What to expect from the Engadget Experience, our immersive art + tech event

The Engadget Experience

Tuesday November 14

9:00 AM

10:00 – 10:08 AM
Opening Remarks: Christopher Trout, Engadget Editor-in-Chief, and Dana Wollman, Engadget Executive Editor

10:10 – 10:30 AM
Talk: A New Lexicon for Virtual Reality with Eugene Chung (Penrose)
Just as the entertainment industry needed a new lexicon in the early days of film and opera, creators of virtual and augmented reality face the same challenge. Each new medium requires its own specific terminology, and there’s a “new language” coming into place for AR and VR. Penrose Studios founders, Oculus Story Studio co-founder and Pixar alum, Eugene Chung talks about how we talk about virtual worlds.

10:30 – 11:00 AM
Artist Spotlight: Untrained Eyes documentary screener and presentation by Glenn Kaino and Jesse Williams
Untrained Eyes is a conceptual technology project that takes its inspiration from observing the explicit bias that can be found during everyday image searches within Google and other public-image archives. Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) and long-time collaborator and internationally renowned artists Glenn Kaino use artificial intelligence to hold up a mirror to programming bias.

11:00 – 11:30 AM
Panel: Identity and Representation in the “Empathy Machine” with Gina Kim (UCLA), Nicole McDonald (HELO)
Panelists will discuss the idea of virtual reality as the ultimate “empathy machine,” and how science and storytelling combine to allow viewers to experience the world through the eyes of another.

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Artist Spotlight: Mapper’s Delight documentary screener and presentation by Tahir Hemphill
Mapper’s Delight is a cultural tale representing worlds, experiences and gameplay told through the most-listened-to musical genre on the planet. The Datanauts of Mapper’s Delight use sight, sound and touch to investigate the global distances traveled by the lyrics contained in each rap artist’s career while exploring the secret flows of hip-hop’s spacetime through a panoptic interface.

12:00 – 1:00 PM

1:00 – 1:30 PM
Talk: Manufactured Hallucinations: Virtual Dreams & Emotional Machines by Rama Allen
Rama is going to get weird. He’ll discuss translating dreams and hallucinations into shared digital experiences; virtual worlds that respond to feelings; and the bright, odd, shiny future for technologically enabled artists. Mostly just hallucinations, though.

1:30 – 2:00 PM
Artist Spotlight: Dance with flARmingos documentary screener and presentation by Kristin Lucas
Dance with flARmingos is a mixed reality experience that features an interspecies dance between humans and flamingos, and pays homage to the flamingo — a consummate showman and embattled victim of environmental neglect — by staging kinship from an ethical distance. Digital art pioneer Kristin Lucas and her team use augmented reality to transport you to a flamingo dance party.

2:00 – 2:30 PM
Panel: The Big Picture With Marcie Jastrow (Technicolor Experience Center), Jen Dennis (RSA VR), and Ruthie Doyle (Sundance)
With VR and AR still in their infancy, we’ve yet to see what the media killer applications will be. With filmmaking, art, gaming, enterprise and social media pushing to come out ahead, what will the future of AR and VR look like?

2:30 – 3:00 PM

3:00 – 3:30 PM
Artist Spotlight: Dinner Party documentary screener and presentation by Laura Wexler, Angel Soto, Saschka Unseld and Charlotte Stoudt
Dinner Party is a virtual-reality thriller based on the true story of the Betty and Barney Hill UFO-abduction incident, the first nationally known UFO abduction in American history. After an inexplicable nighttime encounter, the Hills, an interracial couple living in 1960s America, sought hypnosis to recover memories of what they experienced. Literary journalist Laura Wexler, Angel Soto (RYOT), Saschka Unseld (Pixar, Oculus Story Studio) and Charlotte Stoudt (Homeland) transport you to another world via virtual reality.

