Bitmojis are getting an upgrade on Snapchat with a new 3-D design that rolls out Monday.
Snap Inc. is decking out its avatars with more than 1,200 combinations of poses, gestures and backgrounds like cow prints and beach locations. The new avatars are full-body designs with new "Pixar"-like quality that can be shared on and off the platform.
It comes the same day Snap confirmed that it acquired Culver City-based Vertebrae. The AR and 3-D platform helps brands and retailers translate their clothes and accessories digitally. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. But both moves illustrate Snap Inc.'s intentions to move further into virtual fashion.
The new avatars show much more detail from stitching on outfits to the sparkle of jewelry. That level of detail could help entice brands. Already, users are able to buy some of the clothes featured on Bitmoji. With the addition of accessories, there is the potential for more revenue sources.
Snap has used Bitmoji, which it acquired from Bitstrips in 2016, as an entry into gaming, merchandise and other areas. The company has used the avatars to partner with fashion brands from Levis to Ralph Lauren. Last year, Snap made a big push into gaming with Bitmoji Paint, a game that lets users collaboratively paint a pixelated canvas. The company also announced last year it was creating Bitmoji TV.
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Venice-based VR company GIGXR is partnering with the Air Force Academy to simulate wartime applications.
Nursing students at the University of Pennsylvania who couldn't make it into the classroom during the pandemic have been examining virtual patients — replete with lesions, temperature and other symptoms — via an app on their phone.
The technology produced by Venice-based GIGXR was so intriguing that the two-year old company recently caught the interest of the Air Force Academy based in Colorado, which was the recipient of a $750,000 grant to develop a mixed-reality program called HoloChem.
The program will use mixed reality, in which augmented reality components interact with the real world environment, to immerse students in what would otherwise be impossible situations, allowing them to see, for instance, how different gasses react to atmospheric conditions on the moon. The aim is to provide critical chemistry principles.
"We're providing a universe where an Air Force Academy instructor can teach a cohort of students either on campus or remotely dispersed and move them through a series of experiments so that they can get the knowledge they need, the experience they need, and with absolutely no risk," said GIGXR CEO David King Lassman.
Augmented and virtual reality technology have long been heralded as the future of education, but never stuck, either due to lack of school funds or lack of efficacy. Google Glass, once heralded as a moonshot edtech product, was never widely adopted.
"You can throw money at something and throw the tech out there," said Mina Johnson, a psychology professor at Arizona State University who has been making mixed reality content in educational environments for 20 years. "But if you don't have good use cases worked out, then it's not going to get uptake."
But studies have shown that AR and VR applications in the classroom could prove to be more than just another edtech fad, especially for concepts like physics and chemistry. A study co-authored by Johnson found that students who could physically interact with physics concepts through AR found the lesson to be more engaging.
"It's easier to learn 3D content with a 3D medium," Johnson said. "So if you want to learn about electromagnetic waves which move around you in a 3D manner, then I think you can use those mediums."
GIGXR, whose growth was accelerated in the midst of the pandemic when students could no longer come to class, is one of a growing subset of AR, VR and mixed reality tech companies harnessing a socially distant learning environment to make education more immersive.
The company partnered with around 40 institutions around the world, including a slew of medical education networks including the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. The school relies on HoloPatient, another one of the company's applications that uses virtual patients to represent 16 different diseases or injuries. The technology mimics real-world situations in which students have to react on the fly to situations with life-or-death consequences.
"That lends itself to a connected and immersive experience, which in turn lends itself very well to anything that requires training and learning dynamic where you're having to learn things that are complex...that you can't see readily with the human eye," Lassman said.
GIGXR's technology uses a blend of mixed-reality and gameplay techniques. Through Microsoft's Hololens, a pair of mixed-reality smart glasses, or through the GIGXR app on a smartphone, students can superimpose a 3D patient into their environment and walk around them to check for injuries or marks, while a dashboard of the patient's biometric information is shown nearby.
Guided by the instructor, students can treat the patient virtually, and the instructor can control the biometric information based on their treatments, either slowing down the heart rate or raising the blood pressure.
Lassman called it "really useful when you think about the health care space. I'm looking at incredibly complicated models, the human body, how the cardiovascular system works, how the heart beats."
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By the time Nanea Reeves was 16, she had seen the disastrous effects of substance abuse on her mother and sister, and had spent time recovering at a psychiatric hospital where a therapist introduced her to meditation and breathing techniques that helped her cope with the chaos that surrounded her.
"It was a tool that really gave me space to insert pauses when I was having these big feelings, and start to train my brain on the decisions I was making at any given moment," she said.
Since then, both Reeves' mother and sister passed away from drug abuse. A new tragedy, the loss of her husband to cancer, spurred her next venture, aimed at spreading the coping techniques she'd been taught.
In 2018, she co-launched TRIPP, a virtual-reality meditation experience that mimics aspects of psychedelics to help people cope with chaos or destruction in their lives. The company announced on Friday it raised $11 million led by Mayfield and life science VC firm Vine Ventures, bringing its total funding to $15 million.
Its technology guides users through a breathing meditation that lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes while their eyeline is littered with neon-colored shapes, pulsating flowers, blurred, slow-motion movements and other abstract, kaleidoscopic visualizations. The experience is meant to mimic what one might see while hallucinating on psychedelics without having to actually take psychedelics. Users can customize their own visuals through a program called TRIPP Composer.
The company did research on soundscapes and gameplay mechanics to bring users a sense of euphoria and calm throughout the meditation.
"What could you experience in VR that you can't in real life? A sense of feeling like you're floating in space, and moving through environments while you're sitting still in reality," Reeves said. "We wanted to trigger states of awe and wonder."
The psychedelic visual leans into what longtime Johns Hopkins psychedelics researcher Matthew Johnson called "the mystical experience" - the part of consuming psychedelics that isn't rooted in secular sciences, but rather in individual feelings.
TRIPP is one of many VR apps available on Playstation VR and Oculus (she was an early investor of Oculus herself) that facilitates meditation. Subscriptions go for $4.99 a month; the company has streamed more than 2 million wellness sessions to date.
But it's not the only one using gaming technology to trigger a biological response. Last year, Boston-based video game company Akili Interactive developed the first Food and Drug Administration-approved video game to treat ADHD, an executive function disorder, in children. Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is using VR for physical therapy, since it has the ability to connect the brain with its ambulatory functions. L.A.-based AppliedVR recently teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs to combat chronic pain among veterans.
TRIPP, like Santa Monica-based Headspace, another wellness app, is also undergoing clinical trials to test its efficacy as a therapeutic device. And, as the larger industry of psychedelic therapies grows, TRIPP plans on leveraging its platform to integrate with therapy trips.
"We're not trying to replicate or simulate, but there are certain inherent properties that can trigger awe or self-connection. It's not aggressive or taking you over completely like a psychedelic," Reeves said.
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