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Spatial and Nreal partner to make AR meetings a reality

Augmented reality is seen as a boon for the workplace of the future because it would allow co-workers to collaborate remotely using digital avatars and 3D virtual objects that can be viewed and manipulated in real-time during a meeting. 

That vision is behind the announcement Thursday by Spatial and Nreal, who are teaming up to offer AR collaboration software and hardware.  

Nreal unveiled its Nreal Light smartglasses at CES last month; the headset won plaudits for their light weight, usability and moderate prcing. The smart glasses are slated to go on sale later this for $499.

Under the partnership, Spatial’s software will run on Nreal Light, which relies on a smartphone for compute power, offering an affordable way to connect workers in virtual meetings and opening the potential for 5G connectivity as more compatible smartphones arrive on the market. 

“I think this partnership is definitely a big deal because it gives Spatial access to probably one of the hottest AR companies out there and it gives Nreal access to more use cases for their headset,” said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

It’s another boost for Spatial, which has previously partnered with Microsoft to adapt its device-agnostic software for Microsoft’s mixed reality HoloLens; those headsets are more powerful, but also considerably more expensive, than Nreal Light. Spatial also runs on Facebook’s Oculus Quest and Qualcomm’s XR2. 

“[Spatial] understands they need a platform that allows as many AR headsets as possible to collaborate with one another seamlessly and effectively,” said Sag. “I believe that they are laser focused on enabling enterprises to collaborate remotely but also to do it in a way that adds value with immersive collaboration and engagement.”

5G connectivity as a differentiator

The two vendors are working with Korea’s LG Uplus, Japan’s KDDI and Deutsche Telekom in Germany on 5G connectivity.

“Consumers will be able to work or interact with anyone, anywhere as if sitting next to each other,” said Spatial co-founder and CEO Anand Agarawala in a statement.

The use of 5G is designed to help overcome some of the barriers to an AR workplace, said Sag. “I believe that 5G will be important for removing some of the connectivity barriers that exist today and reducing the need for as many layers of security in order to collaborate,” he said. 

“Collaborating over Wi-Fi when on the same network is great, but once you start incorporating outside networks, you run into security and reliability issues and that’s really where 5G is a major value add,” Sag said.

“5G will be faster than 4G, but the reality is that some 4G is already quite fast to accomplish some of these things. The problem is that 4G is not consistently that fast and that’s really what is going to come with 5G and what’s needed to up-level collaboration and engagement between employees.”

Details about pricing, packaging and plans to work with U.S. telecom firms were not immediately available.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Mobile security perceptions don’t approach reality. And that’s a problem.

In general, security vendors love consumer surveys where consumers say that they would never, ever, ever do business with a retailer or a bank with poor security practices. But consumers have historically been terrible predictors of their own behavior, and they also tend to tell retailers and banks what they want to hear, rather than the truth.

And the truth, based on the public financial filings of plenty of companies that have suffered public data breaches, is that consumers — partially thanks to zero liability programs from the payment card companies — tend to not change retailers or banks when such data breaches happen. Why? Quite a few reasons. First, zero liability sees to it that they don’t lose any money (it actually limits losses to $50, but almost no business enforces that, and they tend to simply eat all of the consumer losses). If consumers lost large amounts of money from breached retailers or banks, yes, they’d flee, but that doesn’t happen.

Then you have the reality that consumers often don’t read about these breaches and, even if they do, they tend to not care. If a store is offering a product or service that they want and the price is good, they are not going to abandon that retailer because of a data breach nine months ago that didn’t end up impacting the consumer. As for the consumer lying to a survey, that’s simply a case of sending the message they want to send. Those consumers want the retailers/banks to protect their money, so they’ll gleefully check off the box that says “I’ll abandon a retailer that doesn’t have great security” because, well, why not? It doesn’t obligate them to do anything.

