Thursday, April 30, 2015

Microsoft: Windows 10 will be on 1 billion devices in two to three years

Summary:Microsoft execs claim Windows 10 will be installed on 1 billion devices within two to three years time, meaning by late summer 2018.

Microsoft execs have drawn a line in the sand, predicting that Windows 10 will be installed on 1 billion devices within two to three years.
Terry Myerson, the head of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, went public with that ambitious claim during the first day of the company's Build 2015 developer conference in San Francisco.
The 1 billion figure encompasses all kinds of devices that will be able to run the OS in some flavor, including desktops, PCs, laptops, tablets, Windows Phones, Xbox One gaming consoles, Surface Hub conferencing systems, HoloLens augmented reality glasses and various Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Microsoft is developing Windows 10 so that it has a common core, a single store and a more unified set of development tools and programming interfaces, enabling the guts of the operating system to run on all these different form factors.
Microsoft is doing a lot to try to convince Windows users that it will benefit them to upgrade early and quickly to Windows 10. Microsoft execs have said they'll make Windows 10 free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 consumers(and some small business customers) the first year that the OS is commercially available. Microsoft also has made Windows 10 available for "zero dollars" and/or for a substantially reduced rate to its PC and phone partners in order to get more of them to bundle the OS with their hardware.
Making Windows 10 more appealing to business users who skipped Windows 8 because its UI and touch-first focus made it less appealing to customers relying on keyboards and mice -- and who didn't want to incur hefty retraining costs -- is a big priority at Microsoft. It should be, given Windows 7, and even the no-longer-supported Windows XP both have more market share than Windows 8.
There are currently an estimated 1.5 billion or so PCs running some version of Windows worldwide.
Updated: As a few readers have noted, this 1 billion by summer 2018 means we won't see a Windows 11, 12 or whatever, coming out any time in the next couple years. Yes, that shouldn't be surprising to folks who understand what "Windows as a Service" means. Microsoft plans to continue to push updates -- some minor and some major -- to Windows 10 for the foreseeable future.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The State of Our Planet Is Better Than Ever

Stephen Moore April 22, 2015       

Stephen Moore, who formerly wrote on the economy and public policy for The Wall Street Journal, is a distinguished visiting fellow for the Project for Economic Growth at The Heritage Foundation. Read his research.

Today is Earth Day and to hear the experts like Usher and Al Gore tell the story, the planet is in a miserable state. We’re running out of our natural resources, we’re overpopulating the globe and running out of room, the air that we breathe is becoming toxic, the oceans are rising and soon major coastal cities will be underwater, and the Earth is, of course, heating up, except when it is cooling down.

This is perhaps the single greatest misinformation campaign in world history. Virtually none of these claims are even close to the truth—except for the fact that our climate is always changing as it has for hundreds of thousands of years.

Since the first Earth Day back in the 1970s, the environmentalists—those who worship the creation rather than the Creator—have issued one false prediction of Armageddon after another. Yet despite a batting average approaching zero, the media and our schools keep parroting their declinism as if they were oracles rather than proven shysters.

Here are the factual realities that we should be celebrating on Earth Day.

Ever feel like the only difference between the New York Times and Washington Post is the name? We do.

Try the Morning Bell and get the day's most important news and commentary from a team committed to the truth in formats that respect your time...and your intelligence.

1) Natural resources are more abundant and affordable today than ever before in history. Short-term (sometimes decades-long) volatility aside, the price of most natural resources—from cocoa to cotton to coal—is cheaper today in real terms than 50, 100, or 500 years ago. This has happened even as the world’s population has nearly tripled. Technology has far outpaced depletion of the Earth’s resources.

2) Energy—the master resource—is super abundant. Remember when people like Paul Ehrlich nearly 50 years ago and Barack Obama just three years ago—warned the we were running out of oil and gas. Today, thanks to the new age of oil and gas thanks to fracking, the United States has hundreds of years of petroleum and an estimated 290 years of coal. Keep in mind, this may be a low-ball estimate; since 2000, the Energy Information Administration’s estimates of recoverable reserves have actually increased by more than 7 percent.

