia Blog noted the Privilege Plus movie and TV show content app now features a VR Theater mode. The Google Play listing of the app mentions that the VR experience is not compatible with Xperia E3, Xperia M2, Xperia T2 Ultra, Xperia C3, Xperia E1, Xperia C3, Xperia L, Xperia M, Xperia ZR, Xperia Z, Xperia E4G, Xperia M4 Aqua, Xperia C4, Xperia C5 Ultra, and Xperia M5.

Lending further credence to the rumour is Sony’s own blog post about the 4K display technology of the Xperia X5 Premium in October. To recall, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium features 5.5-inch UHD (2160×3840 pixel) display with a pixel density of 806ppi. In its blog post, Sony talks about how conducive such a high resolution display is to virtual reality, saying, “We also believe Xperia Z5 Premium is capable of offering the clearest, sharpest Virtual Reality platform – we’re working on a few things here internally, so stay tuned for more news soon.”

Finally, Xperia Blog also points to a recently granted patent by Sony for a smartphone-based virtual reality headset, tipping that the company has indeed been working on such technology for a while. The application was submitted in May 2015, and granted in December. The patent shows multiple designs, active shutter 3D technology, forward facing cameras, and even positional tracking. One of the designs is also compatible with tablets. Gaming, social media interactions, and entertainment are some of the VR headset applications Sony appears to be looking at.

Asus ZenPad M Series of Tablets for Businesses Launched

Asus ZenPad M Series of Tablets for Businesses Launched

Asus has announced an all-new range of tablets built for businesses, dubbed the ZenPad M series.

Under the new series of ZenPad M tablets, the company has revealed two enterprise tablets featuring 7-inch and 10-inch screens. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese company has not shed much light on the details about the new range but we can expect the company to showcase the tablets at the upcoming MWC 2016 event.

Asus says that the new M series of tablets featuring Wi-Fi and LTE support will come with pre-loaded with the Asus Device Admin for Mobile (ADAM) system which will allow users to manage devices locally or remotely. Both the tablets come with a built-in Adam console.

The feature will allow users to take control of the devices by blocking unwanted actions and also deploying the devices in kiosk mode, which locks down the tablet to a specific app preventing anyone to perform any other task on the device. The company has bundled the Adam tools into the tablets’ Web browser.

The company says that the Adam gives these tablets set of API allowing system integrators and independent software vendors to deploy end-to-end solutions in vertical markets efficiently. Asus also claims that the Adam will reduce downtime for infrastructure. Both the Asus ZenPad M tablets are powered by Intel Core M chipsets. The company has teased some of the features of the new M series of tablet.

The tablet was first reported by Notebook Italia website.

Asus earlier this month launched its Windows 10-powered Transformer Book T100HA in India with a starting price of Rs. 23,990. The laptop-tablet hybrid was introduced by the Taiwanese tech firm back in June last year at Computex.

Google Cardboard Helps a Visually Challenged Person See Again After 8 Years

Google Cardboard Helps a Visually Challenged Person See Again After 8 Years

Google unceremoniously unveiled the Cardboard, its first virtual-reality headset in 2014. Little did we know, the low-cost VR headset, which works in conjunction with a smartphone, will set a benchmark for many others to follow, and that users would be able to make so much out of it. Such is the case with a visually challenged woman who has been able to see again using Google’s gadget.

Bonny has been suffering from Stargardt disease for the last ten years. It has been eight years since she was last able to see a face. Because of the nature of her vision loss, the Google Cardboard, thanks to a specific app was able to make her see again. Google shared Bonny’s story this week.

According to estimations, about 25,000 people suffer from Stargardt disease. The disease causes progressive damage to the macula, an oval yellowish area surrounding the fovea near the centre of the retina in the eye. The disease causes a slow loss of central vision in both eyes. There are a number of services that a person suffering from Stargardt could use to do their daily chores. This is where Google’s Cardboard comes into play.

With the help of an app called Near Sighted VR Augmented Aid, Bonny was able to see again. The app makes use of a phone’s rear facing camera and delivers the image to each eye. Google Cardboard offers this functionality. The story of Bonny has been documented in a video, which you can find below.