3:30 – 4:00 PM
Artist Spotlight: Your Hands Are Feet documentary screener and presentation by Amelia Winger-Bearskin and Sarah Rothberg
Your Hands Are Feet is an interactive room-scale VR experience that places you in surreal realities made up of experiential metaphors. You start out in a kitchen with a carton of six eggs, which can be picked up and thrown or cracked on the countertop. Each egg acts as a portal to a new experience; the room is transformed into a surreal landscape, presenting a reality where your head can be in the clouds, the whole world can crumble around you, you can be all thumbs, or have two left feet (but really, though).

4:00 – 4:30 PM
Panel: The Social Medium by Boo Wong (The Mill), Adam Arrigo (The Wave VR)
Virtual Reality has often been criticized for its predisposition to isolating users. We’ll explore how artists and technologists are working to make VR a social medium in amusement parks, music and sports.

4:30 – 5:00 PM
In Conversation: TBA

5:00 – 5:30 PM
In conversation: Nonny de la Peña
Engadget senior editor Devindra Hardawar will sit down with the “godmother of virtual reality” to talk about the early days of virtual reality, the new VR gold rush and her work as a trailblazer in immersive storytelling.

5:30 – 7:30 PM
Closing Reception
Attendees will mingle with artists, speakers and panelists and explore the Alternate Realities prizewinning projects.


Sometimes, all you need in life is a cat tail cushion

As a cat owner myself, I was surprised by how realistic the tail moved, especially with how its wagging intensity increased as I petted it harder (my cat would eventually warn me with a bite). Interestingly, the stroking detection is mostly done with just one accelerometer inside the body, according to CEO Shunsuke Aoki. He added that despite the cat-like appearance, the realistic tail movement is actually based on research on both cat and dog behavior. Still, I’d like to think of Qoobo as more of a cat, and that’s me speaking as an owner of both a cat and a dog.

The idea of Qoobo originated from one of Yukai Engineering’s 20 employees in an internal competition about half a year ago. The designer had a cat, but since the apartment she moved into didn’t allow pets, she had to leave her cat with her parents. This inspired her to come up with a lifelike pet substitute that would make her feel better whenever she thought of her cat. And of course, this would double as a therapy robot for potentially treating depression and anxiety, as not everyone has access to a therapy cat or dog for various reasons — be it costs, allergies or the aforementioned apartment restrictions.

Qoobo will be launched via a crowdfunding platform later this year for around $100, and it’s expecting a June 2018 delivery. It’ll have two color options: “husky gray” and “French brown.” The final product will have an eight-hour battery life with USB charging, though Aoki has yet to decide where to place the USB port. Admittedly, we had a good laugh about this, too.


Spider silk and stem-cell leather are the future of fashion

Unless the majority of clothing and footwear companies — and not just high-end fashion lines like Stella McCartney or select manufacturers like Adidas — start to make sustainability a priority, the problem will only get worse.

That’s where Russian fashion industry scion Miroslava Duma and her new organization come in. Fashion Tech Labs is an incubator for sustainable fashion, wearable electronics and other cutting-edge clothing, jewelry and designer innovations. FTL is one of a new breed of such research and incubation firms that see garment-industry waste as not just a problem to be solved, but a financial opportunity.

“This is a revolution that’s coming,” said Duma. “So we’d rather be in, because it’s going to happen anyway.”

Duma’s company organized the event along with McCartney and Google’s Arts & Culture Lab, which has a tie-in via its recently launched We Wear Culture virtual style exhibition. The idea was to show off some of the tech that’s germinating, often literally, at Fashion Tech Lab.

That includes VitroLabs tissue engineering, which creates ethical leather from cow, ostrich and crocodile cells, and Worn Again, which recycles discarded textiles, saving copious amounts of water, oil and other raw resources. Other companies include Bolt Threads, which produces high-tensile-strength materials molecularly derived from spider silk, Diamond Foundry’s “morally pure” man-made diamonds that are “optically and atomically the same as a mined diamond,” and Mint Materials, which is producing a plant-based antibacterial and odor-control treatment for clothing.

All of these companies are doing cutting-edge work that, in some cases, has yet to be commercialized. To help, FTL used the Paris show as an opportunity to introduce them to both investors and the press.

