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How Gorillaz brought a global listening party to your phone

Gorillaz are having a house party at 500 locations around the globe. The animated band — brainchild of musician Damon Albarn (Blur) and artist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl) — is hosting the unusual audio soirée for its upcoming album launch for Humanz. Just streaming the new music to its recently launched app isn’t Gorillaz’s style, so instead it’s created a sort of musical scavenger hunt that’s part Pokemon Go, part concert.

The technical team that helped bring Hewlett and Albarn’s vision to life is known more for working with the likes of Nike and Google than cartoon rockers. While located around the globe, it was B-Reel’s London office and executive creative director Davor Krvavac’s team that took on the slightly insane but definitely impressive app and its worldwide dance-party ambitions. “It was a sort of a sense of awe really, because all of us here, we really respect what Jamie, Sheila and Damon Albarn have been doing over all these years in so many different manifestations,” Krvavac said.

Gorillaz are more than just a band. Each album mixes music, art and technology into interactive sites, games, movies, DVDs, live chats with cartoon characters, an upcoming show at an amusement park and concerts that fuse the live band with their animated avatars. The lead up to Humanz is no different and if anything has raised the bar. The band has released a 3D music video, Twitter-moment “books” for each member of the band and of course the mixed-reality Gorillaz app.

“It was a very different sort of creative process than we might follow as an agency with one of our branded clients,” Krvavac told Engadget. “It’s all about building trust, because the Gorillaz and the creative products of the Gorillaz, that’s the crown jewels.”

The two teams worked closely together on the app, which, like the upcoming album, places the Spirit House at the center of the story. The band handled the story and art, and B-Reel handled the tech. “Of course they’re super switched on and well aware of all the kind of developments that have happened in the six years since the last album. You know AR, VR all of that stuff,” Krvavac said.

The result is an app that launches right into mixed reality with a vision of the real world overlaid with objects from each band member appearing as you spin around. It’s a reminder that you’re leaving your world and entering the band’s domain. The dilapidated Spirit House has been overtaken by Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, Russel Hobbs, and Noodle, and users can explore the band members’ rooms either with or without a VR headset.

“It’s all about discovery. It’s all about immersing yourself into the story,” Krvavac said. “Really early on we were talking about when you buy the bonus pack that comes with your vinyl or CD and you go over sleeve notes and all the little things to discover. Well it’s kind of like that. It’s a mixed-reality kind of extension of their world that sort of spills over into our world, and I think the listening part is the ultimate sort of reward. Everything in the house essentially builds up to the actual location of the house and discovering it for yourself.”

The global listening party is live for the next three days. During that time, the app will guide fans with directions and distances toward the nearest geolocation of the Spirit House. It’s bit like Pokemon Go, but instead of finding a tiny monster, you’re rewarded with a stream of the entire album. With 500 locations all over the globe, most major metropolitan areas will be covered.

Of course, the developers and band added a challenge to finding the final digital jukebox. The directions lead you in the general location of the nearest Spirit House, but you’ll still have to do a bit of sleuthing to discover the exact spot. Fortunately, Gorillaz’s Facebook page has been dropping the longitudes and latitudes of various Spirit Houses to help you along.

It’s an ambitious endeavor for something that’ll shut down on Sunday night. But the tech is there, and in the future it could be used for something else. “What I can tell you for sure is that the stream will cease with the actual launch of the album, but there are some ideas and thoughts about what happens with the house after that. So, you know, watch this space, essentially,” Krvavac said.

With all that’s been invested into the prelaunch of the album, it’ll be interesting to see what Gorillaz finally comes up with summer when it launches for real. “They’ve always had to push the technology so hard and kind of invent new things in order to manifest themselves as a band,” Krvavac said.

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Facebook’s plans for Oculus are finally taking shape

When Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in early 2014, it wasn’t entirely clear what Mark Zuckerberg planned to do with all of the virtual reality hardware suddenly at his fingertips. Hell, it wasn’t even clear that VR was going to be a legitimate industry: Sony hadn’t revealed the PlayStation VR yet, Google Cardboard didn’t exist, and Valve was a year away from announcing the HTC Vive headset. VR was truly in its infancy when the world’s largest social networking site strode in, promising to deliver video games and “many other experiences” on the Oculus Rift.

While we’re still waiting on the “video games” part of that promise, today Facebook launched the beta for Spaces, its first attempt at translating social networking to VR. Spaces is a digital world exclusive to the Oculus Rift that you can share with up to three other people at a time. Create a 3D avatar of yourself and hang out with digital renditions of your VR-capable friends, talking, drawing objects, exploring 360-degree films and taking photos with a selfie stick. And that’s about it.