I bring this up because of a pair of surveys that hit my desk this week. Identity vendor Ekata reported that “91 percent will not use a platform again if they are a victim of fraud.” Not true. Assuming the survey is accurate, it merely means that the overwhelming majority of consumers will say this when filling out a survey, not that they will indeed abandon that platform. That’s vendor wishful thinking.

Tip for any CISO/CSO or IT leaders who are being pitched by a security vendor that makes a claim that consumers will abandon retailers or banks (payment card processors and card brands are a different case): Ask the sales rep to name any publicly held retailer or bank that has been breached and then suffered a statistically significant number of customer departures. Then hit the SEC database, look up that business’s quarterly filings and see if it reported any breach-related losses. You won’t find any. It’s an argument that works in surveys but not in the real world.

Part of this is because of departure friction. The simple truth is that it’s a hassle to change banks — and the more services the consumer uses, the harder it is to leave — and a pain to switch retailers (because the customer most probably likes the merchandise and the pricing and convenience or else wouldn’t be a repeat, longtime customer). I make an exception for Visa and Mastercard because there is little to no friction switching from one to the other. And major processors lose money when breached because it’s other businesses — not consumers — that abandon them.

This brings us to the second item that crossed my desk. It was a survey from Iovation, a fraud detection vendor. That survey found that “close to two-thirds (64 percent) agree that they would switch financial institutions/credit card companies for ones that have more advanced security protocols in place, while 61 percent agree that they would switch to a company that makes security easier for them.”

“Makes security easier” is an interesting point that I’ll get back to that in a moment. But there’s a big problem with consumers saying that “they would switch financial institutions/credit card companies for ones that have more advanced security protocols in place.” Specifically, the overwhelming majority of consumers have no clue what security protocols are in place with financial institutions or payment card companies. When was the last time you saw a consumer pen-testing a financial institution, gaining access to forensic reports for that company or conducting a sworn deposition with that institution’s CISO?

Banks, for very good reasons, keep as many details about their security programs secret for as long as they can. So how can consumers claim to switch businesses based on information that they can’t possibly access?

The bottom line is that they can’t. But — and here’s where Molly Hetz, an Iovation product marketing manager and the main author of the report, makes a useful observation — those consumers can make such a decision based on their perception of security. And that’s where things get tricky.

Consider: One of the best security and authentication approaches today is continuous authentication, where the system considers typing speed, typing pressure (for mobile devices), IP address, time of access, what files are being accessed, duration of session, typing accuracy (number of typos per minute), etc. — and compares all of it against a profile of a session that presumably was of the actual user associated with those credentials. The best part about continuous authentication is that it’s indeed continuous, meaning that it won’t theoretically be fooled by an attacker who does everything properly and within character for 10 minutes and then does the evil things that the attacker always planned to do.

I’m a fan of continuous authentication. It works far better than passwords, PINs, biometrics (at least the popular biometrics such as facial, fingerprint and voice recognition, rather than my favorite, which is eye scan) and multifactor authentication (MFA, which is often susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks, especially with a numeric code sent to a mobile device via a text).

One of the advantages of continuous authentication is that it is transparent to the user, meaning that it generates no friction and doesn’t delay or detract the user at all. But Hetz makes the legitimate argument that when a financial institution uses such a frictionless authentication mechanism, the user doesn’t see it. And when users don’t see a security approach, they might very well assume that there isn’t one. This is a classic security contradiction: Using a more secure approach might cause users to assume it’s a less secure approach because those users associate friction — jumping through a lot of visible hoops, such as “click on all of the images that have a street sign” — as a sign that the financial institution is really trying to protect their money from bad guys.

Financial institutions “need to have some visible security, because if [users] don’t see anything that validates that security,” the users will assume it doesn’t exist, Hetz says.

But there are other points in the report that are not right without context. For example: “Importance is still placed on having low service fees (62 percent) and good customer service (55 percent), but it is clear that privacy and security needs must be addressed first.”

