Virtual Reality: Untapped Opportunity

The Science

Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence. That is how the VR techies define Virtual Reality.  For us regular folks, here is a simpler definition: Virtual reality is  computer generated environment that allows the user to experience an alternate reality. This reality may or may not resemble ‘real life’.  The headset uses two small lenses to feed the user’s eyes with three-dimensional images while headphones supply the accompanying soundtrack or noises.

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The VR Engine

Virtual Reality headsets are powered by regular personal computers, since contemporary PCs are sophisticated enough to run software for Virtual Environments.  Headsets consist of two monitors, one for each eye, and they combine images to create a stereoscopic effect. This creates the illusion of depth while exploring a virtual world.

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The user is literally is immersed into a new world that is ‘near reality’ or virtual – so this is called immersion. Once in the user can interact with this new world. The combination of the immersion and the interactivity is what is called Telepresence.

Remember this formula?  Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence

VE designers determine the success of their design when the user becomes completely unaware of their real surroundings and solely focuses on their existence within the virtual environment.

So far most VE involve visual and audio simulation but engineers are working to incorporate the user’s sense of touch – user force feedback and touch interaction is called haptic systems.

The Lingo

  • VE= Virtual Environments
  • VRX= Virtual Reality Experiences
  • Haptic Systems = User Force Feedback and Touch Interaction

How is it already changing our lives?

For perhaps the most obvious place of entry, virtual reality is edging into the Entertainment industry.  Films are being filmed exclusively for VR headsets while live-streamed concerts are giving users a front-row experience from the comfort of their own home.

If you recall the computer monitor at the Home Depot that helps you select the right colour for the living room, it makes sense that the design industry has eagerly adopted VR tech.  Pop on a headset, feed in a picture or two of the room that needs a renovation, you can build a new space with 3-D tools.  

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Collaborative experiences beyond traditional gaming are gaining momentum, you can tap in friends to help you build a 3-d painting -Google’s Tiltbrush.  You can use apps and wand-like controllers to add further customisation to the 3-D experience.

Gaming has gotten infinitely cooler with VR as now game designers flip the switch on traditional designing, creating easter eggs and predicting where their player will actually turn or reach out and touch in the gaming dimension – the possibilities are only limited by their creativity

Did you listen to my latest podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

There is the logical extension of VR tech with Tourism and Exploration of places near and impossibly far – Google Cardboard and others promise a tour of the Planet Mars.

However, I think the potential of disrupting Meditation is infinitely more exciting!  Psychologists in the United States have already starting using it with army vets to treat Post-traumatic Disorder.  Researchers are using VR worlds to explore human behaviour in a safe space, suspended from reality.

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Studies have shown VR sessions to work better than traditional painkillers – meaning it can be used in place of medicines to heal with distraction and engagement of the mind.

Video conferencing has become common-place, but VR technology means logging onto a Tele-presence robot that wheels around automatically in the workplace while you work from a remote location.  It’s not all work, you can also log onto a chat room, not much different from The Sims, and chat or play in the guise of your game avatar.

Shopping in virtual reality is gonna be like never before,as you can try on a new pair of shoes or  squeeze into a shirt before buying it online.

What Skills Are Required to Break into VR Tech Industry? 

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The virtual reality space has taken off and the demand for job candidates with VR knowledge has gone up by 37% since 2015! Since the tech is new, VR Startups and research companies are facing difficulty filling that demand.  There are a large number of jobs available for those open to building virtual-reality apps, games, and experiences. If there is anything that screams CAREER OPPORTUNITY – this would be it.

There are two different types of VR content being created for VRX:

  1.  360 VR Video, and
  2. True-VR .

A career in 360 VR Video asks for experience in  Film Production and VFX skill-set.  The 360 video medium is a highly complex mixture of on-location production skills, sophisticated technical cameras and detailed post-production techniques. Once the experience is hot, technicians need to stitch scenes back into 360 spheres with tools like Kolor, or Nuke compositor. The final edits are made in Premiere, while any motion graphics tweaking is accomplished with After Effects or Fusion.

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360 VR Video content can be used on Youtube 360, Facebook 360 as well as all apps and devices that play VR.