We’re not running out of energy, we are running into it.

3) Air and water. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged. Lead pollution plunged by more than 90 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent, with ozone and nitrogen dioxide declining as well. This means that emissions per capita have declined even as the economy in terms of real GDP nearly tripled. By nearly every standard measure it is much, much, much cleaner today in the United States than 50 and 100 years ago. The air is so clean now that the EPA worries about carbon dioxide which isn’t even a pollutant. (And, by the way, carbon emissions are falling too, thanks to fracking). One hundred years ago, about one in four deaths in the U.S. was due to contaminants in drinking water. But from 1971-2002, fewer than three people per year in the U.S. were documented to have died from water contamination.

4) There is no Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation. Birth rates have fallen by about one-half around the world over the last 50 years. Developed countries are having too few kids, not too many. Even with a population of 7.3 billion people, average incomes, especially in poor countries, have surged over the last 40 years. The number of people in abject poverty fell by 1 billion from 1981 to 2011, even as global population increased by more than 1.5 billion.

5) Global per capita food production is 40 percent higher today than as recently as 1950. In most nations the nutrition problem today is obesity—too many calories consumed—not hunger. The number of famines and related deaths over the last 100 years has fallen in half. More than 12 million lives on average were lost each decade from the 1920s-1960s to famine. Since then, fewer than 4 million lives on average per decade were lost. Tragically, these famines are often caused by political corruption—not nature. Furthermore, the price of food has fallen steadily in the U.S.—and most other nations steadily for 200 years.

6) The rate of death and physical destruction from natural disasters or severe weather changes has plummeted over the last 50 to 100 years. Loss of life from hurricanes, floods, heat, droughts, and so on is at or near record lows. This is because we have much better advance warning systems, our infrastructure is much more durable, and we have things like air conditioning, to adapt to weather changes. ?We are constantly discovering new ways to harness and even tame nature.

Earth Day should be a day of joy and celebration that life on this bountiful planet is better than anytime in human history. The state of the planet has never been in such fine shape by almost every objective measure. The Chicken Littles are as wrong today as they were 50 years ago. This is very good news for those who believe that one of our primary missions as human beings is to make life better over time and to leave our planet better off for future generations.

Happy Earth Day.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tesla Wants to Power Wal-Mart (BusinessWeek)

Tesla Founder Elon Musk
Last month, Elon Musk tweeted that a “major new Tesla product line -- not a car -- will be unveiled” on April 30. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Tesla Motors Inc. is signing up big customers like Wal-Mart and Cargill, accelerating efforts to become a leader in energy storage -- a new market that’s poised to boost sales and profit at the electric vehicle pioneer.
Next week, Tesla will make a deeper push beyond the car business when it unveils batteries for homes and utilities.
A review of California’s Self Generation Incentive Program, or SGIP, shows Tesla has ambitions to sell batteries for a range of commercial uses, from powering its factories to reducing electric bills at schools and wineries. Tesla is on track to reap as much as $65 million in SGIP rebates, which are designed to encourage investment in alternative energy.
“Tesla has been able to install more than 100 projects, really without anyone noticing,” said Andrea James, an analyst with Dougherty & Co. She said Tesla’s energy storage business could be worth as much as $70 to Tesla’s stock. The shares rose 4.8 percent Wednesday to close at $219.44, the biggest daily gain in more than two weeks.
As a builder of electric cars, the company has a vested interest in making the electric grid as clean as possible. Customers typically buy the batteries to store energy from solar panels, using them when electricity from the grid is most expensive or the sun isn’t shining. With Tesla’s gigafactory for battery production under construction in Nevada, storage products could serve as a secondary revenue stream for the company, which is looking to diversify its product lineup.
As part of a pilot program with sister company SolarCity, Tesla has installed batteries at about 300 California homes equipped with solar panels. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has a relationship with SolarCity, has Tesla batteries installed at 11 California stores; Cargill Inc. plans a one-megawatt system for its animal-processing plant in Fresno.