There are reasons why customers switch banks and reasons for them to stick around. The more bank services that are used (online bill paying, for example), the harder it is to switch banks. The customer thinks “Aargh! If I switch, I have to manually re-enter all of the details of all of the companies I pay. It took me months before I finally got that list complete.” Or consider some of the more sophisticated bots being used by financial institutions today. The more accounts a customer has with that financial institution (checking, savings, mortgage, retirement, credit card, debit card, shuttle accounts for ACH or Venmo or Zelle payments, etc.), the more helpful those bots can be. Again, it makes it more daunting for a customer to choose to move accounts.

Let’s look again at that survey answer. High service fees and bad customer service are absolutely reasons that can overwhelm the departure pain concerns, but perceptions of privacy and security will be unlikely to make a change worthwhile. An exception (which isn’t really an exception) would be a customer whose bank account was actually emptied out through fraud, and whose bank took a very long time to replenish the account and was not responsive when asked for status updates. But that’s less a security issue than a customer service one. And, yes, bad customer service will absolutely force customers to leave.

Another example: “Close to two-thirds (64 percent) agree that they would switch financial institutions/credit card companies for ones that have more advanced security protocols in place, while 61 percent agree that they would switch to a company that makes security easier for them.” Yeah, not so much. Based on Hetz’s argument, a consumer can absolutely have a perception — which may or may not valid — of weak security at a current financial institution. But how can consumers have a perception of security at a financial institution that they haven’t used yet? At best, they can see marketing claims from that other institution (I don’t think we even need to address how worthless those security claims are) and they could have heard word-of-mouth comments from other consumers, who may have even less of an accurate perception of the security standing.

That conclusion requires a very generous — and self-serving — interpretation of the survey results.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Artificial Skin Could Be Used to Feel Virtual, Augmented Reality – Review Geek

Artificial skin attached to finger

Swiss researchers have developed a new artificial skin that could potentially be used in combination with virtual and augmented reality systems to provide wearers with the ability to feel their digital environment through haptic feedback.

The “skin” is described as soft, flexible and durable thanks to being made out of silicone and flexible electrodes. It can be stretched up to four times its original length for a million cycles, giving it the strength it needs for real-world applications. According to lead study author Harshal Sonar, it’s the first development of its kind where both sensors and actuators are integrated.

Haptic feedback is delivered through pressure and vibrations courtesy of soft pneumatic actuators that can be inflated with air up to 100 times per second. The artificial skin vibrates when rapidly inflated and deflated. Sensors in the skin can detect deformations and adapt to the wearer’s movements as well as changes in external factors. The device continuously measures stimulation and adjusts in real time to replicate the sensitivity of human touch.

Initial testing has been done with a small implementation that could be worn on a subject’s finger, though Sonar says the next step is to develop a “fully wearable prototype” for broader use case scenarios. Along with possible applications in enhancing the immersion of virtual and augmented reality, it’s thought that the creation could be used for medical rehabilitation such as testing a patient’s proprioception (sense of self-movement and body position).

“It can be used to stimulate the human body while researchers study dynamic brain activity in magnetic resonance experiments,” Sonar said. “This gives us closed-loop control, which means we can accurately and reliably modulate the vibratory stimulation felt by the user.”

Source: EPFL via

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How augmented reality boosts training and productivity

Keeping pediatric crash carts up to date in a hospital environment is a detailed-oriented task, and the stakes are incredibly high given that a relatively small mix-up could lead to potentially life-threatening circumstances.

In lieu of costly and time-consuming hands-on training, OSF HealthCare turned to an augmented reality (AR) app developed by its internal innovation unit. Compared to traditional training methods, the Code Cart AR smart phone app is a more effective way of acclimating health care personnel to the contents of the cart and its myriad use cases, according to Kyle Formella, creative director, Medical Visualization at Jump Simulation, the innovation arm of OSF HealthCare.

