Friday Five: VR surgery and expressive robots
Zone’s Mark Sylvester handpicks and shares the five best stories on new digital trends, experiences and technologies…
1. A new touch point for VR
First there was virtual reality. Then there was fun with VR. And then there was the practical application of VR for pretty important roles, such as training pilots to fly aeroplanes. Now London start-up FundamentalVR has opened the door to a whole new range of uses, with a twist in the tech that introduces haptic feedback — or, more simply, physical resistance that engages your sense of touch.
The initial idea is to enhance surgical training, which already utilises VR but has lacked that all-important and incredibly realistic ‘touch’ until now. However, seeing as the tech replicates the touch and feel of whatever you’re visualising, the potential for applying it to everything from skills training to gaming would appear nearly limitless.
2. The robots are still rising
Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated and a bit scared by robots. But they really are here, and human nature being what it is, we’re not going to stop until we’ve got them doing all the things we think robots should do. So, let’s all welcome the newest robot on the block, the Simulative Emotional Expression Robot. Or SEER to you and me.
SEER isn’t shy about locking eyes on the nearest human and mimicking their facial expressions to a T. And while it’s just a prototype, the tech paves the way for lifelike personal assistants of the future and maybe even robotic teachers, since new research has shown that kids are far more likely to be influenced by robots than adults. Oh, and in ancient times a ‘Seer’ was an oracle who could foretell the future…
3. Alexa and Cortana sitting in a tree…
Our virtual lives could be on the brink of getting a whole lot easier, as Amazon and Microsoft have put rivalry on the backburner to bring those crazy kids Alexa and Cortana together. The plan, being trialled right now, is for users to be able to use the virtual assistants on each company’s respective devices.
Most features will be available straight away, minus music streaming and setting alarms, and the long-term thinking appears to be that Cortana will become your sensible business brain, while Alexa brings the fun. Apart from slight concern that Alexa will blurt out your love of 90s boyband anthems when you really wanted Cortana to schedule that meeting with your CEO, this looks like a good thing, with two big-hitters putting differences aside for the good of the consumer.
4. Surfing into sleep deprivation
Ultra-fast broadband may now be a widely accepted human right, but it’s also depriving us of lots of valuable shut-eye. Sorry, it’s a fact. Claims that our web dependency has a negative impact on our sleep patterns are nothing new, but now researchers in Germany have the cold hard data to back it up.
The legacy of having been split between a modern West and more backward-looking East means Germany’s internet access is deeply polarised, providing the perfect environment to test our suspicions. The research doesn’t come with any quick-win solutions, and I suppose it’s down to all of us to decide what our ideal internet-sleep balance is. Glass of warm milk, anyone?
5. Tech giants face a decryption crisis
The wrangle between law enforcement and internet bigwigs like Facebook and Google over access to encrypted comms has taken a new twist in Australia. Proposed legislation could force the companies to decrypt comms where possible, or build new decryption capabilities if they don’t have the technical ability.
Encrypted messaging apps, emails and information stored on devices is all up for decryption grabs, adding fuel to the fiery argument around personal privacy, brands’ online security protocols and government demands on the grounds of public safety. It’s the sharp end of the ongoing question about the relationship between rapidly expanding technical abilities and society. Questions don’t come much bigger.