Home Battery

The SGIP database provides a snapshot of Tesla’s activities in its home state and is by no means a complete picture of the company’s storage ambitions.
But Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has been dropping hints for weeks, and yesterday the company told investors and analysts in an e-mail that Tesla will announce the home battery and a “very large” utility-scale battery on April 30. In the e-mail, Jeffrey Evanson, Tesla’s chief of investor relations, said the company “will explain the advantages of our solutions and why past battery options were not compelling.”
Tesla spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn said the company would share more information next week.
Thanks to state incentives and advances in battery chemistry, storage is a hot industry. By 2019, total U.S. sales will reach $1.5 billion, about 11 times as much as in 2014, according to a March report from GTM Research.

Renewable Grid

“Energy storage on the grid will grow rapidly in combination with renewables,” Tesla Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel said last month at the Vail Global Energy Forum. “Eventually you’re going to have a 100 percent battery electric vehicle fleet, working in tandem with an almost 100 percent renewable electric utility grid full of solar and wind.”
For companies looking to break into California’s storage market, the first stop is SGIP. Founded during an energy crisis in 2001 and funded by ratepayers, the program has a budget of $83 million and covers as much as 60 percent of a project’s costs. All proposals go through a technical review and are supposed to be connected to the grid within two years. Applicants collect rebates once projects are completed.

Wine Battery

While companies like Coda Energy, Green Charge Networks and Stem have also applied for SGIP funds, Tesla accounts for almost half of all storage applications,Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in an April 2 report published for clients. BNEF also said Tesla accounts for about 70 percent of SGIP storage projects connected to California’s grid.
Jackson Family Wines, based in Santa Rosa, has a new partnership with Tesla involving battery storage and several vehicle charging stations, according to the February issue of Wine Business Monthly. The winery declined to comment.
Mack Wycoff, Wal-Mart’s senior manager for renewable energy and emissions, said the company is intrigued by energy storage. “Instead of pulling electricity from the grid, you discharge it from the battery,” he said. “Ideally you know when your period of peak demand is, and you discharge it then.”
Mike Martin, Cargill’s director of communications, declined to provide details about how the company plans to use Tesla batteries at the Fresno plant. The 200,000-square-foot facility, one of the largest of its type in California, produces nearly 400 million pounds of beef each year.
Janet Dixon is director of facilities at the Temecula Valley Unified School District in southern California, which plans to install solar panels at 20 of its 28 schools this summer. Dixon said that SolarCity is the solar provider, and five of the facilities will have Tesla batteries.
“We spend roughly $3 million a year on electricity, and most of that is lighting and air conditioning,” said Dixon. “We are going solar to reduce our overall costs and the battery storage should help us manage our peak demand.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

In Jungle Long Known for Cocaine, a Rare Nut Is Now All the Rage (BusinessWeek)

Harvested cacay nuts.
For decades, if not centuries, the Amazon dwellers of southern Colombia didn’t make too much of the cacay nut. They fed it to their livestock, used it to treat wounds and chopped down its trees for firewood.
But then, a few years ago, the global jet-setting crowd found out what the yellow-ish oil from the protein-rich nut could do for their skin. And suddenly, the cacay (pronounced kahk-ai) has become a red-hot commodity, providing the key ingredient to anti-aging facial creams that can fetch $200 an ounce in beauty shops in Los Angeles and London.
While most of the nuts come from wild trees in remote areas, new plantations are popping up in impoverished parts of Colombia that were better known for cocaine and anti-government rebel groups. Vitaliano Ordonez, a farmer who used to give the nuts to his cows, sold eight of the animals to buy 120 saplings. Because only a few are mature enough to produce this year, he’s scavenging every kernel from two old trees on his small dairy farm in Puerto Rico, Colombia, 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Bogota.

