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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Virtual Reality
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:08 am
The definition of virtual reality comes, naturally, from the definitions for both virtual and reality. The definition of virtual is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term virtual reality basically means near-reality. This could, of course, mean anything but it usually refers to a specific type of reality emulation.
We know the world through our senses and perception systems. In school we all learned that we have five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. These are however only our most obvious sense organs. The truth is that humans have many more senses than this, such as a sense of balance for example. These other sensory inputs, plus some special processing of sensory information by our brains ensures that we have a rich flow of information from the environment to our minds.
Everything that we know about our reality comes by way of our senses. In other words, our entire experience of reality is simply a combination of sensory information and our brains sense-making mechanisms for that information. It stands to reason then, that if you can present your senses with made-up information, your perception of reality would also change in response to it. You would be presented with a version of reality that isnt really there, but from your perspective it would be perceived as real. Something we would refer to as a virtual reality.
So, in summary, virtual reality entails presenting our senses with a computer generated virtual environment that we can explore in some fashion.
Answering what is virtual reality in technical terms is straight-forward. Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.
Although we talk about a few historical early forms of virtual reality elsewhere on the site, today virtual reality is usually implemented using computer technology. There are a range of systems that are used for this purpose, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves. These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality.
This is more difficult than it sounds, since our senses and brains are evolved to provide us with a finely synchronised and mediated experience. If anything is even a little off we can usually tell. This is where youll hear terms such asimmersiveness and realism enter the conversation. These issues that divide convincing or enjoyable virtual reality experiences from jarring or unpleasant ones are partly technical and partly conceptual. Virtual reality technology needs to take our physiology into account. For example, the human visual field does not look like a video frame. We have (more or less) 180 degrees of vision and although you are not always consciously aware of your peripheral vision, if it were gone youd notice. Similarly when what your eyes and the vestibular system in your ears tell you are in conflict it can cause motion sickness. Which is what happens to some people on boats or when they read while in a car.
If an implementation of virtual reality manages to get the combination of hardware, software and sensory synchronicity just right it achieves something known as a sense of presence. Where the subject really feels like they are present in that environment.
This may seems like a lot of effort, and it is! What makes the development of virtual reality worthwhile? The potential entertainment value is clear. Immersive films and video games are good examples. The entertainment industry is after all a multi-billion dollar one and consumers are always keen on novelty. Virtual reality has many other, more serious, applications as well.
There are a wide variety of applications for virtual reality which include:
Virtual reality can lead to new and exciting discoveries in these areas which impact upon our day to day lives.
Wherever it is too dangerous, expensive or impractical to do something in reality, virtual reality is the answer. From trainee fighter pilots to medical applications trainee surgeons, virtual reality allows us to take virtual risks in order to gain real world experience. As the cost of virtual reality goes down and it becomes more mainstream you can expect more serious uses, such as education or productivity applications, to come to the fore. Virtual reality and its cousin augmented reality could substantively change the way we interface with our digital technologies. Continuing the trend of humanising our technology.
There are many different types of virtual reality systems but they all share the same characteristics such as the ability to allow the person to view three-dimensional images. These images appear life-sized to the person.
Plus they change as the person moves around their environment which corresponds with the change in their field of vision. The aim is for a seamless join between the persons head and eye movements and the appropriate response, e.g. change in perception. This ensures that the virtual environment is both realistic and enjoyable.
A virtual environment should provide the appropriate responses in real time- as the person explores their surroundings. The problems arise when there is a delay between the persons actions and system response or latency which then disrupts their experience. The person becomes aware that they are in an artificial environment and adjusts their behaviour accordingly which results in a stilted, mechanical form of interaction.
The aim is for a natural, free-flowing form of interaction which will result in a memorable experience.
Virtual reality is the creation of a virtual environment presented to our senses in such a way that we experience it as if we were really there. It uses a host of technologies to achieve this goal and is a technically complex feat that has to account for our perception and cognition. It has both entertainment and serious uses. The technology is becoming cheaper and more widespread. We can expect to see many more innovative uses for the technology in the future and perhaps a fundamental way in which we communicate and work thanks to the possibilities of virtual reality.
