Next year let’s all celebrate an augmented reality Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Christmas has come around and it’s time to deck the halls with all those decorations that have been gathering dust in the attic for the last year. Gordian tangles of fairy lights, baubles that may or may not have become cracked in the transition from tree to box and the motherlode of tree decorations of mysterious origin.

But before you get all wrapped up and frustrated in one of the more gloriously troublesome of Christmas traditions, let’s instead take a moment to look forward to how we may be making things festive in the future. In all likelihood, it will look fairly different and rather more virtual.

Augmented reality tech, if it can capture the same hype as virtual reality, is sure to steamroll the market in the next few years. Though Google Glass fell rather flat, the tech is coming along to overlay our reality with all the various aspects of the digital world. It seems to make perfect sense then that our future celebrations may not rely on physical aspects.

While we may be currently tied down by bulky headsets (even Microsoft’s untethered HoloLens seems pretty big to have on for long periods) Google Glass proved at least in concept that this won’t always be the case. Being bold, we might even say that you’ll have a svelte set of augmented reality glasses perched on your nose in just ten years.

Once a part of everyday life such devices will render precariously standing on a ladder to get those lights on your roof just right a thing of the past. Instead we imagine a more advanced form of geotagging, where you can design the way your house looks by pinning its location.

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To anyone strolling by without their glasses, it will look perfectly ordinary. But to those with an augmented reality device, the tech will respond to the location and display the exterior of the home just as lit up as you choose. From the simplest string of lights to the most elaborate of displays you can imagine, and all without having to lift a finger.

Once past the giant flashing Santa and assorted reindeer, your visitors will also get the chance  to embrace a more updated version of a long-standing tradition before crossing the threshold. Beneath the holographic mistletoe, they’ll have the chance to instantly capture and share the moment across social media.

Inside, the decorating continues. With smart enough GPS and what we assume to be some kind of design app, we imagine you simply telling the app that your house consists of X rooms and exteriors, and each of them can be decorated to suit refined tastes or fit out Santa’s Grotto.

This is fairly unlikely to come for free, but the in-app purchase of a fancier setup than the basic free package provided seems a fairly good deal for the loft space cleared up. Think of it kind of like The Sims, where if you want expanded options for decorating and designing your house you have to buy the expansion pack.

Of course, there are potential issues. If you thought your relatives could be judgemental before, wait until they see that you didn’t shell out for the Winter Wonderland package. You just know that Aunt Janice is going to be inquiring into your finances, tutting away at the lights of just one colour.

The problems only continue if you take into account that there may be older relatives who aren’t using an AR device. As far as they’re concerned, you just didn’t bother to decorate and are lacking in Christmas spirit. Bah humbug.

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We here at Factor have a couple of suggestions to clear these obstacles and smooth the way to your ideal festivities. As far as Aunt Janice is concerned, while you may not appreciate dressing and undressing your very own Winter Wonderland, if it keeps her off your back it may be that you can have physical decorations as well as digital ones.

More difficult is the issue of those who won’t or can’t adopt the augmented reality tech. While small hologram projectors would give them the same impression, it would rather defeat the purpose of everyone else bringing along their Google Glass, Hololens or whatever it is Magic Leap is working on.

One solution is to simply guilt them into getting on board by gifting them a set of the glasses. Those wishing for a less morally ambiguous resolution however, may prefer to think a little further forward to a Christmas hosted inside a smart home. Recognising each of your guests, your house may be able to personalise displays to suit each of their festive preferences.

Of course, there’s something to be said for pulling out the presents from under a real tree and feeling the irritation against your skin of real tinsel. There’s also something to be said for never having to sweep up pine needles again or work out just how you fit all the decorations in that one box.

However you choose to celebrate in the years to come, whether it be through a virtual lens or stacking up just as many lights as you possibly can on the outside of your house, Factor wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

60% of primate species threatened with extinction

A new study has called for urgent action to protect the world’s rapidly dwindling primate populations after figures revealed that 60% of the world’s primate species are threatened with extinction. There are over 500 currently recognised primate species, with the percentage considered at risk having increased by 20% since 1996.