‘No Waste’

“I won’t let even one nut go to waste,” said Ordonez, 70. Each apple-sized nut pod contains three seeds, each bigger than an almond. He expects to collect about 60 kilograms (133 pounds) of cacay kernels this year. That may generate as much as 300,000 pesos ($198), or the equivalent of almost half the country’s minimum monthly wage.
The boom is in part the work of Alberto Jaramillo. While scientists have highlighted the nut’s virtues for more than a decade, it was Jaramillo, the head of Bogota-based Kahai SAS, who found a market for the oil after attending trade shows and hiring a trial study of the oil’s use in skincare. Kahai, which buys nuts from growers and scavengers, including Ordonez, expects to double sales this year.

Motorcycle Scavengers

Jaramillo’s Kahai sends workers through the countryside on motorcycles and trucks, sometimes driving more than 250 kilometers to hunt for trees and pick up nuts. During the harvest season from February to April, one mature tree can yield 400 kilos of nuts. Kahai pays 1,000 pesos a kilo for whole nuts, so about 400,000 pesos per tree. He’s also encouraging farmers like Ordonez to plant more trees.
Native to parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, the cacay nut was long used by indigenous people to treat wounds and light lamps. As those uses faded, trees that reached 40 meters (130 feet) high became appealing targets for loggers. That’s begun to change with the renewed appeal of natural oils as beauty treatments.
Sales of face oils are rising, sparking new products from cosmetics-maker L’Oreal SA and Procter & Gamble Co.’s Olay brand made of everything from grape and apricot seeds to lavender and marjoram. Beauty-oil sales at retailer Sephora SA tripled in three years.

Face-Oil Boom

In the U.S., where high-end facial skincare sales have largely been flat over the past year, face-oil sales surged 24 percent to $42 million, data from NPD Group show. They’ve more than doubled over the past two years.
The small but growing appeal of cacay in the $465 billion personal-care market has been fueled by the increased popularity of Morocco’s argan oil, which got picked up by hair-care makers such as L’Oréal and Unilever NV, and is now included in 14 percent of new hair treatments, according to market research from Mintel. Cacay contains key ingredients in anti-aging products, including antioxidants and retinoids, according to Kahai.

‘New Wave’

“It’s going to be the new little wave,” said Jamie Sherrill, who uses cacay in some of theNurse Jamie skincare products she sells at her Santa Monica spa. “I was always a fan of retinol and argan oil, and we were initially searching for ways to improve on these two ingredients.”
Sherrill, who appeared with socialite Paris Hilton on the reality show “The Simple Life,” offers 1-ounce “facial elixir” with cacay for $198 and a men’s shaving oil version. A three-item set of anti-aging products with cacay retails for 1,060 pounds ($1,555) at Harrods department store in London.
The venture isn’t without risk for Kahai and small growers. While plant oils are hot now, cosmetics fads often change, and there is lots of competition from other plant oils.
“It’s more expensive than a lot of your regular oils,” said Judi Beerling, a research manager at the London-based consulting firm Organic Monitor. “As more becomes available, obviously the prices will become less of an issue.’
Jaramillo said some companies are holding off on using cacay because there isn’t enough stable supply. It could take another three years, he said.

Sales Double

‘‘Our plan is to have enough volume for the boom that’s going to come from the cosmetic market, and anything leftover we can sell just as the edible nut,” Jaramillo said.
Kahai forecasts oil sales of 1.2 metric tons from this year’s harvest, double last year, and output will expand as the 100 hectares (247 acres) already planted with cacay trees start producing. It takes 2 kilos of kernels to make 1 liter of oil. The nut is about 53 percent oil, and Jaramillo says his next plan is to target the protein-rich flour thats leftover as a nutritional supplement.

New Hope

The cacay revival also has given hope to environmental groups seeking to slow deforestation. Luis Eugenio Cifuentes, a Colombia adviser for the Arlington, Virginia-based Amazon Conservation Team, has been promoting cacay as a profitable alternative to logging. He talks to farmers in remote areas and is organizing a plan to buy trees that will connect isolated patches of rainforest.
For farmer Ordonez, cacay offers the chance of supplementing the income he earns from milk and cattle sales.
“That’s how I live, with little money,” he said. “Cacay is something I think a lot about because I have a lot of faith that it will work out for me.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

20 of the world's most connected, innovative cities (TechRepublic)

1.- Seul, South Korea. One of the largest metro areas in South Korea, Seoul has almost ubiquitous Wi-Fi, media poles, and smart transportation. City commuters use RFID cards for public transportation that calculate and charge for exact distance.