Posted: at 4:08 am
HTC, whose mobile handsets ruled the smartphone world of yesteryear, is working with an adviser to examine some pretty significant strategic options as it aims to find a path forward, Bloomberg reports.These steps include the possibilities of selling its Vive virtual reality arm or simply spinning it off into a separate venture.
Weve reached out to HTC for comment.
The report noted that a full sale of the Taiwanese tech firm was less likely given that its business which encompasses a wide scope of efforts didnt fit obviously with one acquirer. Nothing is final, and Bloombergs sources maintained that they may choose not to go through with any of these options.
HTCs core business has faced a major downturn in the past decade, with its stock falling 75 percent in the past five years and nearly 95 percent since its all-time high in April of 2011. The company is currently worth about $1.8 billion.
As the companys handset business has slowed in China and the US significantly, HTC has invested major resources into seeking to get ahead of the virtual reality industry and establish itself as a major presence. In addition to its hardware pursuits, HTC has launched a VR accelerator, an investment organization devoted to VR companies and a 3,500 square foot VR arcade in Taiwan called Viveland.
The companys flagship headset made in collaboration with the gaming company Valve still seems to be outselling Facebooks Oculus Rift handily according to analysts, but neither company has released unit sales figures. Earlier this week, HTC delivered the first significant price cut to the headset, taking the price down from $799 to $599.
HTC also manufactures Googles Pixel phone which was introduced last year, a device which was the first to showcase Googles Daydream virtual reality platform. HTC is set to release a standalone positionally-tracked headset in collaboration with Google based on the Daydream platform later this year as well.
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Posted: at 4:08 am
KFC is tapping virtual reality to improve its employees chicken frying skills.
The fast food chain said Thursday that its debuting an employee-training program in which chefs learn to cook a batch of the companys signature fried chicken inside a virtual kitchen.
The training program was designed to resemble a game in which participants complete the five steps required to make fried chicken in a style to KFCs liking. This includes inspecting, rinsing, breading, racking, and then pressure frying virtual chickens.
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KFC said that it takes about 25 minutes for employees to fry chicken, but the virtual reality program only takes 10 minutes to complete. A KFC spokesperson said in an email that, “The VR isnt meant to speed up the process, it is to teach cooks how to make the world-famous Original Recipe fried chicken.”
The game was developed by the technology group of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy and is intended to be played on the Facebook-owned ( fb ) Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Its unclear just how big of a roll out KFC is planning for its VR training game, which could be a marketing stunt to generate publicity for KFC, considering that an advertising firm built the VR program. Food site Eater noted that KFC has recently tried other publicity stunts including a takeout box that also charges phones and a bucket for holding chicken that also functions as a Bluetooth photo printer.
A KFC spokesperson told Eater, The game is intended to supplement the existing Chicken Mastery program, not replace it.
This is intended to be a fun way to celebrate the work KFCs more than 19,000 cooks do every day in every restaurant across the U.S. in an engaging way, the spokesperson said.
Story updated on Thursday 3:50 PM PST to correct how the VR tech is being used.
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Posted: at 4:08 am
Devotees of the late, great sci-fi seriesStar Trek: The Next Generationwill remember the holodeck, a space-age virtual reality arena that could replicate any kind of environment. While it could be used as a training platform, Enterprise officers most often used the holodeck as a recreational space, immersing themselves in nature.
In an inspired twist on the concept, researchers in Europe have developed a virtual reality environment for freely moving animals that appears to be effective at generating convincing illusions of the natural world for mice, fish, and fruit flies.
Alas for the animals, the VR system isn’t designed for the animals recreational benefit. Instead, researchers hope to use the VR rig as a controlled setting for examining animal perceptions and behavior.
Dubbed FreemoVR, the system is actually pretty basic as far as virtual reality environments go. The setup is essentially a cylindrical space in which the floor and wraparound wall are made from flexible computer displays. Animals placed into the environment are monitored by overhead cameras and sensors that track their movement and behavior around the 3D space.
