#marketing technology

VR tool that uses brainwaves to promote sleepiness

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne recently investigated whether an interactive virtual reality experience could induce sleepiness.

The multisensory experience involves wearing a VR headset while lying on a gently oscillating bed and is based on the principles of neurofeedback – a way to train brain activity. The brain’s electrical activity is monitored with an EEG and fed into the VR headset and the visuals in the headset then take on different colours and properties in response to the different brainwaves.

This results in a distinct visual representation of an individual’s electrical activity in the brain creating a feedback loop that may enable participants to focus on relaxed and positive thoughts – thus affecting the transition into sleep.

In a small study, participants reported a 55% reduction in feelings of fear and anxiety and a 21% reduction in negative feelings in general. They also reported a small increase in positive feelings and the state of mind linked to mindfulness – emptying the mind while focusing on the moment – and thus reducing stressful thoughts. Some of the participants relaxed in the VR session, while others creatively interacted with the technology – which is interesting because it has been documented that positive effects on emotion can be associated with creative expression.

Currently, the technology is not yet developed enough to offer as a sleep-health tool, though it certainly shows potential for a brain/computer interface system to promote healthy sleep in the future.

Animating avatars for VR in real time

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Currently, creating a lifelike avatar entails capturing large quantities of high-quality audio and video footage of an individual, then adding existing functionality to make the VR environment believable.

However, researchers have developed a system that allows VR users to represent themselves with lifelike avatars, precisely animated in real time, which can interact with other users. With this system (called Codec Avatars), researchers aim to deliver the most engaging experience possible for VR users, building the future of connection within virtual reality, and eventually, augmented reality.

Up to now, photo-realistic avatars rendered in real-time have been achieved and used frequently in computer animation: actors are equipped with optimally placed sensors that capture geometric details of their faces and expressions computationally. However, this technology is not compatible with existing VR headset designs or platforms which typically obstruct different parts of the face making facial capture technology problematic.

By precisely animating photorealistic avatars from cameras mounted on a VR headset, the researchers have configured a headset with minimum sensors for facial capture, and enabled two-way, authentic social interaction in VR – a process at the forefront of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

The system works by tracking users’ facial expressions using a minimum set of headset-mounted cameras (HMCs). The headset prototype has cameras on the regular tracking headset for real-time animation plus cameras positioned for ideal face-tracking. It uses an artificial intelligence technique that translates HMC infrared images to images that look like a rendered avatar but with the same facial expression of the person.

By precisely mapping between the images from tracking headset and the status of the 3-D avatar through differentiable rendering, the neural network is trained to predict face parameters from a minimal set of camera images in real time, finding high-quality mapping for facial expressions

The researchers also aim to create and animate full bodies for expressing more complete social signals – as well as facial expressions – and though this technology still a long way from appearing in consumer headsets, it’s just a matter of time.

The importance of UI UX design

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Given the start-up costs of any new business, capital outlay is likely to go on property, fixtures and fittings, operational expenses, recruitment and employment. This means that UI and UX experiences can appear quite low on the list of necessities.

Both of these are crucial to a modern business, and if the cost good design feels prohibitive, the price of poor design could be even more. We live in a digital world where people use computers and mobile phones on almost anything, and mobile apps are ubiquitous. So, every start-up that doesn’t have a website and a mobile app is already at a disadvantage in what will undoubtedly be a very competitive market.

However, UI and UX are not interchangeable as UX represents the technical aspect of the design while the UI refers to the presentation.

From the start, the user experience design must be right because the products or services being sold must be digitally accessible to customers.

Top UX design means that the design and development of an app can be user-centred – the convenience of the client is of utmost importance. They can get products or services easily and quickly within a few simple manoeuvres and the app is easy to navigate making it easy to return.

Whilst UX is technical, UI is concerned with functional aesthetics – aesthetic appeal and function working in conjunction. Inevitably then, UI design relies on user research. What are the optimum colours, fonts, and icons etc? This is where UI designers put their talent and experience into play, harmonising visual stimuli and user impact appropriately and effectively.

The vast majority of start-ups, if their product and services are not related to technology, don’t employ UX and UI designers, they take advantage of UI UX design services.

Prioritising expenses is a challenge for any start-up, but in today’s digitised world, superior UI and UX experiences are a necessary investment.

Can working out in VR get you fit?

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

The VR game, Beat Saber, has garnered a huge online following driving lots of downloads and VR headset sales, and its popularity has also played a big part in developing the new Oculus Quest’s tracking system, making sure that new tech can handle the game’s advanced modes.

So, what exactly is Beat Saber?