A contender for a job in the 360 VR would require portfolio that exhibits:

  • Examples of grading and editing,
  • VFX breakdowns of complex fixes ,
  • Motion Tracking and embedded motion graphics,and
  • A showreel with their best 360 video work, including samples of before and after post-production stitching.

game-development

Entering into a career in True-VR requires a strong pre-knowledge of game engine technology as well as a demonstrable game design skills-set.  The workflow for True-VR is similar to traditional game development, from modelling and animating to the eventual rendering.  Virtual Experiences created by True-VR technicians are geared for headsets such as Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, HTC Vive, and even the humble Samsung Gear VR.

Familiarity with the following programs will be beneficial for any True-VR hopeful:

  • Animation and Modelling: Maya or 3ds Max
  • Sculpting and Texturing: Mudbox, ZBrush, or Mari
  • Final Rendering and Publication:  Unity or UnReal Engine

Within True-VR there are two career paths:

VR Developer

Those looking to become VR Developers should have a showreel of VR experiences they have created for game engines, a downloadable link to the game or experience, sample code in C#, C+ or equivalent and further detail of the content they have created.

3D Artist

Those wanting to become 3D Artists should have a showreel that best exhibits their artistry in live games and experiences, wireframes and samples of their work in a game engine like Unity, UE4 or Marmoset.

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Interested in the software end of things and itching to break into Virtual Reality Development? You will need experience in the following to break into B2B VR startups:
  • Strong Knowledge of Realtime Game Engine Tech + Arts Skills: Designing and Developing with 3D Modelling Software such as 3ds Max or Maya, texture or sculpting in Zbrush or Mari and Unity or UnReal Engine to pull the whole project together.
  • SDKs (Software Development Kits) being used by VR developers, such as SDK 0.8 for Oculus,
  • Head tracking, 3D calibration and side-by-side rendering, and
  • Programming Experience with C or C ++ languages.

Leaning towards hardware? Skills from PC and Mobile Phone technology easily transfer over to immersive filming. You will need experience in Optics since visualisation is key for developing engaging Virtual Environments (VE).

Past Gaming – Where Else Can VR Be Found?

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VR jobs are expected to show up in education, military and medical fields as tech can be used for trainings, simulations, safety modulations  – as well as construction, engineering and architecture that can exploit 3D design to optimise models/estimates.

Venture into Computer Vision to understand the fundamentals of VR Tracking and camera-based user interaction.  Cognitive computer engineers are needed to help businesses create, test, and evaluate cognitive software designed for their computer network.

On The Horizon

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Scientists are also exploring the possibility of developing biosensors for VR use. A biosensor can detect and interpret nerve and muscle activity. With a properly calibrated biosensor, a computer can interpret how a user is moving in physical space and translate that into the corresponding motions in virtual space. Biosensors may be attached directly to the skin of a user, or may be incorporated into gloves or bodysuits. One limitation to biosensor suits is that they must be custom made for each user or the sensors will not line up properly on the user’s body

Thinking Out Loud

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Is this it, fellow humans? Is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and creativity  limited to regurgitating real-life scenarios onto digital screens for rapid consumption?  Are we fulfilling the prophecy predicted by the animated movie ‘Wall-E’?

Are we destined to become increasingly sedentary, floating about on hoverchairs, consuming packaged foods, viewing the world through strapped-on headsets and booking our flights to the nearest planet?

Listen to latest Catalyst Woman podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

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bits, bytes, blockchain

CW bits,bytes,blockchainBlockchain is today what Big Data/ Cloud Data was back in 2012- part new-kid-on-the-block and part mysterious technological chanteuse. Everybody’s talking about it, everybody wants a piece of it and almost everybody is intrigued by it.

The open ledger-mining method for tracking, trading and creating digital -slash- cryptocurrency called Bitcoin for monetary transactions across the internet – that’s how most of us have been introduced to Blockchain technology.

Not familiar with what  Blockchain is?

“The blockchain is a digital ledger of sorts, where all transactions that have been made, or events that may have occurred, can be seen online, by anyone, without compromising the privacy of the parties involved. These ledgers are shared and distributed amongst different computing nodes, and can only be changed once there is a shared consensus among all nodes. Once information is entered, it cannot be erased, and the distributed nature of these records — along with a built-in layer of cryptographic protections — make them difficult to hack or alter by any one individual.”

