Why virtual reality is necessary on a planet of 11 billion

Virtual reality is more than a trick. It's a solution to big problems.

  • According to projections shared by the UN, Earth's population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. By the year 2100, that number could increase to 11 billion. Virtual reality will be necessary to reduce the waste of such a large population in industries like transport, retail, and manufacturing.
  • As an existing technology, there is a lot that virtual reality can do: rich and immersive environments, heightened storytelling, emotionally resonant experiences, and increased productivity in retail. But it's only in its infancy.
  • As the world's population continues to grow, the technology will need to evolve to facilitate a larger network of users, and developers will have to think harder about the technological potential and the ethical, neurological, and emotional side effects.

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New Google AR exhibits let you see prehistoric creatures up close

Google's Arts & Culture app just added a suite of prehistoric animals and NASA artifacts that are viewable for free with a smartphone.

Google Arts & Culture
  • The exhibits are viewable on most smartphones through Google's free Arts & Culture app.
  • In addition to prehistoric animals, the new exhibits include NASA artifacts and ancient artwork.
  • The Arts & Culture app also lets you project onto your walls famous paintings on display at museums around the world.
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What is the viewing experience of VR porn really like?

Recent studies suggest virtual reality porn can produce a more positive experience than viewing from a monitor or screen.

Image by Andrush on Shutterstock
  • Since early 2014 when Ela Darling, an adult entertainment actress recorded her first VR performance, the world of virtual porn has taken off.
  • Recent studies suggests VR porn produces a more positive experience than typical porn viewing through a monitor or screen.
  • RealityLovers, a top VR porn website, speaks about the benefits of virtual reality porn experiences and the future of VR adult entertainment.
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A new device generates energy from shadows

By leveraging the difference between lit and shadowed areas, a new energy source perfect for wearables is invented.

Image source: Mark Adriane/Unsplash
  • Mobile devices used both indoors and out may benefit from a new energy collection system that thrives on mixed and changing lighting conditions.
  • Inexpensive new collection cells are said to be twice as efficient as commercial solar cells.
  • The system's "shadow effect" would also maker it useful as a sensor for tracking traffic.

For all of its promise, solar energy depends on the capture of light, and the more the better. For residents of sunny climes, that's great, with rooftop collection panels, and solar farms built by utilities in wide open, sunny spaces that can provide power to the rest of us. Now, though, a team of scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has announced success at deriving energy from…shadows.

We've got plenty of them everywhere. "Shadows are omnipresent, and we often take them for granted," says research team leader Tan Swee Ching, who notes how shadows are usually anathema for energy collection. "In conventional photovoltaic or optoelectronic applications where a steady source of light is used to power devices, the presence of shadows is undesirable, since it degrades the performance of devices." His team has come up with something quite different, and Tan claims of their shadow-effect energy generator (SEG) that, "This novel concept of harvesting energy in the presence of shadows is unprecedented."

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

How it works

Image source: Royal Society of Chemistry/NUS

The energy produced by the SEG is generated from the differential between shadowed and lit areas. "In this work," says Tan. "We capitalized on the illumination contrast caused by shadows as an indirect source of power. The contrast in illumination induces a voltage difference between the shadow and illuminated sections, resulting in an electric current."

SEG cells are less expensive to produce than solar cells. Each SEG cell is a thin film of gold on a silicon wafer, and an entire system is a set of four of these cells arrayed on a flexible, transparent plastic film. Experiments suggest the system, in use, is twice as efficient as commercial solar cells.

An SEG cell's shadow effect works best when it is half in light and half in shadow, "as this gives enough area for charge generation and collection respectively," says co-team leader Andrew Wee. When the SEG is entirely in shadow or in light, it doesn't produce a charge.

Gold in them that shadows

Image source: stockfour/Dayna More/Dmitry Naumov/Shutterstock/Big Think

To be sure, the amount of energy that NUS researchers have thus far extracted is small, but it's enough to power a digital watch. The researchers envision the SEG system harvesting ambient light to power smart phones and AR glasses that are used both outdoors and indoors. While such devices can run on solar batteries, solar is only replenished outdoors, and the SEG could "scavenge energy from both illumination and shadows associated with low light intensities to maximize the efficiency of energy harvesting," says Tan. It seems clear that we're on the cusp of the era of wearables — AR visionwear, smart fabrics, smart watches, and so on — and so Tan considers the arrival of the SEG "exciting and timely."

The researchers also note an additional application for which the SEG seems a natural: It can function as a self-powered sensor for monitoring moving objects. The shadow caused by a passing object would trigger the SEG sensor, which can then record the event.

Next up for the team is investigating constructing cells using other, less costly materials than gold to make them even less expensive to produce.

Ask an astronomer: What was Einstein’s most mind-blowing discovery?

Do space and time really exist? NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller looks at the implications of Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.

  • NASA astronomer and science communicator Michelle Thaller explains that the real brilliance of Albert Einstein is that he was able to bridge ideas that appeared to others to be in different realms.
  • The thing Einstein is most famous for is the equation E=mc2. Thaller explains why that equation is so mind-blowing: Pure energy and matter are the same thing. That means, as humans, we are both made of matter and of pure energy, and as pure energy, we would not experience space or time.
  • "I think that, once we really understand this, we're going to be in for some very difficult truths to accept," says Thaller. "It may be that there is no space or time as we know it, really."

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