“We can provide a rich experience in which users can explore the piece of equipment and immense content found within it so they are better equipped when using it in a live world,” Formella says. “In the real world, they can’t just walk up to a code cart on the floor and look around because they have to keep them locked and stocked.”

OSF HealthCare may be in the forefront of leveraging AR technology for new use cases, but it is certainly not alone. Once the stuff of sci-fi movies and video games, AR is starting to creep into the enterprise in an array of fledging use cases, from training and retail user experiences to an increasing number of applications in the industrial space as a way to bolster workforce productivity, reduce scrap and rework, and improve safety and compliance.

According to Zion Market Research, AR is experiencing an uptick and girding for its moment.  In the firm’s latest report, the AR and virtual reality (VR) market hit around $26.7 billion last year and is slated to surge to $814.7 billion by 2025, a calculated average growth rate (CAGR) of 63 percent. Zion Market Research calls out the manufacturing sector as a specific sweet spot for AR adoption, for a variety of use cases such as complex assembly maintenance, expert support, and quality assurance.

Nevertheless, experts say the maturing of the category, including the improved quality of hardware solutions like the latest iteration of Microsoft HoloLens, along with new software solutions focused on AR content delivery, are driving increased interest and accelerated adoption.

“Beyond technology, this was an interesting year as customers got crisper on the value of AR,” says Mike Campbell, executive vice president, augmented reality products at PTC, one of the leaders in the category. “A few years ago, it was what is AR, a year or two ago, it was that’s cool and fun technology, now it’s getting to the point where customers are able to understand and measure value. At the end of the day, that’s where it needs to be.”

The industrial revolution

PTC, which got into AR in a big way when it purchased Vuforia in 2015, says its AR business has been growing at a rate of 80 percent annually and currently represents about 7 percent of the company’s overall sales.

The traction is particularly strong in the industrial sector, PTC’s traditional domain, where manufacturers are experimenting with AR and IoT-enabled solutions on the plant floor and in the supply chain to optimize production and eliminate unplanned downtime. These same companies are also using AR to assist remote service technicians in on-site asset repairs, allowing them to work more productively while decreasing the number of truck rolls.

AR is powering new digital product experiences, enabling new forms of training and self-service of industrial equipment, and fostering virtual team collaboration for product engineers. Rockwell Automation, PTC’s key partner in the industrial space, claims that 40 percent of its new automation deals now include some element of AR.

A PTC survey on AR provides some insights into industrial enterprise adoption. Twenty-six percent of early adopters hail from industrial companies with an additional 29 percent from industrial verticals such as automotive, electronics, high tech, and aerospace and defense, the survey found. Digging deeper, there is increasing adoption of AR across the value chain, but it is most prominently taking off for service and support (26 percent), manufacturing (23 percent), and training (17 percent) applications, according to PTC’s research.

At Howden, for example, AR is being tapped to help its industrial equipment customers avoid costly and disruptive unplanned downtime. The solution, built with Vuforia Studio and using Microsoft HoloLens, leverages IoT data and predictive analytics to give workers an enhanced view that showcases the operating conditions and performance of the equipment along with insights to help improve performance and day-to-day operations. AR experiences also deliver predictive maintenance alerts, rapid parts identification, and easy to follow repair instructions, allowing for efficient and safe equipment operation.

Training is another opportunity where AR can shine, particularly if it’s used in early training scenarios — not to demonstrate a simple operation like turning a wrench on the plant floor, says Joe Barkai, an industry analyst, blogger, and author specializing in manufacturing.

“In order to provide top-notch service, a technician needs to work on a physical asset with different configurations and options, and logistically, it becomes expensive to train workers on all the different configurations and options,” Barkai says. “With AR, technicians can train on their own time.”

The reality of AR obstacles

Despite AR’s current momentum, Barkai and other experts agree there are obstacles ahead, including two big ones: Identifying the right use case for the technology and developing AR content that delivers lasting value beyond the initial wow factor.