The principal benefit of the FreemoVR system is that, as the name implies, the device allows animals to move about freely within the environment. Using specially developed software, the researchers can adjust the visual imagery on the fly, as it were, and project elements based on the animals behavior and movements in real time.
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The most important thing is that the animal is actually moving and gets all the appropriate mechanosensory feedback, study co-author Andrew Straw, of the University of Freiburg in Germany, told Seeker in an email. This is really important for studies of navigation and spatial cognition, because if the animal doesnt believe it is moving, it will be difficult to study how the animal updates its mental map as it moves.
The newstudy,publishedthis week in the journalNature Methods, details a series of experiments that suggest that the lab animals find the virtual reality experience pretty convincing. The animals reacted to virtual images the same as they would to real-world objects and obstacles. The research team chose three animal species often employed in lab studies mice, fruit flies, and zebrafish to make the technique more useful to other scientists.
In one experiment, mice were placed atop an elevated platform with a projection screen lying beneath. The display created an illusion of depth, giving the impression that one end of the platform was higher than the other. The mice reacted to the illusory change of height by staying on the lower and safer end of the platform.
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In another experiment, a tank filled with zebrafish was placed in the FreemoVR system while researchers projected a swarm of descending aliens from the oldSpace Invadersarcade game. The fish reacted to the incoming swarm as if it were real, and even engaged in mimicking behavior to join the swarm.
Tricking fish with old video games may seem like a strange use of the scientific method, but Straw says the experiments can tell us a lot about how animals see the world, which in turn can tell us about human perception especially in large groups.
Humans and mammals have a highly conserved overall brain architecture and many close parallels in the systems related to spatial cognition, Straw said. Thats the reason why many labs use these [animal] systems for models. This way, we can do things such as recording from hundreds or thousands simultaneously, which would not be possible in human experiments.
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Incidentally, the holodeck thing is no random pop culture reference. Straw, who has plainly stated that his teams aim was to create a holodeck for animals, grew up watchingStar Trek.
Star Trek: The Next Generationplayed in almost infinite reruns where I grew up, he said. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is basically my hero.
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Microsoft patents a WAND that syncs up to its virtual reality Oculus Rift headset and might help shoot game villains – The Sun
Posted: at 4:08 am
MICROSOFT has created a wand that controls games while wearing its HoloLens headset.
The device will likely be used as a gun in shoot ’em up games as well as a wand to point and interact with objects that you perceive to be in front of you.
A patent filing, spotted by WalkingCat, reveals an accessory with buttons, a trigger, a finger guard and a light indicator that tells you when it’s on.
There were scant details in the filings, but it’s very likely the wand will sync to Microsoft’s HoloLens “mixed reality” headset.
HoloLens is immersive, but it doesnt block out the real world.
Instead, it places holographic pictures into physical surroundings to see, place and interact as if the holograms are part of the physical world.
It’s not hard to imagine Harry Potter-esquemagic games or more vicious shoot ’em up games being played with the futuristic controller.
Eagle-eyed tech fans might notice that they look strikingly similar to Sony’s PlayStation virtual reality controller.
The tech rival has its own virtual reality headset, used primarily for gaming.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is targeted at education and the workplace, rather than pure entertainment.
It might sound bonkers, but men are alreadystrapping on headsets to spice up romps with their wives, according to adult industry insiders.
Virtual reality pornography could be available in thousands of European hotels room within six months.
A virtual reality death simulator could help “cure societys fear of dying”, too.
