Augmented Reality

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Microsoft wins $480M military contract to outfit soldiers with HoloLens AR tech

Microsoft is readying its HoloLens augmented reality tech for combat. The company just won a $480 million military contract with the U.S. government to bring AR headset tech into the weapon repertoires of American soldiers.

The two-year contract may result in follow-on orders of more than 100,000 headsets according to documentation describing the bidding process. One of the contract’s tag lines for the AR tech seems to be its ability to enable “25 bloodless battles before the 1st battle,” suggesting that actual combat training is going to be an essential aspect of the AR headset capabilities.

“Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement sent to TechCrunch.

Magic Leap was also pursuing the contract according to the report in Bloomberg. The military contract bid was perhaps a bit more of a stretch for the company which has previously maintained that its company’s efforts are focused centrally on consumers. The startup has only recently released its first development kit, while Microsoft’s tech has been in developer hands for more than two years.

Some of the documentation (PDF download) surrounding this bid is intensely interesting and really showcases how extensively the military has researched how augmented reality tech can alter the training and combat environments of soldiers.

Obviously, Microsoft wouldn’t just be planning to take what it’s been selling to factory workers and put it onto a battlefield, but the system requirements outlined in the contract already seem to eclipse what the current generation HoloLens optics are capable of, including items like the device’s FoV which will have a requirement of between 55 and 110 degrees.

Other stipulations include the device being no heavier than 1.5 pounds and being compatible with existing military helmets. The head-worn device would specifically track weapons and allow soldiers to see simulated fire from their real weapons while offering offering training with weapons like Javelin missile systems in a completely simulated environment.

These are all just early frameworks, but Microsoft now will be developing technologies that keep the U.S. military at the forefront of augmented reality tech, something that will probably be a boon to their enterprise focused solutions as well.

You’ll look ridiculous playing Snapchat’s new AR games, and maybe that’s OK

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When the iPad first came out, people looked kinda ridiculous using it out and about. 

That doesn’t quite compare to Snapchat’s new AR games feature, “Snappables,” which consists of games that let you control what’s happening using your face.

As witnessed in the Snappables trailer, you can fight aliens in an Space Invaders-style game by moving your head around, or pump iron at the gym with your eyebrows. You can also invite friends on Snapchat to play along in multiplayer games.

There are very few of us with the confidence to play Snappables in public, but at least Snap is encouraging you to try. Read more…

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Snapchat lenses just got a lot better, if you have an iPhone X

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Attention iPhone X owners: Snapchat is finally making good on its promise to make its augmented reality selfie lenses better.

Today, the company is officially launching a new lineup of lenses that’ve been optimized for the iPhone X’s front-facing TrueDepth camera.

First previewed last fall during Apple’s iPhone X launch event, Snap specially designed the lenses to take advantage of the face-tracking abilities of the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera. What this means for you, a selfie-obsessed Snapchat user, is that the new lenses will be better able to “stick” to your face, making them look slightly more realistic (or, as “realistic” as a brightly-colored mask can look, anyway). Read more…

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Snap reportedly bought its very own 3D game engine

Snapchat’s parent company bought a web-based 3D game engine startup out of the UK this past May, Business Insider (paywalled) reports.

PlayCanvas is a development tool focused on letting people easily design rich 3D environments. Unlike products from companies like Unity and Epic Games, PlayCanvas’s game engine was entirely browser-based and was optimized to run on low-power devices. The focus of the WebGL engine stretches from configuring 3D models to running entire games.

The small London-based company was founded in 2011 and raised just $590,000 in seed funding from investors including the Microsoft Accelerator and DC Thomson Ventures according to Crunchbase. We don’t know how much the deal went for.

While many of Snap’s recent acquisitions have focused on bolstering consumer-facing features, PlayCanvas seems to be focused squarely on developers. The most obvious use of a tool would have been to integrate the technology into Snap’s Lens Studio product where developers can build their own AR Lens effects. Snap has recently been drawing more attention to third-party AR creations, and it’s clear that if the company wants to reach any sort of scale in its augmented reality plans, it’s going to have to hand over the reigns to a developer network.

We have reached out to Snap for confirmation.

Selfie app Snow, once a Snapchat clone, raises $50M from SoftBank and Sequoia China

 It’s been a while since we heard from Snow, the Snapchat clone app in Asia that Facebook once tried to buy, but today the company behind it has scooped up a $50 million investment from SoftBank and Sequoia China.
Snow was started by Naver, the Korean firm behind popular messaging app Line, and it had proven popular in Japan, Korea, China and other markets in Asia thanks to a focus on… Read More

The AR-powered fighting MekaMon robot goes on sale at Apple Stores

 After selling out of its initial run of 500, U.K.-based Reach Robotics scored a $7.5 million funding round to help it produce a more consumer-ready version of its battling robotics platform. Turns out VCs weren’t the only ones paying close attention to the company’s product: Apple has also been watching the company’s growth with keen interest. Read More

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This AR app lets you ‘try before you buy’ plants for your home

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Having more plants in your home can absorb airborne pollutants and improve your air quality, which can in turn affect your general wellbeingNASA knows it, we all know it. But what’ll work in your space, aesthetically?