2. Hong Kong, China. China's "Fragrant Harbour" offers free Wi-Fi networks, including one on the city's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) public transportation. Internet companies such as Tencent and Alibaba have offices there.

3. Tokyo, Japan  Tokyo residents have access to decent Wi-Fi speeds at a pretty good price, and heavy users can get a broadband fiber to the home (FTTH) connection. New transportation technology, such as the magnetic levitation train, and fields like robotics, are also key innovations.

4. Singapore  Since its split from Malaysia, Singapore has worked to become one of the most technologically savvy cities in the world. Singapore is well-connected, but it also focuses on integrating technology into education and encouraging new startup companies.

5. Barcelona, Spain  The city known for hosting the Mobile World Congress show every year is an innovation hub in its own right. City-wide Wi-Fi powers smart parking meters, and a big-data system built on Microsoft Azure helps analyze all the data received by different points in the city, like sensors connected to public utilities.

6. Montreal, Québec  In addition to providing some free public Wi-Fi, Montreal is also part of the Connecting Citiesnetwork, which builds out connected facades for social and artistic content.

7. Seattle, Washington  Home to Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks, the Emerald City of Seattle is one of the most broadband-connected cities in the US. Seattle also has an abundance of public Wi-Fi spots.

8. Geneva, Switzerland  Geneva boasts one of the highest internet penetration rates in the country. To address both growth opportunities and risks associated with the internet, the Geneva Internet Platform was initiated by Swiss authorities and is operated by DiploFoundation.

9. Stockholm, Sweden  As far as internet usage rates go, Stockholm is one of the top-rated cities in the world. Additionally, the city has been experimenting with WiMAX and hosts some of the top cyber cafés in the world.

10. Helsinki, Finland  In 2010, Finland became the first country in the world to make broadband internet connection a legal right. Helsinki, the capital city, is one of the leading forces behind the country's advancement.

11. Paris, France  With over 200 public hotspots, Paris is an internet-savvy city. The city also hosts the LeWeb conference for innovation and startups.

12. Florence, Italy  One of the most historically significant cities in Italy is also one of its most connected, boasting many free Wi-Fi access points.

13. Prague, Czech Republic  Prague is well-wired and connected throughout. Companies such as Siemens and Honeywell have locations there and the city has a high average connection speed.

14. Amsterdam, Netherlands  Also a leader in average internet speed, Amsterdam also has many innovative initiatives such as Amsterdam Smart City. The city is also home to theAmsterdam Internet Exchange, a not-for-profit organization connected to some of the biggest names in tech.

15. Atlanta, Georgia  Atlanta is one of the most wired cities in the US, with a plethora of options for connecting. The city is also being targeted for a Google Fiber rollout.

16. Vienna, Austria  High average Wi-Fi speeds and readily available Wi-Fi are helping make Vienna a city that is driven by, and focused on, innovation.

17. Tel Aviv, Israel  Tel Aviv is the innovation capital of Israel. It has birthed many successful startup companies and the city offers free public Wi-Fi to residents.

18. Dubai, UAE  Dubai hasn't always been known as the most connected city, but it has made huge strides over the past few years and is working its way to becoming one of the world's major connected smart cities.

19. Taipei, Taiwan  One of best examples of free public internet, Taipei has a government-backed network that contains more than 5,000 hotspots. The service can be registered for in advance by visitors as well.