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Posted: at 4:08 am
Imax Corp. IMAX, +3.67% said on Thursday it’s expanding its virtual reality business, opening a new virtual reality center at a Cineplex theater TSX:CGX in Toronto, Canada. Along with the new VR center, Imax will add a new Imax auditorium at Cineplex theaters in Toronto and Regina. As U.S. box office trends have slowed, Imax has been investing heavily in virtual reality in hopes of driving traffic to movie theaters, and has been focused on expanding its international reach. Imax opened its flagship VR center in Los Angeles in January, followed by another location in New York City. The premium film exhibitor plans to launch eight more centers in North America, Western Europe and Asia this year. The plan is to use these as pilot locations to test consumer experience with the burgeoning technology, pricing and different content offerings. Imax said it plans to roll out the VR center concept globally at select multiplexes, shopping malls and tourist destinations. Shares of Imax have declined nearly 44% in the year to date, as cinema chains and film exhibitors have struggled to contend with weak box office results and concerns of shrinking theatrical windows and further digital disruption. The S&P 500 index SPX, -0.21% by comparison, is up more than 9% in the year.
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Posted: August 22, 2017 at 11:59 pm
Aug.22.2017 / 2:13 PM ET
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Think virtual reality is just about gaming and the world of make-believe? Get real. From product design to real estate, many industries have adopted VR and related technologies and nowhere are the benefits of VR greater than in healthcare.
We are seeing more and more of this incorporated faster than ever before, said Dr. Ajit Sachdeva, Director of Education with the American College of Surgeons. VR has reached a tipping point in medicine.
As NBC News MACH reported previously, psychologists have found VR to be good for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. And stroke doctors, pain specialists, surgeons, and other medical practitioners have found their own uses for VR. In some cases, medical VR involves the familiar headsets; in others, 3D glasses and special video screens give a VR-like experience.
The use of VR and 3D visualization technology in medicine isnt brand-new. Medical researchers have been exploring ways to create 3D models of patients internal organs using VR since the 1990s. But advances in computing power have made simulated images much more realistic and much faster to create.
X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans can now be turned into high-resolution 3D images in under a minute, said Sergio Agirre, chief technology officer of EchoPixel, a Mountain View, California firm whose visualization software is being used in hospitals across the U.S. Twenty years ago, it would probably take them a week to be able to do that.
These days, common surgical procedures like appendectomies or cesarean sections are often pretty routine one case is similar to the next. But some especially complicated procedures including the separation of conjoined twins present unique challenges that can be met only with meticulous planning. For these, 3D visualization is proving to be a game-changer.
Recently, VR played a vital role in the successful separation of conjoined twins at Masonic Childrens Hospital in Minneapolis. The three-month-old twins were joined far more extensively than some other conjoined twins, with intricate connections between their hearts and livers. That meant the surgery to separate the twins would be unusually complicated and potentially very dangerous for the twins.
Before surgery, the surgical team took CT, ultrasound, and MRI scans and created a super-detailed virtual model of the twins bodies and then ventured inside their organs to identify potential pitfalls and plan how these would be avoided during surgery.
You look through the 3D glasses, and you can basically walk through the structure, peeling apart parts so you can look at exactly what you want to, said Dr. Anthony Azakie, one of the surgeons who separated the twins. He said the high-resolution visualization helped minimize the number of surprises that we were potentially dealing with.
VR technology is also being used by vascular specialists like Dr. In Sup Choi, director of interventional neuroradiology at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts. When he uses interactive 3D visualizations to prepare for procedures to fix aneurysms and blocked arteries, he said, he gets a better idea of what types of devices we have to use and what approach might work best.
If doctors are donning VR gear, so are their patients. Theyre using the headsets to immerse themselves in a peaceful virtual world that takes their focus off discomfort associated with medical problems and treatments.
Because anesthesia and sedation can be risky for some patients, including those who are frail or very elderly, some hospitals are offering these patients VR headsets as a way to help control pain during minimally invasive procedures. Its still experimental at this point, but the results so far have been successful.
Similarly, VR has been shown to reduce anxiety in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy infusions. VR is even making injections and other painful or potentially frightening procedures less distressing to children.
But burn patients may be some of the biggest beneficiaries of VR technology. From daily cleaning and bandaging of burns to skin grafts, severe burn patients experience some of the most painful procedures in medicine, said Dr. Hunter Hoffman, a University of Washington scientist with expertise in the use of VR for pain relief. Pain medications help, but theyre often not strong enough.
