Igloo Vision brings large-scale shared VR experience to the US

A shared virtual reality experience that sees users view VR content together inside a large geodesic dome is coming to the US.

Shropshire, the UK, based company Igloo Vision is opening operations in both New York and Los Angeles, aiming to bring their ‘shared VR experiences’ to the US commercial VR market. According to the founder, in terms of content and commercial application, the US is at least three years behind the UK, making it the perfect market for British expansion.

The company itself is the creator of an immersive VR experience called the Igloo. Rather than relying on a headset, multiple users sit together inside a dome or cylindrical pod that then provides a 360 degree VR experience. The dome itself is available in four sizes, ranging from the smallest, a 6m, 12 person Igloo, to the largest, which, with a 21m diameter can house an incredible 750 people.

A dome being used as a recruitment tool by the UK’s army. Image and featured image courtesy of Igloo Vision

The Igloo is principally used for three different commercial applications: ‘experiences’ (to engage, inspire or entertain), ‘simulation’ (to immerse teams in a given scenario) and ‘visualisation’ (to bring design concepts to life).

“While the headset market is perfect for consumers and individuals, the commercial VR market needs something different and is changing rapidly from being an awkward and isolated experience to one where a business’ potential customers, partners or employees can sit relaxed or stand together and view and interact with it,” said Colin Yellowley, founder and MD of Igloo Vision, who will head up the US operations.

“Shared experience makes VR more engaging and more powerful – especially in commercial environments. We have a real opportunity here to be a home-grown UK business who exports innovation and takes a leadership position in an exploding global market.”

Importantly, Igloo Vision has created an advantage by using the principle of what it refers to as ‘frugal innovation’. Rather than taking a top-down approach to create bespoke 360 degree VR projection environments with expensive projectors and screens, the company instead uses off-the-shelf components to build simple, reusable igloos. Taking this approach has allowed the company to reduce the entry level cost of a shared VR experience from millions to less than £100,000.

Igloo domes have already been used at a number of exhibitions and events, including the Giorgio Armani‏ exhibition at this year’s SXSW. Image courtesy of Giorgio Armani‏

Already employed by consumer and retail brands to bring a new product experience to customers, Igloo Vision has also been employed by the armed forces and oil companies to run simulations and training for personnel. With the US already accounting for more than 50% of the company’s revenue, and leading VR spending globally, Igloo Vision is hoping that the region’s heavy investment into the tech, versus the UK’s greater caution in adoption, will help to take them to new heights.

Igloo Vision’s CEO, Dennis Wright, believes that the UK is at risk of losing its technological lead in VR.

“The US market is investing heavily into VR technology, and as a leading supplier of VR projection technology we need to ensure that we’re at the heart of that investment,” he said. “The UK has the best skills and content developers in the world. As a nation we need to adopt a US mentality and attitude to growth and success or risk losing out as the VR market develops further State side.”

Soviet report detailing lunar rover Lunokhod-2 released for first time

Russian space agency Roskosmos has released an unprecedented scientific report into the lunar rover Lunokhod-2 for the first time, revealing previously unknown details about the rover and how it was controlled back on Earth.

The report, written entirely in Russian, was originally penned in 1973 following the Lunokhod-2 mission, which was embarked upon in January of the same year. It had remained accessible to only a handful of experts at the space agency prior to its release today, to mark the 45th anniversary of the mission.

Bearing the names of some 55 engineers and scientists, the report details the systems that were used to both remotely control the lunar rover from a base on Earth, and capture images and data about the Moon’s surface and Lunokhod-2’s place on it. This information, and in particularly the carefully documented issues and solutions that the report carries, went on to be used in many later unmanned missions to other parts of the solar system.

As a result, it provides a unique insight into this era of space exploration and the technical challenges that scientists faced, such as the low-frame television system that functioned as the ‘eyes’ of the Earth-based rover operators.

A NASA depiction of the Lunokhod mission. Above: an image of the rover, courtesy of NASA, overlaid onto a panorama of the Moon taken by Lunokhod-2, courtesy of Ruslan Kasmin.

One detail that main be of particular interest to space enthusiasts and experts is the operation of a unique system called Seismas, which was tested for the first time in the world during the mission.

Designed to determine the precise location of the rover at any given time, the system involved transmitting information over lasers from ground-based telescopes, which was received by a photodetector onboard the lunar rover. When the laser was detected, this triggered the emission of a radio signal back to the Earth, which provided the rover’s coordinates.

Other details, while technical, also give some insight into the culture of the mission, such as the careful work to eliminate issues in the long-range radio communication system. One issue, for example, was worked on with such thoroughness that it resulted in one of the devices using more resources than it was allocated, a problem that was outlined in the report.

The document also provides insight into on-Earth technological capabilities of the time. While it is mostly typed, certain mathematical symbols have had to be written in by hand, and the report also features a number of diagrams and graphs that have been painstakingly hand-drawn.

A hand-drawn graph from the report, showing temperature changes during one of the monitoring sessions during the mission

Lunokhod-2 was the second of two unmanned lunar rovers to be landed on the Moon by the Soviet Union within the Lunokhod programme, having been delivered via a soft landing by the unmanned Luna 21 spacecraft in January 1973.

In operation between January and June of that year, the robot covered a distance of 39km, meaning it still holds the lunar distance record to this day.

One of only four rovers to be deployed on the lunar surface, Lunokhod-2 was the last rover to visit the Moon until December 2013, when Chinese lunar rover Yutu made its maiden visit.

Robot takes first steps towards building artificial lifeforms

A robot equipped with sophisticated AI has successfully simulated the creation of artificial lifeforms, in a key first step towards the eventual goal of creating true artificial life.

The robot, which was developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, was able to model the creation of artificial lifeforms using unstable oil-in-water droplets. These droplets effectively played the role of living cells, demonstrating the potential of future research to develop living cells based on building blocks that cannot be found in nature.

Significantly, the robot also successfully predicted their properties before they were created, even though this could not be achieved using conventional physical models.

The robot, which was designed by Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin, is driven by machine learning and the principles of evolution.

It has been developed to autonomously create oil-in-water droplets with a host of different chemical makeups and then use image recognition to assess their behaviour.

Using this information, the robot was able to engineer droplets to have different properties­. Those which were found to be desirable could then be recreated at any time, using a specific digital code.

“This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds,” said Cronin.

“Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

One of the oil droplets created by the robot

The research, which is published today in the journal PNAS, is one of several research projects being undertaken by Cronin and his team within the field of artificial lifeforms.

While the overarching goal is moving towards the creation of lifeforms using new and unprecedented building blocks, the research may also have more immediate potential applications.

The team believes that their work could also have applications in several practical areas, including the development of new methods for drug delivery or even innovative materials with functional properties.