The story of Bonny is another reminder of how technology is helping us find new ways to enrich people’s lives, and pushing humanity forward. With the advent of virtual reality technology, we can only imagine the kind of things we will be able to do.

Drones Becoming ‘Real’ Threat to Commercial Aviation

Drones Becoming 'Real' Threat to Commercial Aviation: IATA

Civilian drones are increasingly becoming a “real and growing threat” to the safety of commercial aviation, industry group IATA warned Monday, calling for regulations to be put in place before any serious accidents occur.

Tony Tyler, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said the threat posed by unmanned aerial vehicles is still evolving as people are only starting to discover the many potential, non-military applications of the technology.

“I am as excited as you are about the prospect of having pizza delivered by a drone,” he said at an aviation conference in Singapore on the eve of the Singapore Airshow.

“They are here to stay. But we cannot allow them to be a hindrance or safety threat to commercial aviation,” he told industry executives and air transport officials.

“We need a sensible approach to regulation and a pragmatic method of enforcement for those who disregard rules and regulations and put others in danger,” he added.

As the use of drones expand from military to commercial and even recreational purposes, experts fear that these radio-controlled flying devices, if not regulated, could one day collide with a commercial aircraft with dire consequences.

“The issue is real. We have plenty of pilot reports of drones where they were not expected, particularly at low altitudes around airports… There is no denying that there is a real and growing threat to the safety of civilian aircraft (coming from drones),” said Tyler.

Rob Eagles, an expert on drones in IATA, said the industry group did not have figures on the number of drones in operation worldwide but anecdotal evidence showed they were mushrooming.

When the US Federal Aviation Administration ordered a registration of drones weighing up to 55 pounds (25 kilograms) last year, 300,000 were registered within just the first month in December, he said.

While 55-pound drones are considered small, “this just gives you an indicator of the number of vehicles,” Eagles told AFP at the conference.

“There’s going to be an increase in vehicles across the whole scope and range from small to medium size to the larger unmanned vehicles.”

‘Close encounters’
IATA’s primary concern are drones flying at low altitudes near airports which could threaten planes that are taking off or landing, Eagles said.

Aviation regulators also want to make sure that the radio spectrum used to control the drones does not interfere with air traffic control systems, he said.

The Center for the Study of Drones at New York-based Bard College said in a report that it recorded 921 incidents involving drones and manned aircraft in US airspace between December 2013 and September 2015.

Thirty-six percent of these were considered as “close encounters”, it said.

“We found that over 90 percent of all incidents occurred above 400 feet, the maximum altitude at which drones are allowed to fly,” said the report posted on the centre’s website.

In 28 of the incidents, the commercial pilot had to manoeuvre to avoid collision with a drone, it said.

Of the 191 states within the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 63 so far have regulations already in place for drones, Eagles said.

Nine states have pending regulations, while five have banned their use, he said.

“But there’s not a consistency across the regulations,” he said, adding IATA aims to help harmonise global rules.

“There is an urgency associated with it because it’s such a fast-moving industry,” said Eagles.

Canon EOS 80D, PowerShot G7X Mark II, PowerShot SX720 HS Launched in India

Canon EOS 80D, PowerShot G7X Mark II, PowerShot SX720 HS Launched in IndiaCanon has announced three additions to its EOS and PowerShot range of digital cameras. The EOS 80D is the successor to the EOS 70D and will be available for purchase this April. The PowerShot line gets two new additions in the form of the G7X Mark II which will be available in May and the SX720 HS which will arrive in June. While the Indian prices of the above cameras are yet to be finalised, the US pricing for the EOS 80D is $1,199 (approximately Rs. 80,400) body-only, the PowerShot G7X Mark II is $699 (approximately Rs. 47,000), and the PowerShot SX720 HS is $379 (approximately Rs. 25,500).

The EOS 80D improves upon its predecessor with a larger 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and is powered by a newer Digic 6 image processor. The ISO range is now 100-16000, which can can be expanded to 25600. Another major improvement is the new 45-point, cross-type, autofocus system which is up from the previous 19 points on the old model and you now get 7fps burst mode. Video recording quality is also said to be better and the maximum resolution remains 1080p.
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Coming to the new PowerShot models, the PowerShot G7X Mark II boasts of a 1-inch, 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor along with the Digic 7 image processor for better low-light captures. You also get a massive 40x optical zoom, Wi-Fi, NFC, a tiltable 3-inch touchscreen, 1080p video, and in-camera RAW conversion to preview images without a PC.