OSF HealthCare’s JumpSimulation is addressing both concerns by dedicating a separate group that works in tandem with IT on creating content and strategies for 3D modeling tools, including AR. The organization is staffed with experts who are knowledgeable in the different types of AR and the pros and cons of each approach, allowing them to navigate key decisions, including when to choose a third-party offering or to roll an internally-developed solution.

Focusing on user experience and content quality is essential to ensuring AR success, Formella says. “AR is novel for users whether it’s for training purposes or real-time use,” he says. “But after you captivate them for the moment, you have to provide lasting purpose and value, and that’s where AR often fails most.”

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Sony Earbuds, Speaker, and New 360 Reality Audio Launched

At IFA 2019, Sony expanded its line of audio products. The star of the new lineup is the WI-1000XM2, wireless neckband earbuds with improved noise cancelling. Sony also impressed us with a novel audio software that customizes sound based on the shape of your ears.

Sony WI-1000XM2

The WI-1000XM2 is the successor of the WI-1000X. It features Sony’s latest wireless noise cancelling solution, which will block out more environmental noise than ever before.

Sony WI-1000XM2 headphones announced at IFA 2019.

Made from silicone, it’s of ultralight weight, making it compatible with all-day use. Like the previous model, the WI-1000XM2’s battery will give you 100 hours of stand-by or 10 hours of active use with noise cancelling turned on. 10 minutes of fast-charging will give you an additional 80 minutes of listening.

Sonly employee wearing the Sony WI-1000XM2 headphones at IFA 2019.

The WI-1000XM2 won’t launch until January 2020 for around USD370.

Sony WF-1000XM3

Meanwhile, the WF-1000XM3 earbuds were launched in July. We tried them out on IFA’s busy show floor.

While the sound was impeccable, they seemed rather chunky. The shape and weight distribution made us worry the earbuds would pop out and drop any moment. Sony ensured us that the right-sized silicone protector would ensure a tight and secure fit. But we couldn’t shake off the feeling that these earbuds are not suited for heavy activities.

Sonly WF-1000XM3 presented at IFA 2019

In their review, TechRadar also noted that the WF-1000XM3 struggle with in-flight noise cancellation and don’t support LDAC. That said, the noise cancelling was excellent and Sony improved their connectivity and battery life.

Sony SA-Z1 Premium Speaker System

Sony's premium SA-Z1 speaker system

Sony’s SA-Z1 is high-end speaker system comes with a serious price-tag. The SA-Z1 will cost approximately USD 8,000 at its release in Spring 2020. This speaker system isn’t designed to run your house-party. It’s a set of premium near-field power speakers designed for the ultimate audio aficionado. These alien looking devices will barely fit on your desk!

If you’re after the ultimate audio experience, these speakers boast exceptional audio quality. With a wide and deep acoustic field, and a sound stage unlike any other, we’re reserving judgement on these bank account emptying gadgets. From our limited testing in the Sony audio booth, they sounded like very good speakers. Whether they are worth the insane price tag is another matter.

360 Reality Audio

Sony’s new 360 Reality Audio software will let you enjoy a completely new music experience.

Using object audio technology, the software maps sound sources, like instruments, in a 360° spherical space. By defining distance and angle, artists can influence how you will perceive their music recording. Moreover, 360 Reality Audio can optimize the sound field to you personally by optically recording the shape of your ears. Once you’re set up, you can enjoy a fully immersive audio experience.

We were impressed with the immersive and clear sound the 360 Reality Audio created. That said, the pre-360 Reality Audio demo also had a great sound and significantly more bass than the optimized version. We weren’t quite sure which one we liked better.

Sony Earbuds, Speaker, and New 360 Reality Audio Launched sony 360 reality audio 01

360 Reality Audio works with any headphones, but Sony’s comfortable and effective noise cancelling headphones definitely enhanced our experience.

Whether you’re a music creator, audiophile, or just want to block out environmental noise to focus, Sony’s got you covered with this year’s line of products showcased at IFA 2019.

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