“We use advanced stem-cell technology and tissue engineering to create full-thickness skin that we then tan and turn into leather,” VitroLabs co-founder Ingvar Helgason told Engadget. “This completely removes the need for animals; it reduces the environmental impact and allows us to enjoy the beautiful materials that we’ve become accustomed to, but without the environmental or ethical implications.”

VitroLabs showed off a piece of the leather, which was, to say the least, weird. However, the company has made only small chunks of skin and is still working on scaling it up (though it says it will have an announcement about that soon). Suffice it to say, VitroLabs needs tons of capital, support, and a network of fashion contacts, which it hopes to get in spades from Fashion Tech Lab and Duma.

“Fashion Tech Lab is working across a couple of different pillars, the first one being investment into these startups,” said the company’s chief of technology and research, Dr. Amanda Parkes. “We’re really trying to grow and scale these technologies to make them accessible and connect them with luxury and big fashion brands.”

The company is certainly creating a buzz for its clients. At one point while shooting photos and video, I looked up and standing right in front of me was McCartney, actor Salma Hayek and Diane von Furstenberg, checking out the VitroLabs leather and schmoozing with Duma.

The fact that celebrities and designers are taking an interest in sustainable fashion tech is a good sign. Wearable technology needs fashion designers more than fashion designers need technology — smartwatches, for instance, were moribund until Apple, Fossil, Tag Heuer and others introduced decent-looking products.

Some of the technology, from Diamond Foundry and VitroLabs, for example, is aimed at the high-end luxury fashion business, for now. “[We have] a customer base that really does care about sustainability,” said Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at ultra-luxury brand LVMH. “If we can upgrade the high-quality materials that we work with and make the planet better along the way, that’s a win.”

But what about the rest of us? Recycled textiles and materials made from ocean waste and other sources seem to hold the most promise for the larger consumer market. With its ocean-plastic shoe, Adidas proved that customers are buying into the premise, and Stella McCartney thinks manufacturers and designers needn’t worry about demand.

“The consumers are way ahead, sadly, of the designers and businesses,” she said. “And I hope the industry is seeing that we seem so old-fashioned. [Textile waste] is really quite terrifying, so I hope that they go away from this event and reflect on how they need to do something about it now.”


Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus tie for top spot in camera test

The Note 8’s advantages chiefly come through its secondary camera, relatively noiseless low-light photography and lightning-quick autofocus. Of the two, Samsung’s phone is the one you’d want for portraits or capturing a fast-moving scene. The iPhone, on the other hand, has exceptional high dynamic range performance, accurate face exposure and great overall video performance, particularly with stabilization. And both have their weak points, as you might imagine. The Note 8 has a fairly limited dynamic range that results in lost detail in extreme situations, and has white balance problems in bright lighting or indoors. Apple’s device occasionally struggles with autofocus, doesn’t always nail the color cast in low lighting and has visible noise in low-light video.

The question is: how much does this influence your choice of device? Frankly, it’s complicated. Some of it clearly depends on personal preference based on your photography habits: you may pick the iPhone if you prefer a more accurate color range, or the Note 8 if you enjoy low-light shooting. This also assumes you treat DxOMark’s scores as canonical — it can’t account for every situation with tests, and it may downplay factors that you consider crucial. And of course, there’s the simple matter of liking the rest of the phone. If you’re a hardcore Android or iOS fan, even the best camera in history probably wouldn’t convince you to switch sides.


Court filing shows what former Waymo engineer allegedly took to Uber

The report was put together by cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg which found that Levandowski had 50,000 work emails on his computer from when he was employed at Google. On his phone, he also had pictures of a Google car, technical diagrams and a LiDAR patent application. Waymo’s LiDAR technology is the basis of the company’s suit against Uber. The report also describes five disks that held proprietary Google information that Levandowski supposedly discovered in his possession and alerted Uber to. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO at the time, reportedly said he “wanted nothing to do with the disks” and Levandowski claims he had them destroyed. However, the Stroz Friedberg report notes some difficulty in confirming Levandowski’s story.