Even though Spaces is fairly barebones and still in the early stages of development — Facebook says the beta represents 1 percent of its goal product — it’s our first glimpse at Zuckerberg’s grand VR vision. This is what Facebook wanted when it bought Oculus: selfie sticks in VR.

Seriously.

“This is really a new communication platform,” Zuckerberg wrote about VR in 2014. “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

Facebook Spaces is precisely what Zuckerberg laid out from the beginning. It’s a way to share an experience with a friend, even if that person lives across the world, and even if your adventure is as simple as taking a photo together. Spaces lays the foundation for grander features like playing games together in VR, and its goal is clear: Blur the line between hanging out in reality and “hanging out” on Facebook (where algorithms and advertisers can more easily find you).

However, Facebook’s dream of trans-continental selfies (and ads) won’t come true if you or your friends don’t own an Oculus Rift — and chances are, you don’t. Oculus hasn’t shared actual Rift sales figures, but third-party industry trackers suggest it sold between 250,000 and 400,000 headsets in 2016. Regardless of the actual number, Facebook’s headset is firmly in last place, hundreds of thousands of units behind the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

Not to mention, Facebook Spaces requires users to own the Oculus Touch controllers as well — a $99 accessory that doesn’t come bundled with every Rift.

This hardware shortfall makes one aspect of today’s announcement particularly intriguing: Anyone using Spaces is able to call friends via Facebook Messenger video and talk with them inside the VR world, regardless of whether that friend has a Rift. Facebook is aware that VR can’t survive on its own right now; it has to be incorporated into our existing systems until the hardware itself is more accessible and normalized. Or, until the bulky VR headsets disappear entirely, replaced by mass-market augmented reality systems instead, like HoloLens or a functional Google Glass.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook has pounced on the AR industry as well, today announcing the Camera Effects Platform to help developers create apps that overlay objects, information and filters on the real world. This parallel focus on AR and VR isn’t an accident — in fact, both industries are a large part of Facebook’s 10-year roadmap.

Facebook is poised to combine Oculus’ hardware chops with a steady stream of camera-based AR innovation rolling in from developers across the world — and within its own walls. Facebook is preparing to take over our reality, in whatever form it eventually takes.

 

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Facebook’s latest drone delivers internet during a disaster

Internet connectivity is kind of like air: something we take for granted until we can’t get it. To help make communications easier during disaster scenarios, Facebook has come up with the “Tether-antenna.” At its simplest, it’s a small, unmanned helicopter that can hook onto undamaged fiber-and-power lines (when cellular connectivity has been damaged or is otherwise unavailable) and then hover “a few hundred feet from the ground,” according to a Facebook Developers blog post. “When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency — ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in ground connectivity is under repair.”

Facebook admits that the tech is still early in terms of development and that lots more work is needed before it will see use. But, like the company’s plans for blanketing the developing world with a limited form of internet connectivity, it’s a signal that Zuckerberg and Co. have serious plans for more than just shoving augmented reality into your News Feed.

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Facebook details its plans for a brain-computer interface

Facebook wants you to use your brain to interact with your computer. Specifically, instead of using something primitive like a screen or a controller, the company is looking into ways that you and I can interact with our PCs or phones just by using our mind. Regina Dugan, the head of Building 8, the company’s secretive hardware R&D division, delved into this on stage at F8. “What if you could type directly from your brain?” she asks.

In a video demo, Dugan showed the example of a woman in a Stanford lab who is able to type eight words per minute directly with her brain. This means, Dugan says, that you can text your friends without using your phone. She goes on to say that in a few years time, the team expects to demonstrate a real-time silent speech system capable of delivering a hundred words per minute. “That’s five times faster than you can type on your smartphone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activity contains more information than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also contains semantic information of what those words means.”

And that’s not all. Dugan adds that it’s also possible to “listen” to human speech by using your skin. It’s like using Braille, but through a system of actuators and sensors. Dugan showed a video example of how a woman could figure out exactly what objects were selected on a touchscreen based on inputs delivered through a connected armband. The armband’s system of actuators was tuned to 16 frequency bands, and has a tactile vocabulary of nine words, learned in about an hour.

This, Dugan says, also has the potential of removing language barriers. “You could think in Mandarin, but feel in Spanish,” she said. “We are wired to communicate and connect.”

Of course, a lot of this tech is still a few years out. And this is just a small sample of what Dugan has been working on since she joined Facebook in April 2016. She served as the 19th Director of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and she’s the former head of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (no big deal).