A blockchain is a massive, fraud-resistant distributed ledger that could be the new infrastructure of the future. The open ledger uses consensus algorithms to transparently record and verify any transactions without a third party. It replaces the middleman with mathematics. Because the blockchain infrastructure is decentralized, there’s a lot less friction and time wasted than traditional, centralized processes.

CW blockchain everythingNow, more and more, we hear of Blockchain being paired up with varying partners – Education, the Banking sector, Governance  to the Music industry- any discipline where records are kept.

Zeroing in on my particular favourite, what can we expect if Blockchain technology is applied to Education? In particular, what, if any, revolutionizing will take place if the open ledger database system is applied to everyone’s academic records?

Looping back to last year’s hottest story, the Axact – Fake Degree scandal, there are enough people out there with inauthentic academic qualifications, intentional or not, to make a case for verification of academic credentials and to identify products of diploma mills. Then the question is raised whether a public ledger system for educational records will be considered reliable.

Audrey Watters covers this particular conundrum wonderfully in a recent post of hers. Here’s an excerpt:

…When it comes to issues of “trust” and, say, academic certification, who is not trusted here? Is it the problem that folks believe students/employees lie about their credentials? Or is the problem that credential-issuing entities aren’t trustworthy? I mean, why/how would we “trust” the entity issuing blockchained credentials? (What is actually the source of “trust” in our current credentialing system? Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily accreditation.) How would the trustworthiness of blockchained credential-issuing institutions be measured or verified? If it’s by the number of transactions (eg. badges issued), doesn’t that encourage diploma milling?”

Audrey Watters of  Aud.Life 

According to The New Stack blog, the Holberton School in San Francisco is using blockchain technology in a bid to authenticate degrees it offers. Effectively providing a service to both the graduate as well as the potential employer by being the very first educational institution to offer secured and publicly accessible academic certificates in the world.  Sounds like music to my ears, what with recent experiences in hiring department, though it seems to put the pressure on other institutions to either follow suit or share why they will stick with the status quo.

Sony Global Education announced it’s launch of  block-chain-based technology to share academic records; Sony’s product will be in the market sometime in 2017.

I had been meaning to write about this for a few days now, however, with the global uproar over the Panama Leaks, it seems to be kismet!

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca….The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

The scandal lines up nicely with the topic at-hand; with such wide-scale corruption, a decentralized, distributed model of public record-keeping applied to the purchase and transfer of assets seems to be a scheme worth trying.

data_transferIs the growing enthusiasm for uber-transparency in all services up for consumption a symptom of the decaying global economies?

Are we abandoning the bogeymans enforced on us in the era of Capitalism and trumped up banking charges to embrace the glaring authenticity of a public record-keeping system for all transactions  – all to avoid a dystopian future where no markets exist except for under totalitarian rule? (Think of any post-apocolyptical society represented in popular Hollywood cinema)

Is this the continuation of the global equality movement underpinned by technology – such as open source softwares or free online college courses?

Or is this forced declaration of one’s records (financial, academic, professional, etc) exploiting technology and millennial zeal for transparency to satisfy the need of habitual whistle-blowers and conspiracy theorists?

Tell me what you think. Leave a comment below. Tweet at @marsonearth or @catalystwoman

 

Wireless Charging is Here! – Beam Me Up Scotty!

The phone is bleeping every 3 seconds and it’s about to shut down.  You rush to nearest cafe sit down and reach for… nothing. No need for a charger.  The wireless charging network being offered by the host cafe/office/airport/mall/public space will automatically charge your phone.

This will soon be a real scenario thanks to the innovative AND inventive research of Meredith Perry of UBeam. She claim that the wireless charging model being offered by her company will be as commonplace as wifi internet. Ubeam uses sound, technically ultrasound waves  emitting from a small panel to charge electronic devices.

Meredith goes as far to promise that this technology will remove the need for international adapters and eventually power outlets!

