Art Plunge: Step Inside Famous Works of Art in Virtual Reality

I just love VR apps about fine art and artists! Art Plunge is a short but satisfying program for the Oculus Go, Gear VR, and Google Daydream, which is now also available for the Oculus Rift VR headset.

Art Plunge allows you to actually step into three-dimensional versions of five famous paintings in the history of Western art:

You can’t move around while you are inside the painting, but you can tilt your head from side to side, look around you, etc. In the Mona Lisa, Mona’s gaze follows you are you move your head from side to side, a subtle but realistic touch! It almost feels as if Mona is patiently waiting for you to speak to her. Very effective.

The app is only CAD$2.29, so what have you got to lose? Give it a try! I loved it, and I only wish I could step into more paintings. Perhaps the developers will issue an expansion pack sometime in the future. I would definitely pay more to be able to step into some more famous paintings!

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Amazon Sumerian: A Brief Introduction

I have mentioned Amazon Sumerian in passing on this blog, but I thought it was time to look at the product a little more closely.

Sumerian is a tool for creating 3D experiences, built on top of WebXR. Amazon says that developers do not need any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise to create VR, AR, and 3D applications. One advantage of Sumerian is that developers can use the software to build a scene once, that can be published and viewed on laptops, mobile phones, VR headsets, and digital signage. You can also integrate AI-based hosts with whom you can talk and interact (basically a high-end chatbot):

The following overview of Amazon Sumerian is presented by Kyle Roche, the General Manager of the Amazon Sumerian project:

Among the use cases that Amazon is promoting for Sumerian are:

  • Employee Education: Build scenes that let you on-board or train employees remotely. Employees can learn in a virtual classroom setting that is led by a Host, or walk through an environment that mimics their actual working environment. This can help employees retain information better while allowing you to train more employees at lower cost. 
  • Training Simulations: Build scenes that train skilled employees by simulating real world scenarios. Employees can get hands-on training in specialized fields such as healthcare, aviation, law enforcement, or industrial machinery. For example, you can create a simulation to train surgeons to use a new kind of surgical equipment. 
  • Field Service Productivity: Build scenes that improve the productivity of field and service workers in areas like repair, engineering, oil & gas, manufacturing, and more. For example, you can build an AR app that helps technicians troubleshoot and repair machinery. Looking through a mobile device screen, a user could see diagnostic metrics or animations of how to perform a repair on top of the machine.
  • Virtual Concierge: Build scenes with a Host that acts as a concierge to your end users for almost any industry. The concierge can greet users, answer common questions, and guide users through your company’s services and offerings. Users could see and engage with the concierge through a mobile device or kiosk on-site at your company, or they could interact with the concierge in a completely virtual portal using a head-mounted display.
  • Design and Creative: Build scenes that aid in the creation of new products or creative assets. Designers, creative professionals, and business professionals can use VR/AR to visualize and review mock-ups of a design as though it were real, helping to improve the efficiency of the product design cycle.
  • Retail and Sales: Build scenes that help you market and sell your product. For example, a retailer could create a mobile AR app that lets users see how furniture would look in their homes before buying. You could also create a scene that uses a Host as a virtual sales person who sells products and answers questions. 

The pricing for Amazon Sumerian consists of two components: charges for scene traffic (at a rate of $0.38 per gigabyte per month) and, if you decide to use them, additional charges for Amazon Lex or Amazon Polly hosting.

Now, I do not believe that Amazon Sumerian allows for true social VR (that is, the ability to create a scene which more than one avatar can experience at the same time), so therefore, I am not including it in my list of social VR/virtual worlds. But it is very interesting to see the direction that Amazon is going with this.

Like the rest of what I like to call the “Big Five” (Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft), Amazon has deep pockets to fund the future development and promotion of Sumerian (Amazon earned US$10 billion dollars in net income in 2018). The company has the potential to become a major disrupter in the social VR marketplace if (or when) they decide to include support for avatars representing the users, as opposed to just having virtual beings as hosts.


Thanks to NyushaZoryAna for the heads up!

No Man’s Sky Now Supports VR

Of course, the big news today (unless you are living under a rock or in a cave somewhere) is that No Man’s Sky, a fantasy science-fiction game set in an infinite, procedurally-generated universe, has issued a major update that, for the first time, supports players in VR headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Valve Index). It’s all gamers are talking about today on places like the No Man’s Sky subReddit.

Now, I must confess that I’m really not that much of a gamer, although I did manage to get to level 20 in Lord of the Rings Online (mainly because I was a such a Tolkien fan). But the lure of exploring an infinite, seamless universe in VR was just too much. So I bit the bullet and bought the game (it is on sale on Steam for 50% off until August 21st).

Wish me luck! I am off to milk some aliens and explore new worlds…

New Study Proves VR Reduces Pain in Hospital Patients

Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles

Today, the largest study to date at Cedars Sinai Hospital of the impact of virtual reality on pain relief was published in the open access scientific research journal PLOS ONE. This study provides the clearest evidence yet that in-hospital therapeutic VR could be an effective treatment for patients in pain.

Here’s a video narrated by Dr. Brennan Spiegel, the director of health research at Cedars Sinai and the lead author of today’s research paper, explaining how VR was used with patients:

The paper (which is freely available to anybody without a subscription to the journal) is titled Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial, and had as its research objective:

Therapeutic virtual reality (VR) has emerged as an effective, drug-free tool for pain management, but there is a lack of randomized, controlled data evaluating its effectiveness in hospitalized patients. We sought to measure the impact of on-demand VR versus “health and wellness” television programming for pain in hospitalized patients.

Patients were split into two random groups. One group was treated with VR and the other (control) group viewed flat-screen relaxation television programming. The researchers concluded that the VR group reported significantly reduced pain when compared to those just watching TV. Not only that, the study found that virtual reality was the most effective for severe pain (i.e. pain that ranked 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10).

Mobi Health News reports:

“There’s been decades of research testing VR in highly controlled environments — university laboratories, the psychology department and so on,” Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s lead author, told MobiHealthNews. “This study is really letting VR free and seeing what happens. What I mean by that is it’s a pragmatic study where we didn’t want to control every single element of the study, but literally just see [what would happen] if we were to give it to a broad range of people in the hospital with pain; how would it do compared to a control condition already available in the hospital?”

This strength — alongside the substantial size of the patient population, variety of pain types included and direct comparison to an existing multimedia intervention — helps make the clearest case yet for VR’s clinical potential within the hospital, Spiegel continued, and paves the way for live deployments of the technology as part of inpatient care.

“We don’t need more science at this point to justify deploying VR in the hospital or creating virtualist consult services in the hospital. We’ve got enough evidence now, in my opinion, to begin using this in the inpatient environment,” he said. 

Citation: Spiegel B, Fuller G, Lopez M, Dupuy T, Noah B, Howard A, et al. (2019) Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219115. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219115