For these patients, Hoffman helped create the VR game SnowWorld, which features imagery designed specifically to distract burn patients from pain. Patients who play the game during treatment report up to 50 percent less pain than similar patients not playing the game, according to preliminary research. Other research suggests that patients playing the game actually show changes in the brain that indicate theyre feeling less pain.
SnowWorld is now being evaluated in clinical trials at four sites in the U.S. and at two international sites.
VR shouldnt be considered a replacement for pain-killing medication, Hoffman said, adding that combining drugs and VR could be especially effective.
VR is also helping patients overcome balance and mobility problems resulting from stroke or head injury.
Using VR, I can control whats going on around the patient and measure what kind of impact its having on that patients ability to change, said Emily Keshner, a professor of physical therapy at Temple University in Philadelphia. We expose them to this repeatedly and we give them feedback about how they can respond to prevent themselves from falling.
Research has shown that VR-mediated rehabilitation can speed the pace at which these patients regain physical abilities. Theres a long way to go in conducting all the research needed to validate these results and make these techniques part of routine practice, Keshner said but its on the way.
One study of stroke patients showed that VR rehab led to more improvements in arm and hand movement compared to conventional rehab after four weeks of therapy. The VR-assisted patients had better mobility when the doctors checked in two months later. Other research has shown similarly successful outcomes for patients with cerebral palsy undergoing rehab for balance problems.
The power of VR [for therapy] is that youre really changing the way people perceive the world, Keshner said. They learn how to respond. And after practicing in that virtual world, they are much more confident and capable.
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Posted: at 11:59 pm
Astronauts arent made in a day. To first qualify for a mission assignment in space, NASAs astronaut candidates typically have to complete up to two years of training here on Earth. And that includes a rotating roster of activities, workouts, and assignments that change every single day.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of astronaut training is learning to work in simulated space environments, something we explore in the second episode of Space Craft. For NASA, a crucial asset is the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a giant pool located at the Sonny Carter Training Facility in Houston, Texas. It measures 202 feet long and 102 feet wide a little less than half the size of a football field. It also stretches 40 feet deep and houses a full-scale replica of the International Space Station inside. Working in the pool is one of the best ways to train for future spacewalks, since its a pretty fair representation of how it feels to work in microgravity outside the ISS.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of astronaut training is learning to work in simulated space environments
But there are other ways to simulate spacewalks apart from diving into the NBL. NASA was an early adopter of virtual reality, using the technology over the last decade to help astronauts train for upcoming space missions. NASAs Johnson Space Center in Houston is home to the Virtual Reality Lab, where astronauts plan out their future excursions inside and outside the International Space Station.
VR is a useful tool for better understanding the scope of a spacewalk, for instance. It gives astronauts a sense of how far apart segments are going to be on the outside of the station, as well as how theyll need to grip handrails or twist their arms to properly scale the ISS modules. Astronauts who are assigned to missions in space usually plan months to years in advance for any of their spacewalks. And at the Virtual Reality Lab, they can simulate the exact spacewalk scenario that they need to practice over and over, before doing the real thing in lower Earth orbit.
While VR is good for making plans in advance, its also critical for preparing astronauts for the remote possibility of those plans failing. In the VR Lab, astronauts can also experience virtually what its like to get disconnected from the ISS during a spacewalk. Such a scenario has never happened accidentally before; astronauts are always tethered to the station when they do their spacewalks, but NASA likes to prepare for the remote possibility of an astronaut floating away freely. To get back to safety, astronauts can operate a jet backpack called SAFER, which uses tiny thrusters to propel someone through space. Its not the easiest tool to maneuver, however, and VR is great at demonstrating the difficulty of using SAFER in an emergency scenario.
