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Smart Kapp - An image capture dry-wipe whiteboard

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SMART technologies, the company which brought interactive whiteboards into our classrooms, has developed a new dry-erase whiteboard capable of sending images to your smartphone. 

 

The digital capture white board is designed to replace the paper flip-chart often seen in meetings and conferences. 

 

It comes with a dry-erase marker, a board rubber, and a power cable. And that's it. 

 

The setup was designed to be as simple as hanging a whiteboard in a meeting room. All that's needed to use the mirroring capabilities is for one person in the meeting to have a smartphone running Android or iOS. 

 

Windows phone is currently out of the loop, but images can be taken from the board via USB as well. Negotiations are currently taking place over the direction of using Windows Phone with the Kapp, so watch this space.


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One person takes control of the meeting by scanning the board's QR code through the dedicated app, or tapping the NFC spot. Once activated, anything on the board will appear in the smartphone session. 

 

Snapshots can be taken of the board at a specific point in time to ensure important information isn't erased, and people can be added to the meeting using links which are trashed after the meeting ends, or emailed images of the board while the meeting is in session.


The board is programmed to recognise the measurements of of a dry-wipe marker and mirrors any indication of pressure on the app. So technically, you could use a stylus with the same diameter as a marker tip to write secret messages on the board that would only register to smartphone participants. 


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In particular the company has seen great interest from the hotel industry for use in conference rooms, and hotels would no longer have to worry about providing paper.

 

But the most interesting thing about the board is the vast number of industries interested in this particular product - something unusual for a business-focused gadget.

 

"Dry erase boards are ubiquitous, there's no particular industry where you would say 'it's just for these guys and them only'." explains Christine Alford, manager of SMART marketing communications.

 

This week the company announced a huge 84 inch model of the board, the Kapp 84, which is now available on pre-order, and premium services offering a free upgrade to the smart mobile application to allow up to 250 participants per session.

 

The smaller version will set you back £599, while the 84 inch board is £849. 

CES 2015: A summary of this year's Consumer Electronics Show

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As a first-time attendee of CES I distinctly remember thinking on my flight over to Vegas: "What have I let myself in for?"

It turns out the answer was a week of no sleep, motivational videos designed to make you cry and more gadgets than I could shake a stick at. It doesn't matter what time it is in Vegas, there's always something going on, and with the show spread over three major areas across the city it's almost impossible to take everything in.

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But here are the top trends I noticed during my week in Sin City:

People aren't interested in JUST data collection anymore

One of the biggest themes of the week was the concept that devices that collect data are no longer useful unless they are able to interpret it and make changes for the better.

At the show, Shawn G DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, discussed the need for a "feedback loop"  whereby the analog input method for digitisation and curation is then used to influence and change behaviour, feeding back to the original input method.

It was widely agreed across the conference that until this feedback loop occurs, digital and connected technology will not contribute towards a better and more convenient standard of living.

Everyone is focussed on making things "better"

CEA representatives were saying it, Samsung's CEO was saying it, the big boss at Intel was saying it - everyone agreed that the internet of things and other connected technologies could act as a gateway towards a better existence for human beings.

According to Samsung's keynote at the opening of the show, "better" means different things to different people, and the public said the technology of the future should "be faster", "save time" and "track efficiency".

And that's just everyday life - Intel spoke about how its RealSense technology can allow automated drones to more easily navigate on their own, allowing easier drop off of items such as medical supplies.

The firm also shared its plans for a more diverse workforce by launching its own Diversity in Technology initiative, aiming to improve not just technology but the industry itself.

The wearables market is as confused as ever

The last few years at CES has seen wearables move from a possible future concept into a full blown industry segment. The problem is, wearables still don't know what they want to be.

In the CES Marketplaces innovation hall technology booths were split into sections, which included Wearables, Health & Wellness, Fitness & Technology, Smart Watches and Sports Tech, all of which contained, amongst other things, wearables of some kind.

Some of the products could have landed in any of these categories, and the line between several of these segments is very thin.

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With fashion designer Lauren Bowker claiming earlier this year that she doesn't like her scientific designs being referred to as wearable tech, it's clearly an industry that, although has many products already embedded into people's lifestyle, doesn't know where it's going.

I think wearables is a technology category becoming a bit too big for its boots, and it needs to decide where its loyalties lie - fitness, wellness or convenience.

3D printing is actually going somewhere

Last year 3D printing seemed like a gimmick that would never take off. Now it's a legitimate industry used for activities such as rapid prototyping, and many products surfaced at CES that could expand the opportunities of the 3D printing market.