The study draws attention to the incredible impact that humans have placed on primate environments. Agriculture, logging, construction, resource extraction and other human activities have all placed escalating and unsustainable pressure on the animals’ habitats, and are predicted to only worsen over the next 50 years.

Unless immediate action is taken, the scientists predict numerous extinctions.

“In 1996 around 40% of the then recognised primate taxa were threatened. The increase to 60% at present is extremely worrying and indicates that more conservation efforts are needed to halt this increase,” says Serge Wich, professor by special appointment of Conservation of the Great Apes at the University of Amsterdam.

Interestingly, one of the main suggestions for helping the primates is first helping humans. Most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, a fact that the study authors believe leads to greater hunting and habitat loss.

They suggest that immediate actions should be taken to improve health and access to education, develop sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserve traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation.

While it may be tragic to some, it could be easy to see the loss of these primates as unimportant to humans. However, it is important to note that the non-human primates’ biological relation to humans offers unique insights into human evolution, biology, behaviour and the threat of emerging diseases.

Additionally, these species serve as key components of tropical biodiversity and contribute to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. If they are struck by mass extinction, it is hard to predict the impact it could have on their ecosystems.

“‘If we are unable to reduce the impact of our activities on primates, it is difficult to foresee how we will maintain this fantastic diversity of our closest relatives in the near future,” added Wich. “That will not only be a great loss from a scientific point of view, but will also have a negative influence on the ecosystems that we all rely so much upon. It is therefore important to drastically change from the business as usual scenarios to more sustainable ones.”

The threat posed to delicate ecosystems by human expansion is nothing new, but it is perhaps shocking to have such a blunt figure out there as to the damage being caused.

More than half of these species – species that are far closer to us than we may be comfortable discussing – could die unless current policy is reversed.

The study’s authors have called on authorities across the world to take action and raise awareness of the issues raised.

The article itself is published in the latest edition of the journal Science Advances.

Mark Zuckerberg: VR goal is still 5-10 years away

Mark Zuzkerberg has said that the true goal of virtual reality could still be a decade away, in a testimony during a high-profile court case against his company.

Facebook, as owner of Oculus, is currently in the middle of being sued by ZeniMax Media for allegedly stealing technology for the virtual reality device. If proved guilty, they will be pursued for the amount of $2bn by ZeniMax.  However, perhaps more pertinent to the actual future of virtual reality are comments arising from Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.

As it currently stands, virtual reality is still a far cry from being integrated into everyday life on a wide scale. Oculus, HTC Vive and Playstation VR are still largely targeting gamers and the idea of entertainment experiences. While they have found varying levels of success, all three platforms are being held back by the youth of the technology and, in the case of Vive and Oculus, the limited by the need for a high performing computer to plug into.

Image and featured image courtesy of Oculus

“I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully there yet,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.”

The revelation isn’t a particularly shocking one; even the most ardent believer in virtual reality has to admit that we’re a fair way off the goal. Indeed, we can be seen as being in the first wave of mainstream virtual reality, with the main players in the tech using gaming as a way to introduce the technology to a group that are most likely to be interested from the off.

Zuckerberg has far grander plans than simply expanding the user base however, as seen with projects such as Facebook Social VR. If games are the entry, the idea is to expand virtual reality to become a whole new computing platform used for a bevy of experiences and containing a whole load of tools. The ambition is high, the reality slightly lagging behind.

Mark Zuckerberg with Priscilla Chan in 2016

When asked about the realisation of VR as this new computing platform, Zuckerberg replied: “These things end up being more complex than you think up front. If anything, we may have to invest even more money to get to the goals we had than we had thought up front.”

He then went on to add that the probable investment for Facebook to reach that goal is likely to top the $3bn mark over the next ten years. Considering the social media giant spent $2bn just to acquire Oculus, this represents a truly colossal investment in something that seemed to be initially set to hit a lot sooner. Admittedly the goal is rather grand: providing hundreds of millions of people with a good virtual reality experience transcending gaming alone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s very important that you know that Mark Zuckerberg did in fact wear a suit to trial. Whether Palmer Luckey, making his first public appearance since his Gamergate/Trump support scandal last year, will manage to ditch the flip flops when he testifies is yet to be seen.