Aside from Levandowski, Stroz Friedberg also found that cofounder Lior Rion possessed confidential images on his phone and had deleted files from his computer in the midst of its investigation as had Otto Chief Operating Engineer Colin Sebern.

However, while this report highlights what sorts of proprietary information Otto employees may have taken with them after leaving Google — as well as some shady behavior — it doesn’t prove that any of that information was ever used by Uber to develop its technology. And that’s something Alphabet will need to demonstrate in order to win its case against Uber.

Last month, after receiving this document, Alphabet requested the trial be delayed in light of new evidence that it needed to work through. The judge is supposed to decide today whether the October 10th start date will be pushed.


10 million people saw Russian political ads

According to The Washington Post, one of the ads showed a black woman firing a rifle without a bullet. Another ad used pictures of Hillary Clinton behind bars, which supported her critics’ “Lock Her Up” campaign after it was revealed that she used a private email server. The ads also encouraged people to follow Pages about the topics, which aligns with what Facebook reported discovering in early September.

If you’ll recall, the company found around $100,000 in ad spend connected to Pages spreading fake political news leading to the US Presidential elections. It traced all 470 Pages and accounts that bought the ads back to Russia. Facebook said people saw 44 percent of the ads before the election and 56 percent after the election was done. Audiences never saw around 25 percent of the ads, though, because they didn’t target anyone’s interest. Half of those ads cost less than $3, though one percent of the total number cost over $1,000.

In addition to the advertisements’ statistics, Facebook has provided replies to some tough questions a lot of probably want to ask. It admitted having a hard time catching advertisements that broke its rules due to the massive number it deals with per week. The social network also explained that it won’t stop foreigners from speaking out on issues in the US and users from posting opinions it doesn’t agree with, because it believes in free speech.

However, it promises to implement new features that can help it catch and filter out ads that break its rules. Going forward, the company promises to tighten restrictions on advertiser content and increase its requirements for authenticity. US election-related advertisers will now have to authenticate their businesses. Facebook promises to provide industry and political watchdog groups access to the ad transparency tool it’s building, as well.

The social network will now also require ads that target certain types of interests to go through additional human review and approval. Any ad that aims to spread messages of hate or violence, such as those anti-Semitic ads ProPublica found on the website, will be rejected or removed. “Facebook’s Community Standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, and our advertising terms are even more restrictive, prohibiting advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes,” Elliot Schrage, Facebook Policy and Communications VP, wrote in the post.

Schrage said Facebook’s investigation is far from finished. The company knows there might be ads leading to fake news Pages that it still hasn’t found, so it hasn’t stopped looking for “abuse and bad actors” on the platform.


Open data from the Large Hadron Collider sparks new discovery

Last week, a team from MIT released an article in Physical Review Letters that used data from the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of the LHC’s main detectors, to explain a feature within high-energy particle collisions. When protons collide at very high speeds, they release jets of quarks and gluons. The MIT team was able to show, using CMS data, that the same equation can predict both the pattern of these jets and the energy of the particles produced from a proton collision. Scientists suspected this was indeed the case, and now that hypothesis has been verified.

This is revolutionary because there’s been a reluctance in particle physics to make information available publicly. Jesse Thaler, one of the scientists on the project, told Phys.org, “The worry was, if you made the data public, then you would have people claiming evidence for new physics when actually it was just a glitch in how the detector was operating.” He continues to say that there was a certain arrogance that may have played into it as well: the belief that, if in-house scientists couldn’t make a discovery based on this data, then there was no way others could.

That’s why this discovery is so encouraging. The equation in and of itself isn’t revolutionary; it confirms something most scientists already agreed with. But the fact that the LHC’s public data led to a discovery outside the organization is a big step. Perhaps it will encourage other particle colliders to make their data available as well. Thaler said, “Our work here shows that we can understand in general how to use this open data, that it has scientific value, and that this can be a stepping stone to future analysis of more exotic possibilities.”