20. Munich, Germany  The Bavarian capital of Munich is consistently on the front lines of connectivity and innovation. The city has been working on a smart grid and is known for embracing open source technologies.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The U.S. Government's $800 Billion Gamble on Student Loans (BusinessWeek)

The U.S. currently makes a small profit on the loans it extends to students
One of the big potential costs to U.S. taxpayers over the next years is an enterprise that's currently estimated to be even a bit profitable for them: financing student loans
Right now, the federal government borrows money at interest rates that are lower than the rates it charges students. That means the U.S. makes about 14 cents on every dollar lent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  
It's a win-win for the government -- make a little cash while helping young Americans pursue an education so they can earn more down the road. 
There's no guarantee this will stay this way, however, if more students start to delay or renege on their obligations. While the CBO expects the government to continue to make money on the business until at least 2025, gains are forecasted to shrink. On subsidized student loans (the most basic kind), the government is forecast to start losing money as early as next year. The CBO already revised up its estimate of how much the loans will cost the government for 2016-2025 by 30 percent, citinghigher estimates of the number of loans in default (which in turn would mean the government won't be able to collect on as many payments as initially thought). 
There's already almost $800 billion in student loans that's directly on the government's balance sheet, according to Wall Street experts  who advise the U.S. Treasury on its borrowing strategy. And that represents a ballooning share of the debt that the government has issued. Student loans loans in February were worth more than half the value of outstanding Treasury debt with a maturity of 10 years or more. 

"If you were fairly confident that all those loans are going to be paid back, then it wouldn't be that big of an issue," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut. "But I think the problem is that we've got double-digit delinquencies on student loans, and the problem only seems to be getting worse."
Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that 11.3 percent of student loans were delinquent in the final three months of 2014, up from 11.1 percent in the prior quarter. The federal student loan default rate declined to 13.7 percent for borrowers who would have begun paying in 2011, the Education Department said in September. The rate was 14.7 percent a year before. 
"If there are a lot of defaults, that would impact the fiscal situation, because the taxpayer would lose money in that deal," Stanley said. 
Student debt will probably continue to grow because of the country's soaring cost of college tuition. Treasury's Wall Street advisers point to estimates of additional $1 trillion in direct student debt over the next decade.

The U.S. Treasury and the Fed are now encouraging both the public and private sectors to boost research and collect more data on education financing. The goal is to stay on top of emerging trends and be ready for upticks in potential defaults and other cash flow troubles. Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin hosted a round-table discussion on servicing and collection of student loans on Monday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

10 ways virtual reality is revolutionizing medicine and healthcare (TechRepublic)

Virtual reality isn't just about gaming. Here are 10 ways VR is, and has been, seeping into the way medical professionals train, diagnose, and treat. 

When people experience virtual reality for the first time, a common reaction is to start imagining all the different uses the technology might hold. Even within one industry, healthcare, the potential is open-ended. The good thing is that scientists and medical professionals have been at the drawing board for years now, developing and implementing virtual reality in ways that can help them train, diagnose, and treat in myriad situations.
Here are just ten of the use cases that are currently in practice and continually developing as the technology itself develops too.

Exposure therapy

One treatment for patients with phobias is exposure therapy. In one instance, psychiatrists at theUniversity of Louisville are using VR to help patients deal with fears of things like flying and claustrophobia.
The VR experiences provide for a controlled environment in which patients can face their fears and even practice coping strategies, as well as breaking patterns of avoidance -- all while in a setting that's private, safe, and easily stopped or repeated, depending on the circumstances.

Treatment for PTSD

Similar to exposure therapy for phobias and anxieties, virtual reality is being put to use to help soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A paper from the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies cited virtual reality's use in PTSD treatment as far back as 1997 when when Georgia Tech released something called Virtual Vietnam VR.
More recently, clinics and hospitals are using virtual reality simulations of warfare akin to Iraq and Afghanistan to help veterans who are, in many ways, continually reliving the traumatic events they experienced. In a safe and controlled environment, they can learn how to deal with instances that might otherwise be triggers to behavior that could be destructive to themselves and others.

Pain management

For burn victims, pain is an ongoing issue. Doctors are hoping distraction therapy via virtual reality could help them get a handle on that pain. A VR video game from the University of Washington called SnowWorld, which involves throwing snowballs at penguins and listening to Paul Simon, could alleviate pain during tasks that can be excruciating, like wound care or physical therapy, by overwhelming the senses and pain pathways in the brain. A 2011 study the military conducted showed that for soldiers with burn injuries from IED blasts, etc. SnowWorld worked better than morphine.