Work It, Girl: How Tech Has Changed the WorkDay

My browser is overflowing tabs with various articles covering the transformation of ‘Work’ in contemporary times. CatalystWoman I simply can not get enough of this discussion, and despite the different sources, these writings make up a vital dialogue about the future of ‘Work’.  All our academic lives are spent in preparation for our entrance into the workforce; if there is a revolution going on regarding the employment sector, it’s high-time that education gets a thorough appraisal.

Couple of questions:

How relevant is today’s college education?

Are universities teaching employable skills?  Or are they just pacing mechanisms so the job force can be refreshed in a cyclical fashion?

How can online-learning, Massive Open Online Courses and other cheap, digitally-empowered learning tools enable a young person to earn a living without a traditional degree?

Has technology completely rewritten the constructs of gainful employment?

Does telecommuting break the industrial-era confines of the 9-5 workday?

Can video-conferencing and real-time messaging FINALLY rid us of the excessive time-wasting corporate habit of Meetings?

Have the Millennials turned the corner on the traditional office with their adoption of freelancing? Or, is it more accurate to say that the Millennials are adapting to the weak global job market and growing consumerism by ‘going organic’, simplifying their lifestyles and hawking all skills available to make ends meet?

In attempt to find these answers or risk confusing you further, I share snippets from across the web:

Freelancing, contrary to popular belief, is not just restricted to stay-at-home parents and aspiring novelists; it is increasingly a deliberate part of many people’s work routine. Freelancing and it’s twin, Telecommuting, provide workers greater flexibility and varied projects without the limitation of geography.

With 83% of millennials claiming that freelancing is a cornerstone of their career strategy and the dramatic increase in funding of crowdsourcing-centric companies, could we be facing a 21st-century industrial revolution? A workforce shift this substantial has not been seen in 100 years and an Intuit report predicts 60 million people will be contingent workers by 2020. It’s clear that the future of work is changing.

Millennials are less concerned about job security or full-time employment, and more concerned about flexibility, adaptability and variety. They are leaving the full-time workforce to piece together a career path on their own.

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When we combine that sentiment with the constant push in America for entrepreneurship, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that millennials are more free-thinking and independent than previous generations. The idea of climbing up a corporate ladder seems so alien since so many storied companies have ceased to exist in our lifetimes and the process seems so divergent from actually improving humanity.

It also helps that technology has brought down the costs of building our own companies and service organizations. Today, anyone – not just millennials – has this alternative option of simply ignoring everyone and going their own way. The stasis of the world has been replaced with technology-based flexibility powered by the cloud and mobile devices.

Empowerment has a price though. If ever there was a debate to be had in this country, it is that the great projects of our time still do take significant teams to build. Everyone can’t be a founder. While we have a cooperative and community-oriented spirit, that doesn’t necessarily translate into wanting to join someone else’s startup or nonprofit. Indeed, we probably want to start our own.

The Millennial Delusion

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Shortening the work-week leads to more productive, engaged employees  and a dramatic drop in absenteeism- Now is anyone really surprised about that?

“Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he [CEO Basecamp] writes. “When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

Is the Four Day Work Week Right For Your Company?

The questions keep on coming – as do the observations as we keep pace with the rapid changes in tech and the workplace.  As digital natives, will we be able to retain our hold on technology as a tool for completing tasks?   Now that is a question for next time.

CSP15: Talking about Cyber Safety in Islamabad

Alternative Title: How to Keep the Cyber Creeps Away

Good to be back on here! So let’s do a recap, shall we?I was invited to run a workshop on Cybersafety for Women and Children at the Cybersecure Pakistan Conference 2015 in Islamabad last month.  Continue reading “CSP15: Talking about Cyber Safety in Islamabad”

Tech Conferences in Pakistan – 2015 Calendar

Conference Calendar

Upcoming Tech Conferences in Pakistan:

*This post will be updated on a monthly basis.

‘Read Later’ tabs: Google Glass, the Secretary Effect & Big Data

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Looking to purchase a Google Glass of your own? Better hurry, you only have until January 19th! Google is sending the wearable project underground, in the capable hands of Tony Fadell (former Apple guy + current head of Nest Labs) and will be selling to companies/developers only for app development.   Bought it? If not, guess you will have to wait it out with me for Glass version 2 to roll out later this year.

Continue reading “‘Read Later’ tabs: Google Glass, the Secretary Effect & Big Data”