The stuff that Facebook is creating at Building 8 is modeled after DARPA, and would integrate both mind and body. “Our world is both digital and physical,” she said, saying there’s no need to put down your phone in order to communicate with the people in front of you. That is a false choice, she said, because you need both. “Our goal is to create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first, at scale,” she said. “We can honor the intimacy of what’s timeless, and also create products that refuse to accept that false choice.”

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Do You want to live inside Facebook’s vision for social VR

Over the last few decades, there have been several attempts to merge the mundane aspects of the real world with the digital. All of these, while catering to a niche, have failed to conquer the world in the way that Mark Zuckerberg hopes that Facebook’s social VR efforts will.

Facebook Spaces was announced at the social network’s F8 conference as a way of blending social media and virtual reality. If you own an Oculus Rift (and Touch controllers), you and four friends can enter a virtual world and hang out together.

Unfortunately, hanging out mostly constitutes of chatting, taking “selfies*” and enjoying the virtual world around you. Oh, and it’s not you, per se, but a cartoon caricature that you control; a dead-eyed digital mannequin that smiles blankly at everyone in the desperate hope that you won’t find it creepy.

Unfortunately, Spaces falls into the same trap that so many other platforms have over the years, assuming that people want the digital world to be a surrogate for the real. And that people have the time and energy to sit around talking to a cartoon with their friend’s voice through thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

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Whenever a high-minded tech company makes proclamations about the future of social interaction, I’m reminded of Second Life. Founded more than a decade ago, the title was an open world platform that enabled strangers across the world to come together. It was touted as a digital utopia, a place where you were free to create whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, however you wanted. Your digital avatar could even fly around the Second Life universe, interacting with people from across the globe.

But in reality, this utopianism was misplaced, and the environment, even during its boom years, was stale and empty. People weren’t all that into into communicating with each other, and the platform gradually became a space for people to develop weird forms of architecture. It became little more than a proto-Minecraft, a gallery space or weird and wonderful designs that few would ever notice. Second Life itself still exists, of course, with around 600,000 monthly active users.

A big part of the internet’s job is to bring people together in ways that we wouldn’t — couldn’t — have conceived a few generations ago. We can now learn so much from people all across the globe and share their experiences, dreams and knowledge. Real-time chat platforms, from IRC to FaceTime, have enabled us to gradually bridge the physical distances that separate us. Still, none are a substitute for real human interaction, face to face, in the real world.

Facebook Spaces, on the other hand, places two more barriers between us and our friends: the bulky VR headset and the digital avatar. Then there are the constraints that Facebook places upon its users. At the moment, Spaces users can’t express sadness or anger. The likelihood of this becoming the new normal for social interactions is about as likely as Disney’s recently shuttered Club Penguin becoming the new Facebook.

Facebook is asking us to take a chunk of our most precious commodity — our attention — and give it entirely to its virtual world. But that world is one step removed from that of the internet, full of (literally) fake people in a fake place. In the demo video, friends gather together a surprise birthday party to take a selfie of themselves on an imaginary boardwalk.

But where is the reality and authenticity in you, and three other people, taking an image of some cartoon avatars in a virtual world? Will you expect that future historians will unearth these images and marvel at the experiences that you pretended to have?

I wonder if I’m wrong, and that people will embrace this in the same way that they have taking pictures from inside video games. But then that, at least, shows a journey that you’re going on — and an appreciation of a particularly engaging sight that’s been created within the game. Imagine the reaction of your friends and family when you show them your vacation shots from the Grand Canyon that you didn’t visit.

Even Mark Zuckerberg knows that Facebook’s Social VR demo, as it is, not the future of how we’re going to interact with one another. Both this year and last, the CEO showed off a rough idea for an augmented reality platform that could work in a pair of glasses. There, you’d never need to buy a TV, just use the AR overlay in the lenses on conjure one up on the wall of your otherwise sparse living room.

Unfortunately, that idea is nowhere near ready for the real world, and Facebook VP Deb Liu told the AP that the journey to that hardware was “just one percent finished.” Imagine, rather than exchanging time-sucking pleasantries with a cartoon avatar while standing on a fake mountaintop, having someone sitting on your couch next to you.

You’d be able to speak to them as if they were in the room, despite being on the other side of the world. But with this (almost) real interaction, you would have real eye contact, real body language and all of the other things that we, as humans, need in order to feel comfortable interacting with one another.

The software and hardware just isn’t there for this sort of platform, and probably won’t be for a very long time. But that, not Facebook Spaces, is the vision of social VR that I can get behind.