Surgical training

Training for surgeons usually involves cadavers and a gradual process of assisting more experienced doctors before taking over tasks and bigger portions of the surgery. Virtual reality could provide another means of practice, without any risk to real patients.
Stanford University, for one, has a surgery simulator that even includes haptic feedback for those doing the training. Stanford's endoscopic sinus surgery simulation uses CT scans from patients to create 3D models for practice, and it's been in use since 2002. While this technology doesn't use a head mounted display, the groundwork that's been done could further the effectiveness of future virtual simulations.

Phantom limb pain

For people who lose a limb, a common medical issue is phantom limb pain. For example, someone without an arm might feel as though he is clenching his fist very tightly, unable to relax. Frequently, the pain is more sharp than that, even excruciating. Past treatments have included mirror therapy, where the patient would look at a mirror image from the limb they still have, perhaps, and find relief as the brain syncs with the movements of the real and phantom limbs.
In a similar vein, medical journal Frontiers in Neuroscience published a study last year on the role virtual reality games may play in helping alleviate phantom limb pain. It works like this: sensors pick up on the nerve inputs from the brain. In the game, patients use a virtual limb and must complete tasks. It helps them gain some control and learn, for example, how to relax that painfully clenched fist.

Brain damage assessment and rehabilitation

CyberPsychology & and Behavior published a roundup for virtual reality experiences in use for not only assessing impairments, but also in retreating them. One example has to do with executive function, or "impairments in the sequencing and organization of behavior and includes problems with planning," the paper said. Scientists created a virtual reality experience in which users had to reach the exit of a building using doors of different colors. It was supposed to be similar to the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, a neuropsychological test where participants match cards. They're not told how, only if the match is right or wrong. "The authors concluded that their test measures the same cognitive functions as the WCST and may prove to be more ecologically valid," CyberPsychology & Behavior wrote.

Social cognition training for young adults with autism

Professors at the University of Texas, Dallas created a training program to help kids with autism work on social skills. It uses brain imaging and brain wave monitoring, and essentially puts kids in situations like job interviews or blind dates using avatars. They work on reading social cues and expressing socially acceptable behavior. The study found that after completing the program, participants' brain scans showed increased activity in areas of the brain tied to social understanding.


One treatment for general anxiety can be meditation. A new app for Oculus Rift called DEEP aims to help users learn how to take deep, meditative breathes by making breathing the only control for the game. The app works with a band worn around the chest that measures breathing. The VR experience is something like being in an underwater world. Breathing is what gets a user from one place to another. The other benefit to the game is that breathing as a controller allows participation from those who might not be otherwise able to use a joystick or controller.

Opportunities for the disabled

It's not a new concept -- the New York Times ran a story in 1994 describing multiple uses, like a VR experience that let a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy take his wheelchair through a grassy field, or another that let 50 children with cancer spend some time "swimming" around an animated fish tank.
In a more recent example, headset maker Fove,undertook a crowdfunding campaign to create an app called Eye Play the Piano which would allow kids with physical disabilities to play the piano using the headset's eye tracking technology.

Opportunities for the homebound

There's a certain amount of fretting which surrounds virtual reality that has to do with what will happen when people can go anywhere and do anything through a VR headset -- maybe they won't go anywhere in real life in favor of retreating into an ideal virtual world. The thing is, for those who don't have the ability to get out in the real world, whether they be disabled or elderly, virtual reality could improve their quality of life when they'd otherwise be confined to a single residence, room, or even a bed.
Last year, Stanford University engineering studentscreated an immersive virtual reality experience for seniors that let them experience the outside -- like a bike ride or a walk on the beach. SUSIE, or Senior-User Soothing Immersive Experience, incorporates sound, light, wind, and even temperature changes, and used a large wall-mounted display meant to fill the normal field of vision.