New Australian app Plant Life Balance uses AR to help you “try before you buy,” and create a tangible shopping list of plants to take to your local nursery.

You can assess your current “plant-life balance” (how many rooms you have, how many plants), then use AR to drop in over 90 plant recommendations, and get an analysis of their benefits. Read more…

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Three computer vision experts join TechCrunch’s Tel Aviv event

 Who’s going to be the next Mobileye? Computer vision is a hot topic for the tech industry, and especially in Israel. It seems like Israeli entrepreneurs are one step ahead when it comes to developing computer vision technology. That’s why we’re excited to announce that three computer vision experts are going to join us on stage to share their knowledge about this space. First… Read More

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Microsoft HoloLens delivers first ever augmented reality Easter Egg hunt

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Easter Sunday is just hours away, and since it’s 2017, and we’re apparently living in the future, Microsoft has unveiled the first ever augmented reality Easter Egg hunt. 

The game was unveiled this weekend in Los Angeles at the VRLA conference where Microsoft and a team of AR developers allowed me to enter a surrealist forest construct where holographic eggs could be found using the HoloLens headset. 

While the rest of the world can only see the physical environment of the forest room space, using the HoloLens I was immediately presented with a living landscape, filled with the sounds of birds, animated flowers and rabbits furtively scurrying around the space. And when I discovered my first Easter Egg, the egg responded to my gaze by exploding open into a Disney-like flourish of color and sound.  Read more…

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Alibaba invests in WayRay, a maker of augmented-reality dashboards for smart cars

 After launching its first car last year, Alibaba is digging deeper into the automobile industry. The Chinese Internet and e-commerce behemoth is the lead investor in smart car tech developer WayRay’s $18 million Series B round, the startup announced. Read More

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Confirmed: Magic Leap acquires 3D division of Dacuda in Zurich

magicleap-shutterstock_344631905 Magic Leap, the augmented reality startup that has raised $1.4 billion in funding but has yet to release a product, has made an acquisition to expand its work in computer vision and deep learning, and to build out its operations into Europe.
The company has acquired the 3D division of Dacuda, a computer vision startup based out of Zurich. One of Dacuda’s focuses had been… Read More

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Let's turn off Magic Leap's mixed reality hype machine

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There is vaporware and then there’s oh-shut-up-and-just-release-the-damn-product-ware. The latter is what many have come to think of when the name Magic Leap is mentioned. 

And with good reason.

Founded back in 2011, the hype train for what many believe is an augmented reality headset or glasses company left the station around 2014. Since then, the company has racked up investments from the likes of Google and others amounting to over $1 billion, as well as tantalizing testimonials from high-profile names who have tried the technology and have indicated that it’s so impressive it may change computing forever.   Read more…

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Google is bringing a rainforest right to your smartphone

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Most of us have never stepped anywhere near a rainforest, much less had a chance to explore it — something Google hopes to change with its new augmented reality experience.

The “Into the Wild” exhibit sees some 1,000 square meters turned into a virtual rainforest, home to orangutans, Malayan tapirs and tiny mouse deer. 

In order to view the sights, visitors pick up a Lenovo smartphone enabled with Tango, an augmented reality platform developed by Google.

The exhibition, the first of its kind to launch in Asia, is held at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. Read more…

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Snapchat’s next Lenses could identify and add to landscapes as well as faces

snapchat-world-lens Snap, Inc. is working on an updated version of its in-app Snapchat lenses that would be able to recognize landscapes as well as faces, according to The Information, and intelligently overlay augmented reality animations and objects overtop of scenes captured through your camera. This is different from its existing smart Lenses, which can add features like snowfall to scenes, because it can… Read More

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Hugo Barra joins Facebook to lead its VR efforts, including Oculus

16265529_10103456684228891_2797602321406032996_n Hugo Barra, who previously held a positions as a key VP for Android at Google, and led Xiaomi’s international efforts in a VP role at the Chinese company, is now joining Facebook. Barra announced his departure from Xiaomi on January 22, after a three-and-a-half year stint at the company. Barra will lead all of Facebook’s VR efforts, including Oculus, according to Facebook CEO… Read More

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Microsoft partners with Trimble, University of Cambridge to make HoloLens a better tool for the construction industry

2017-01-24_2120 Microsoft has long positioned its HoloLens augmented reality (AR) helmet as a tool for the enterprise. One of the verticals the company has been especially interested in is construction and late last year, Trimble’s $1,499 SketchUp Viewer became the first commercial HoloLens application for the construction industry in the Windows Store. Since then, Microsoft has partnered with Trimble… Read More

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Bots_alive kit imbues toy robots with charming, lifelike AI

bots_alive There will be no shortage at Toy Fair next month of robots and gadgets promising artificial intelligence — and generally falling short. But a more modest approach from an actual AI researcher has produced a clever and accessible way to create lifelike behavior through a simple and elegant modification of a popular existing robot. Read More

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Sundance merges VR with real life through props, AR, and vibrating suits

sundance-new-frontier-synesthesia-suit You can’t try this at home, even if you wanted to. Today’s premiere of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibit proved there are vivid opportunities for a third kind of virtual reality beyond tethered and mobile: VR installations. Outside the headset, custom art and physical effects set the scene before you enter, deepen the immersion while you’re enveloped… Read More

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