 

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Facebook’s new 360 cameras bring multiple perspectives to live videos

Last year, Facebook announced the Surround 360, a 360-degree camera that can capture footage in 3D and then render it online via specially designed software. But it wasn’t for sale. Instead, the company used it as a reference design for others to create 3D 360 content, even going so far as to open source it on Github later that summer. As good as the camera was, though, it still didn’t deliver the full VR experience. That’s why Facebook is introducing two more 360-degree cameras at this year’s F8: the x24 and x6. The difference: These cameras can shoot in six degrees of freedom, which promises to make the 360 footage more immersive than before.

The x24 is so named because it has 24 cameras; the x6, meanwhile, has — you guessed it — six cameras. While the x24 looks like a giant beach ball with many eyes, the x6 is shaped more like a tennis ball, which makes for a less intimidating look. Both are designed for professional content creators, but the x6 is obviously meant to be a smaller, lighter and cheaper version.

Both the x24 and the x6 are part of the Surround 360 family. And, as with version one (which is now called the Surround 360 Open Edition), Facebook doesn’t plan on selling the cameras themselves. Instead, Facebook plans to license the x24 and x6 designs to a “select group of commercial partners.” Still, the versions you see in the images here were prototyped in Facebook’s on-site hardware lab (cunningly called Area 404) using off-the-shelf components. The x24 was made in partnership with FLIR, a company mostly known for its thermal imaging cameras, while the x6 prototype was made entirely in-house.

But before we get into all of that, let’s talk a little bit about what sets these cameras apart from normal 360 ones. With a traditional fixed camera, you see the world through its fixed lens. So if you’re viewing this content (also known as stereoscopic 360) in a VR headset and you decide to move around, the world stays still as you move, which is not what it would look like in the real world. This makes the experience pretty uncomfortable and takes you out of the scene. It becomes less immersive.

With content that’s shot with six degrees of freedom, however, this is no longer an issue. You can move your head to a position where the camera never was, and still view the world as if you were actually there. Move your head from side to side, forwards and backwards, and the camera is smart enough to reconstruct what the view looks like from different angles. All of this is due to some special software that Facebook has created, along with the carefully designed pattern of the cameras. According to Brian Cabral, Facebook’s Engineering Director, it’s an “optimal pattern” to get as much information as possible.

I had the opportunity to have a look at a couple of different videos shot with the x24 at Facebook’s headquarters (Using the Oculus Rift, of course). One was of a scene shot in the California Academy of Sciences, specifically at the underwater tunnel in the Steinhart Aquarium. I was surprised to see that the view of the camera would follow my own as I tilted my head from left to right and even when I crouched down on the floor. I could even step to the side and look “through” where the camera was, as if it wasn’t there at all. If the video was shot through a traditional 360 camera, it’s likely that I would see the camera tripod if I looked down. But with the x24, I just saw the floor, as if I was a disembodied ghost floating around.

Another wonderful thing about videos shot with six degrees of freedom is that each pixel has depth. Each pixel is literally in 3D. This a breakthrough for VR content creators, and opens up a world of possibilities in visual effects editing. This means that you can add 3D effects to live action footage, a feat that usually would have required a green screen.

I saw this demonstrated in the other video, which was of a scene shot on the roof of one of Facebook’s buildings. Facebook along with Otoy, a Los Angeles-based cloud rendering company, were able to actually add effects to the scene. Examples include floating butterflies, which wafted around when I swiped at them with a Touch controller. They also did a visual trick where I could step “outside” of the scene and encapsulate the entire video in a snow globe. All of this is possible because of the layers of depth that the footage provides.

That’s not to say there weren’t bugs. The video footage I saw had shimmering around the edges, which Cabral said is basically a flaw in the software that they’re working to fix. Plus, the camera is unable to see what’s behind people, so there’s a tiny bit of streaking along the edges.

Still, there’s lots of potential with this kind of content. “This is a new kind of media in video and immersive experiences,” said Eric Cheng, Facebook’s head of Immersive Media, who was previously the Director of Photography at Lytro. “Six degrees of freedom has traditionally been done in gaming and VR, but not in live action.” Cheng says that many content creators have told him that they’ve been waiting for a way to bridge live action into these “volumetric editing experiences.”

Indeed, that’s partly why Facebook is partnering with a lot of post-production companies like Adobe, Foundry and Otoy in order to develop an editing workflow with these cameras. “Think of these cameras as content acquisition tools for content creators,” said Cheng.

But what about other cameras, like Lytro’s Immerge for example? “There’s a large continuum of these things,” said Cabral. “Lytro sits at the very very high-end.” It’s also not nearly as portable as both the x24 and x6, which are both designed for a much more flexible and nimble approach to VR capture.

As for when cameras like these will make their way down to the consumer level, well, Facebook says that will come in future generations. “That’s the long arc of where we’re going with this,” said CTO Mike Schroepfer.