The concept is simple: players have two ‘sabers’ (which do actually feel like you are holding them due to the motion controllers that come with the VR headsets). As boxes fly towards the player, they use the sabers to rhythmically slice them in sequences that vary in height, width and sequential complexity, in the direction of the arrows. So, to play the game, you have to really get moving – anecdotal evidence suggesting that people were feeling fitter and losing weight through playing – some, more than 20-30 pounds since the game released.

However, fun, not a workout, was the original aim of the game so it seems to have had the inadvertent bonus of combining fitness and fun. It’s easy to fit into a daily routine, doesn’t require the commitment of joining a gym or club and it can be done at home at an individual’s own pace making it popular among people who are trying to overcome health problems or injury.

Other VR games have workouts designed by fitness instructors with fitness deliberately as the priority. BoxVR is a physically focused VR game in which cues travel towards you and you ‘hit’ with hooks, crosses, jabs and uppercuts – plus optional added squats and dodges.

The power of VR immersion to enhance fitness is interesting, but there are certain safety considerations too.

Firstly, players must remember that they are in a virtual environment and not a real one, so they need enough clear space and remove potentially dangerous obstacles. Secondly, as with any sport, stretching, hydration and recovery time is essential. Mindful of safety, Beat Saber and BoxVR both show health and safety warnings prior to playing.

Though the use of VR technology to workout isn’t new in some gyms, the appeal of games like Beat Saber and BoxVR is that anyone with a VR headset can play them at home – and as the price of VR headsets come down, working out in VR will become ever more accessible to more people.

The expansion of the native mobile app.

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A native application, or app is software that has been developed for use on a specific device and its operating system using a specific programming language – Android (written in Java) or iOS (written in Objective-C or Swift).

Most apps are native because they can benefit from new technology and give the best performance when compared with mobile cloud apps or web apps that have been designed to cross many systems. They also provide highly reliability and fast performance. Popular apps like Waze, PokemonGo and Twitter are native.

Obviously, native apps can take longer to build and can be expensive – especially if they are developed on both platforms. As Android apps don’t work on iOS and iOS apps don’t work on Android, they both require different codebases. Nevertheless, scrolling, usability, keyboard behaviour, and graphics can play a defining role in the popularity of the app so developers can’t avoid it.

However, the advantages of native apps are that their specificity makes them faster, more reliable and able to offer a more responsive experience to the user. Likewise, they can easily tap into the functionality of many other devices such as cameras or microphones. Owners can receive push notifications to tell them when new content is uploaded and there is no need to compromise on an app’s UI/UX as it is built to specific platform conventions rather than one-size-fits-all.

Though the main disadvantage of a native app is the necessity to develop them separately for each platform you may want to cover, there are several fairly recent platforms that aim to enable cross-platform development whilst maintaining the user experience and access to native APIs (interfaces for software). These include Flutter, Titanium, React Native and Xamarin.

Why developers and marketers should work together.

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As companies across all industries are becoming ever more digitally orientated, the need for smooth collaboration between business functions is ever more critical – particularly between developers and marketers as they control complex marketing operations with increasingly complex martech stacks.

Traditionally, there has been an assumption from both corners that marketers and developers share completely different business priorities: developers perceive marketers to be technically limited and lacking in understanding of the time requirements often necessary for technical projects. Marketers, in contrast, think that developers focus entirely on technical tasks, immersed in code with no thought of the customer or the required commercial outcomes of the project.

Looking at the bigger picture of engaging, retaining and growing a company’s customer base, it seems obvious that both skill sets are crucial as in the changing landscape of business their two worlds will continue to collide. In a recent survey of 500 developers and marketers both agreed that business alignment is necessary for success and customer experience is the highest priority. In addition, developers acknowledged that marketing is becoming more technical and data driven. In fact, both developers and marketers agreed that customer experience is crucial to the success of a business and developers acknowledged that every touchpoint and interaction with a customer actually matters.

The traditional disconnect between marketers and developers is in timescale. There’s nothing new about the conflict between marketers feeling that requests are not fulfilled within the requested time frame, while at the same time developers are confident that they can be – leaving both sides frustrated, particularly with regard to developing new software or products.

So how could these conflicts be resolved to the benefit of the business as a whole?

Firstly, marketers should talk to developers about potential software requirements early on in the process. Then, developers should respond with realistic estimates of the time and effort required to fulfil the request and manage marketers’ expectations. Finally, they should continue to communicate and collaborate throughout and beyond the project to further deepen understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities and challenges. That way, there is more chance of successfully managed opportunities.

In the end, for the best customer experience (which after all, is the point), it’s critical that developers and marketers collaborate. Authentic teamwork is key.