The PowerShot SX720 HS is geared more towards amateur photographers as it features 40x optical zoom, a dedicated Wi-Fi button, 20.3-megapixel sensor with the Digic 6 image processor, 3-inch LCD and assistive features like Zoom Framing, Story Highlight, and Creative Shot.
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Canon also announced a new EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens, which uses the company’s Nano USM focusing system for quieter and smoother autofocus. This will be available from April onwards. It also added a new accessory to its roster called the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1, for variable powered zoom with a compatible lens. This will be available sometime in the second quarter of this year.

Surface Book, Surface Pro 4 Receiving Update With Battery Drain Fix, More

Surface Book, Surface Pro 4 Receiving Update With Battery Drain Fix, More

Microsoft’s Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4 users have been complaining about battery drain and wake-up issues since the launch of the products, and Microsoft addressed the issue in December – saying it would provide an update sometime this year to fix the problems. It has since rolled out a few updates that didn’t contain a fix, but instead introduced a few more bugs according to users. The company on Wednesday finally starting seeding firmware updates for both the devices that claim to fix the issues as well as bring other system stability improvements.

The Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4 users can check for the update manually by Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. Announcing the update for the Microsoft Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4, Panos Panay, Corporate VP Microsoft in a blog said, “Today’s updates include a set ofMicrosoft and Intel driver and firmware updates for Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 that will help you get the most of the power management options that Surface is designed to offer and continue to make your Surface more productive.”

For fixing the wake-up issues on the devices, Microsoft has updated Surface UEFI which bumps the version to v104.1085.768.0 and improves battery life apart from improving stability during power state transition changes into and out of sleep states. The company also updated Intel Precise Touch Device driver which will also improve stability during power state transition changes into and out of sleep states. The update also brings Surface System Aggregator firmware upgrade that improves accuracy of battery status and battery life during sleep.

Microsoft says that the Surface updates are provided via the Windows Update service, and they are delivered in stages to Surface users. This means that not every Surface user will receive the update at the same time, but will receive it gradually.

Some of the other fixes listed include Surface Management Engine update that improves system stability; Intel HD Graphics 520 driver update improves display stability, system stability and battery life; Intel Display Audio driver update supports compatibility with the updated graphics driver, and Realtek High Definition Audio(SST) driver update improves system stability among other.

Ricoh Launches the Pentax K-1, Its First Full-Frame DSLR

Ricoh Launches the Pentax K-1, Its First Full-Frame DSLRRicoh has finally taken the wraps off its first-ever full-frame DSLR, the Pentax K-1. Designed for professionals, the camera will be available starting April at a retail price of $1,799 (approximately Rs. 1,20,600) for just the body.

The K-1 boats of a 36-megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor and is powered by a new Prime IV image processor that’s capable of recording 14-bit RAW images. The ISO range is set at 100-204800 and is capable of around 4.4fps burst shooting. You also get a 5-axis image stabilisation system, a 33-point autofocus system with 25 cross-type point, and full-HD video recording. There’s an innovative anti-aliasing filter developed for the K-1, which applies microscopic vibrations to the image sensor to minimise moiré patterns in images.

The Pentax K-1 features a magnesium alloy body which is weatherproof thanks to 87 sealing parts. The 3.2-inch LCD display is flexible and features a tempered glass for added durability. There’s built-in Wi-Fi and GPS too for quickly sharing your picture through a smartphone. You also get a crop mode which lets you use the K-1 with lenses designed for Pentax’s APS-C sensor cameras. The sensor’s unique flexible design allows for shooting modes like auto level compensation, image-composition fine-adjustment, and AstroTracer, which simplifies advanced astronomical photography using the built-in GPS module.

The company will be offering a total of 12 full-frame compatible lenses when it hits stores, which include two new models like the HD Pentax-D FA 15-30mm f.2.8 ultra-wide angle zoom lens and the HD Pentax-D FA 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 compact, lightweight zoom lens.

