A 360-degree camera can see everything in the room, so VR directors are designing new workarounds

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Child: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Child: There is no spoon.

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The next time you put on a virtual reality headset, watch a live-action film and try to be like Neo. Look around and realize that as realistic as the scene might look, a film set without cameras, lights, or sound equipment is impossible. You’re not inside The Matrix, but what’s really going on here?

The 360-degree nature of VR cameras creates a new challenge for directors, who now have to figure out how to make a film where the camera records everything within sight. A VR camera looks otherworldly — like a high-tech hydrangea. The high-end versions feature a dozen or more cameras arranged in a sphere, lenses pointed out. Once you film something and stitch all the videos together, you get a 360-degree movie suitable for viewing inside a virtual reality headset. …


In virtual reality, anyone can fly—it just takes some savvy design choices

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As a kid, I wanted to be Ender Wiggin. Not because I wanted to save the world like the boy-wonder protagonist in Ender’s Game, but because I wanted to play what sounded like the best game ever: Two teams face off in a zero-gravity arena aboard a space station, with the objective to pass through the other team’s goal.

This summer, I finally got to play. There’s a new virtual reality game called Echo Arena that is a close replica of the game described in the book. Instead of passing through the other team’s goal, you throw a disc through it. …


VR is especially suited to tapping into our emotions, and creators are getting better at designing for it

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I’m standing in the middle of a frozen lake when an animated white rabbit approaches me. She looks me in the eye and crouches, ready to play. I crouch too.

The scene takes place inside Invasion, an interactive virtual reality film developed by California-based Baobab Studios. It’s not the climax of the film (that comes later, when a pair of aliens arrive), but it’s one of the most illustrative.

Virtual reality, it turns out, is excellent at playing into our emotions. We watch movies when we want to laugh or cry and play video games when we want to feel excited. But virtual reality has an extra ingredient: the feeling that the viewer is really there participating in the scene. …


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Melonee Wise. Source: Fetch Robotics

After famed robotics laboratory Willow Garage dissolved in 2014, it released a class of highly-trained roboticists to start their own companies. Melonee Wise — who worked on landmark robots such as PR-2 and the open source Robot Operating System — is now the CEO of Fetch Robotics, which builds autonomous robots for warehouses.

In the second episode of the ARCHITECHT AI and Robot Show, Wise explains how easily humans work alongside Fetch’s robots. …


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New neuroscience complicates gender theories which maintain that behavior is shaped by social expectations

By Signe Brewster

Press an American to explain the differences between men and women and you will get a whole gamut of answers. They might say women are more emotional. Or, they might say the only fundamental differences are reproductive organs and hormones, that everything else is a product of social expectations (i.e. nurture over nature).

Both answers are questionable. …


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Building homes — and community — from shipping containers

By Signe Brewster

Luke Iseman smiled slyly as he unlocked an unassuming fence east of San Francisco. He was about to make the big reveal: a massive warehouse with plain, white rectangular shipping containers that are home to him, and about 15 others. They call their no-frills compound, “Containertopia.” The community signed a lease for the 17,000-square foot industrial space last spring, after getting booted off a lot they were occupying illegally in Oakland.

Iseman’s shipping-container dwelling sits near the entrance, its front door positioned to provide a sweeping view of the loading dock — a dim, tall, concrete room now used as Containertopia’s utilitarian entry hall. Inside, his furnishings are simple: a lofted bed, shelving, a small fridge, and a toaster oven. He wired it for electricity and put in piping for a modest shower and sink. He installed its windows and door. …


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Meditations on tech across generations

Dear Mom,

I remember the first time I was awed by you. You lugged my brother and me to northern Minnesota for yet another work function. But instead of leaving us in the hotel, you brought us to a bland convention center room where a crowd had gathered. The state presented an award or a permit — I don’t remember exactly what — and after you spoke the crowd cheered and cameras flashed. I remember feeling so proud, so awed by your achievements.

That day taught me that I should always cherish what you tell me. Yes, you’re my mother and elder, but you’re also an individual who negotiated her way from small-town farm girl to entrepreneurial powerhouse. You know things and, just as importantly, you’re always willing to lend an ear and advice. As we covered in our earlier letter, you have always let me forge my own path, but you gave me directions when I asked along the way. …


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Meditations on tech across generations

Dear Mom,

I have a confession: I’ve never negotiated a salary. I’m not alone: A 2007 study found that one eighth of graduating female MBAs negotiated job offers, compared to half of the males.

It has always felt like something I should do, but I lose my nerve every time. I’m not even an MBA; I’m a relatively recent journalism grad competing with thousands of others for a handful of positions. …


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Meditations on tech across generations

Dear Mom,

I never really thought that gender discrimination would play a part in my life. I grew up in the ‘90s, taking it for granted that women worked and led and contributed to the world in powerful ways. No one ever told me I couldn’t do anything because of my gender. It felt irrelevant.

But as I eased my way into the workforce, I saw that wasn’t exactly true. As a technology journalist, I’ve grown accustomed to walking into a conference or an office and being one of a handful of women. …


The last time I saw my grandmother, I helped her up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. One hand clutched my elbow while the other leaned on the 100-year-old redwood bannister. I wondered if I should carry her.

She told me about the time she took the bus from San Jose to San Francisco and got off at 12th Street instead of 12th Avenue, and how there was no payphone to call for directions to her friend’s apartment. She remembered 12th Street being warehouses, but now it didn’t look so bad.

She told me how she couldn’t believe she was climbing these stairs at 81, how she never thought she’d visit my apartment given her old bones and the dialysis. She never thought she’d see San Francisco again, and she really liked the architecture on the street and the mosaic in the entryway. …

About

Signe Brewster

Science and technology journalist

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