Apple releases kernel source code tuned for mobile chips

To start: this is just the kernel, the low-level code that governs the most critical functions. It doesn’t cover the interface, developer frameworks or apps… that is, the parts that truly define iOS or macOS. Those elements are still closed off, so you would have to build most of the platform from scratch. You won’t see iOS on a Galaxy S8 any time soon. Apple also offers a relatively limited source code license that isn’t as flexible as, say, the GPL license used for Linux.

Moreover, while the presence of ARM-based Mac code is bound to raise eyebrows, this doesn’t mean that you’re about to see a MacBook with an A11 Bionic chip inside. Apple has a long history of writing code for other architectures “just in case” (the PowerPC-to-Intel transition happened quickly because Apple already had code waiting in the wings), so it might never make the switch. You certainly aren’t about to install macOS on your ARM-based Chromebook. And besides, there are rumors of Apple developing ARM-based companion chips for Macs. It may need ARM code even if it has no intention of ditching Intel for CPUs.

All the same, it’s a welcome move. This gives app and OS developers a better sense of how Apple tackles basic system tasks, particularly on iOS. And yes, anyone ambitious enough to write a full operating system could use XNU as a starting point. It’s just not going to change the status quo for Apple.


It took six months for my Nintendo Switch to run out of space

It’s my own fault, really. If I hadn’t insisted on playing every major release Nintendo put out since launch, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Still, can you blame me? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was a masterful reissue of one of the Wii U’s best games, and Splatoon 2 was a strong follow up to multiplayer shooter that ruled my summer in 2015. On top of that, we had a brand new Nintendo IP in the guise of ARMS, a wacky telescoping boxing game, the delightful absurdity of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and plenty of great download-only titles like Sonic Mania, Blaster Master Zero and Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. Nintendo’s hybrid portable console has had a good first year.

When this steady stream of games filled my switch to capacity, however, I didn’t run out and buy a microSD card as I originally planned. Instead, I’ve spent the last few months using Nintendo’s built in data management tool — a pop-up menu prompt that helps you clear out space for a new game by automatically culling your unplayed library.

If you try to download a title you don’t have enough space for, a broken progress bar will appear on the bottom of the game’s icon. Click it, and the Switch will immediately tell you how much space you need to clear to install the game and recommended software to archive. Don’t like what the Switch chooses? No problem — the pop up window will happily take you to the console’s data management screen to sort through your unplayed game library yourself.

It’s a small feature, but it makes managing the Nintendo Switch’s lack of storage space ridiculously easy. When my PlayStation 4 runs out of space, it only notifies me passively — leaving me to drag myself to the system’s storage management menu and stumble through four different categories of data — but the Switch identifies a problem and immediately offers a solution. It takes the work out of juggling data and opens a path to just playing the game I want to launch. That’s nice.

This data management screen doesn’t forgive the Nintendo Switch’s lack of storage — 32GB is still far too little for any modern game console — but it made one of the console’s biggest flaws bearable. I’m still going to buy expanded storage for the Switch eventually, but I don’t feel like I need to right away. That’s a nice quality of life feature, and a small indication that Nintendo is getting better at designing console user interfaces that can rival the competition.


Samsung is the latest tech titan to open an AI lab in Canada

It’s no secret that Samsung wants (and arguably, needs) to bolster its AI work. The Bixby assistant is already a tentpole feature for Samsung’s smartphones, and it’s spreading to devices like smart speakers or even appliances. If it’s going to be a success, it needs to rapidly evolve past its current rough state and become something you’d actually prefer — especially since it does have relatively unique features like object identification. Combine this with Samsung’s early autonomous driving and robotics work and it’s possible that the fate of the company could hinge on the strength of its AI labs.

And one thing’s for sure: Canada’s investment in AI (it earmarked $125 million in federal funding, among other initiatives) is leading to a fierce battle for talent, particularly in Montreal. While major brands are researching AI across the country, such as Google’s DeepMind office in Edmonton and Apple’s self-driving unit in Ottawa, Montreal was already home to teams from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. If Samsung didn’t open an AI lab in the city, it risked losing talent. It’s hard to say how much longer this trend will continue, but it’s easy to see other big names following suit out of fears they’ll miss a big AI breakthrough.