“Our goal is simple: We want more people producing awesome, immersive 360 and 3D content,” said Schroepfer. “We want to bring people up the immersion curve. We want to be developing the gold standard and say this is where we’re shooting for.”

av, cameras, f8, f82017, facebook, personal computing, personalcomputing, CTO, Mike Schroepfer, gadgetry, gear,3D content,Lytro’s Immerge, Los Angeles, social media, social media app,media, entertainment, Adobe, Foundry, Otoy, camera, Brian Cabral, Facebook’s Engineering Director, optimal pattern

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Rashidi Yekini’s old mother wins N2m from millionaire game show

Alhaja Sikirat Yekini is the octogenarian mother of late Super Eagles striker, Rashidi Yekini. She has complained of financial troubles since her son’s demise. On January 23, 2016, NAIJ.com Sports learnt that Sikiratu Yekini about her plight since the death of her son. And, we set out on a journey to Ijagbo, a town in Kwara state where she lives, and she exclusively revealed her ordeal. Following that visit, Nigerians reached out and helped her financially.

A man named Suraj Tunji Oyewale, a successful chattered accountant based in Lagos championed a course on his facebook page for some monetary contribution for Mama Sikiratu Yekini after reading our reports on what the woman has being going through, and in less than 48 hours, N220,000 was raised on behalf of the woman. Rashidi Yekini’s old mother with her N2m prize from millionaire game show Once again, help as come her way as she won N2million during her appearance on the popular TV show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.

According to Daily Trust, she was assisted by Pa Dejumo Lewis and Binta Ayo Mogaji-Oduleye during its recent annual special edition tagged “Who Deserves to Be a Millionaire?” Alhaja Yekini, happily said: “Also, I am getting to realize that there are still some good people in our midst. Everything is still like a dream to me”, she said in a chat after the show. “When the representative of this company contacted me that he would be coming to visit me‎, all the way from Lagos, and that I should consider him as one of my sons, I could not believe it. He said they wanted to celebrate with me and reward me. He now said something that touched my heart: “we want to do part of what Rashidi would have further done for you if he had been around”. Honestly, I was touched.” “Let me tell you, the essence of events like this in human life cannot be quantified! It gives longevity. That is the feeling I am having now. I am going to live longer. I have just seen life, yet again in another perspective.

“Also, maybe I should tell you that the organizers have assured me of their guidance to enable me spend the money meaningfully,” she concluded, saying the money won would be spent on food and medical needs. Meanwhile Yekini’s former team, the Super Eagles are preparing for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

 

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Cleveland police seek suspect in murder streamed on Facebook

The Cleveland Police Department has confirmed it’s looking for a suspect, Steve Stephens who committed a homicide and streamed the crime on Facebook Live. Sadly, this isn’t the first homicide broadcast on the platform, however, in this case, it was intentional. The video showed Stephens speaking to an elderly man before shooting him through the window of a car. On the stream, Stephens claimed to have killed others and threatened to continue. Police report that he is armed and dangerous and are warning people not to approach if they see him.

View image on Twitter

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Facebook Busts Up International Spam Operation

While Facebook has spent significant time fighting fake news on its network, it continues to battle another plague to its social platform: Fake accounts. These are often used to spread low-quality content, so the internet titan has been ramping up its crackdowns. Hot on the heels of banning 30,000 profiles earlier this week, Facebook announced it has disrupted a massive international spam operation the network had been combating for the last six months.

In this case, the profiles weren’t generated through “traditional mass account creation methods,” Facebook’s blog post stated, using sophisticated methods to hide their coordinated efforts. The ring was apparently trying to build a network of friend connections by using the accounts to like and interact with Pages, with the eventual intent to unleash a torrent of spam. But the accounts hadn’t started friending real users before Facebook disrupted the network by wiping away every “inauthentic like” they were responsible for. Presumably, they also eliminated the fake profiles.

The social network caught wind of the false profiles thanks to its improved detection protocols that look for suspicious behavior, like rapid posts of the same content. Detecting and curbing “inauthentic” behavior is important to the social network: “Improvements in this area make our community stronger for everyone, including advertisers, publishers, and partners,” the company noted.dims(2)

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NIGERIA TROLLS CNN FROM EXCLUDING “NIGERIA” FROM REPORT ON ZUKERBERG’S VISIT

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CNN Africa reported Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise visit to Nigeria.

It was however noticed that CNN reported the news as‘Mark Zuckerberg makes first-ever visit to Sub-Saharan Africa”on their twitter page.

This has however caused Nigerian to react as always because CNN omitted Nigeria and attacked CNN for its reportage.

See some of Nigerians’ tweets below

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