The Johnson Space Center doesnt train astronauts with just VR technology. Its also home to the Systems Engineering Simulator, a facility that contains mock-ups of space vehicles that astronauts may be tasked to operate in the future. For instance, astronauts can train how to work in the future space capsules that SpaceX and Boeing are building, which will be carrying astronauts to the space station in the next couple of years. The facility also has mock-ups of rovers that can traverse other worlds, like Mars. Its a vehicle that astronauts probably wont be driving on Mars for decades, but thanks to the SES facility, at least theyll be somewhat prepared.
Posted: at 11:59 pm
Scientists have devised a virtual reality platform for lab animals. Let that sink in.Zebrafish have swum with the aliens from the video game Space Invaders, mice were afraid of virtual heights, and fruit flies circled illusory obstacles.
This new holodeck for animals can help researchers see how freely-moving animals respond to a variety of illusionswork that could help scientists better understand human genes and brain circuitry, researchers say. The researchers, from the Vienna Biocenter in Austria, detailed their findings in todays edition of the journal Nature Methods.
FreemoVR, immersed animals in arenas where the walls or floors were computer displays. Each screen depicted photorealistic images that accounted for each animals perspective as it walked, flew, or swam.
Up to 10 high-speed cameras monitored the precise 3D position of each animal. FreemoVR then updated its video imagery within milliseconds of each animal’s movements to create the 3D illusion that they were moving in environments that changed in response to their actions.
The researchers compared FreemoVR to the holodeck, a fictional environment in [the TV show] Star Trek in which humans enter a computer-controlled virtual world, says Andrew Straw, a neurobiologist at the Vienna Biocenter who was co-senior author of a paper detailing the study. They can freely move, have no need to wear special clothing or headgear, and are immersed in a computer-controlled environment, which can be made completely realistic or arbitrarily unrealistic.
The researchers tested FreemoVR on mice, fruit flies, and zebrafish, three species commonly used in lab research. The virtual landscape with which these animals interacted included vertical pillars, floating rings, checkerboard floors, virtual plants, and a swarm of digital aliens from Space Invaders. They even had distinctive portals that could instantly alter the virtual environments to make it seem as if zebrafish swimming into them had teleported elsewhere.
The animals apparently found the illusions realistic. For instance, fruit flies circled virtual pillars just as they did real ones placed in the platforms. Moreover, mice generally avoided tracks that looked as if they were suspended at great heights, just as they would in real life.
The animals also changed their behavior in response to illusory animals. For example, zebrafish normally circled the periphery of their fishbowl near the screens, but when teleported into settings with swarms of Space Invaders, the zebrafish tended to move toward the middle of the fishbowl.
We wanted to study collective behavior because that is something incredibly difficult to do with real animals or with robots, Straw says. “We wanted to show how real fish respond to the motion of a swarm of simulated agents and to show that we could create a hybrid biological-computational swarm.
In addition, the researchers developed a photorealistic model of a swimming fish, and showed that real zebrafish most reliably followed the digital fish when the virtual animal matched its swim direction to the real fish. The fact that researchers can vary the appearance of virtual animals from cartoonish to realistic will allow experiments to test how important the exact visual appearance of other animals is as opposed to, say, the pattern of motion, Straw says.
This new platform will let scientists investigate animals as they behave relatively naturally and unrestrained by conventional VR gear in realistic virtual environments they can manipulate extensively. By tinkering with animal DNA or brains in such experiments, the researchers can learn what role certain genes or brain circuits play in these animals, and potentially in humans as well. Brains evolved in the real world, and to understand how and why neural circuits process information in the way they do, we need to understand them in this context, Straw says.
Straw notes that humans would notice several imperfections with FreemoVR. Primary amongst those is that our system does not create two distinct views for the two eyes, and thus the stereo cues important for depth perception would be gone, he says. However, Straw notes this is not a major concern with the animals they are experimenting with; the eyes of these animals are so close together that the differences between the view from each eye are limited.
Straws lab is now conducting experiments where they can silence the activity of single brain cells in fruit flies and examining the roles these cells play in the insects behavior in virtual erality.
IEEE Spectrums biomedical engineering blog, featuring the wearable sensors, big data analytics, and implanted devices that enable new ventures in personalized medicine.
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