Mattel to Launch View-Master VR Headset Successor Later This Year

Mattel to Launch View-Master VR Headset Successor Later This Year

American toy manufacturing company Mattel impressed many of us last year with its View-Master virtual reality headset. It was cheap, it was well-designed, and it utilised Google Cardboard’s guidelines. The company has announced that it will be launching the second-generation of the device dubbed View-Master Viewer DLX later this year with improved features.

First, the company is improving the design of the View-Master to make it more useful. It says that the View-Master 2.0 – or Viewer DLX – will have a plastic adapter in the headset to accommodate small-sized smartphones. Also, the original View-Master prevented users from connecting their headphones to the connected smartphone. The forthcoming generation will have a headphone jack adapter.

Users will also get a better view when using the View-Master. Mattel says it has enhanced the optical lenses for the upcoming version of its head-mounted virtual reality gear. A wearer now also gets the option to make focal adjustments.

The View-Master virtual reality gear was launched last year at a price point of $30. Gizmodo reports that the new version will be a little pricey. According to the publication, the Mattel View-Master Viewer DLX will cost $40 (roughly Rs. 2,800), and launch later this year.

While it wasn’t obvious at its launch event, Google cleverly made a major push to the virtual reality category in 2014. Since then, many companies have launched their own version of the Google Cardboard – which was the Mountain View-based company’s plan all along – with subtle changes and more features while retaining a low-budget price tag. This has resulted in enthusiasts and kids alike get their heads around this nascent technology.

Leap Motion Opens Door to Reach Into Virtual Worlds With ‘Orion’

Leap Motion Opens Door to Reach Into Virtual Worlds With 'Orion'

California virtual reality startup Leap Motion on Wednesday opened a door for makers of games or other applications to literally touch virtual worlds.

The San Francisco firm is using its expertise in computer tracking of hands and fingers to let people manipulate things in virtual reality with the kind of dexterity that they do in the real world.

Leap Motion released “Orion,” a combination of hardware and software that lets people use their hands to interact naturally with virtual environments instead of merely watching or needing to use controllers.

“I’m not just being shown a digital space, I am actually in a digital space,” Leap Motion co-founder David Holz told AFP while providing a demonstration of Orion.

“It is a seminal point where technology is just another material in there world; there are atoms and electrons and then bits and bytes all just one thing, and that is pretty awesome.”

Virtual reality is among current hot technology trends, with Facebook-owned Oculus taking pre-ordersfor eagerly-awaited Rift headgear and Sony poised to field a rival device that works with PlayStationvideo game consoles.

Eyewear designed to hold smartphones that act as screens for virtual reality experiences is already offered by an array of companies including Google and South Korean consumer technology colossusSamsung.

Even Apple is reported to have a team secretly working on virtual and augmented reality gear in a budding challenge to Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens.

Microsoft is expected to release a developers version of HoloLens augmented reality visors this year.

‘Critical’ to winning fans
Unlike virtual reality which immerses people in fictional worlds, augmented reality makes information appear to float in the real world.

California-based Apple has not commented on reports it is exploring virtual reality, but chief executive Tim Cook voiced interest during a quarterly earnings call last month.

While video game players have been natural early targets for virtual reality, the technology is being put to use for education, medicine, sports, pornography and more.

“Having hands is critical for virtual reality to go mainstream,” Leap Motion co-founder and chief executive Michael Buckwald told AFP.

“Many thousands of years of evolution have given us the ability to use our hands to do incredibly complicated things in a way that, to us, seems automatic.”

Orion software will work with Leap Motion hand-tracking sensors already on the market, and the company is collaborating with gadget makers to build Orion into consumer devices, according to the co-founders.

“The general notion of virtual reality is that it should be as much like reality as possible,” Holz said.

“Having your hands is a natural thing.”

Most virtual reality gear demonstrated thus far have immersed people in faux worlds as spectators or used hand-held controllers for interacting with fantasy environments.

Orion was built from the ground up specifically for virtual reality.

“It’s radically smoother, faster, more reliable, and far more capable than even the best of what’s existed before,” Holz said.

Developers can download Orion software free online at leapmotion.com/developers if they want to try it out on devices that use the company’s sensors.

“The holy grail of virtual reality is a sense of total immersion and presence,” Buckwald said.

“We’re enabling developers and (equipment makers) to create that type of experience.”