Intel's plans to integrate Intel's Core i7 processors within HP's upcoming HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer is a step towards fast printing for functional items such as chainlinks and other working parts for the engineering industry.

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A 3D printing pen that allows users to draw a functioning 3D object was also on display in the Marketplaces hall, as well as many smaller 3D printers for home use that could solve expensive outsourcing problems for wannabe engineers.

From a concept people scoffed at to a range of technologies with practical uses, the 3D printing industry has come along in leaps and bounds.

The Chinese market is booming

Once technology was only manufactured in China on behalf of other businesses, but now Chinese companies are huge, and producing products for both domestic and international markets.

From smartphones to smarthomes, China definitely had a huge presence at the show this year, and the trend doesn't look to slow down any time soon.

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The internet of things and smarthomes are both the fastest growing and least developed segments

Everyone was talking about the current proliferation and development of the internet of things this year, including the smarthome and how connected devices can help to improve people's lives and save people time.

However much like wearables, some of these technologies still don't quite have the edge that's needed to make them as useful as they could be.

We discussed earlier technology must provide information that allows users to manipulate and improve their environment in order to fully prove its usefulness.

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What was also highlighted by Samsung's CEO was the need for greater collaboration between different industry segments and regulators to ensure the internet of things is able to properly move forward and work seamlessly.

Looks like we have a lot to keep an eye on over the next year! 

CES 2015: The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with new AnyPen technology

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Lenovo launched its new affordable smartphone at CES this year, the A6000 smartphone available in the Indian market through exclusive online partner Flipkart.

What I found more interesting was the launch of its new AnyPen technology which, as the name suggests, allows you to use anything you want as a pen for the Yoga tablet 2.

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The tablet itself is quite light, and has the Yoga-style battery across the bottom which allows for a nice comfy hand hold for when using vertically, and holds the kickstand for when using horizontally on a flat surface.

The Yoga 2 runs Windows 8.1 and has in Intel Atom Quad-Core processor to ensure speed. Its 8 inch display in in HD and the devices features front and rear cameras.

The AnyPen function proves very good for reaching small fiddley bits of the screen, especially for example when using the desktop function on Windows 8 where the icons can get quite small on the 8inch screen.

I tested the screen out using a fork and a pen-knife, which I was worried about at first until I was informed that the screen is scratch resistant.

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There is one catch though, your chosen stylus must be conductive in order to work, so anything metal works a treat.

When using applications such as word can be fun with AnyPen, and your handwriting is converted into text-based words to allow you to review them ahead of inserting them into the document to ensure they are correct.

The tablet is currently available for a price tag of around $279, and stick on an extra $20 to use the AnyPen feature. 

CES 2015: Panasonic challenges GoPro with new wearable camera tech

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Panasonic has a lot going on this year, with a focus on its "green mobility strategy", fridges and washing machines to enhance the kitchen and let's not forget televisions.

But probably the most noteworthy part of Panasonic's presentation at the International CES in Vegas this year was their new range of fitness products, including the A500, a 4K mountable sports camera, part of the the Panasonic Adventure range for outdoor activities.

Julie Bauer, president of Panasonic's consumer electronics company, described its new wearable camera following up with the statement:

"Watch out GoPro."

Although that was the only bold move Panasonic made, they still showcased a number of interesting products and ideas, some already achieved and some they want to release into the wild.

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During the show, the wearable was on display, modelled by 'Spartan' athletes who were hell-bent on proving its durability by emerging from a pool of water and climbing a frame whilst wearing the camera mounted on their heads.

On the subject of cameras the firm also announced a set of home security cameras designed to be put around the home and controlled remotely by tablet anywhere around the house.

Those weren't the only cool thing they were exhibiting either; Panasonic demoed the concept of a virtual reality mirror able to project makeup onto to see what works well on your face. I envisage this sort of technology being used in the future to show plastic surgery patients what they might look like after a procedure, or in retail to virtually try on outfits.

Panasonic's CEO and chairman Joe Taylor also announced a partnership with Ford in order to "transform" vehicle communications and in-car entertainment using its Sync 3 technology.

But a big concern for Panasonic, as mentioned earlier, is the environment, and Panasonic has put a lot of time and effort into solutions to power vehicles and cities in more energy efficient ways.

The company spoke of its production of Lithium Ion batteries, a power source for electric Prius vehicles and other automotives, which is the number one use for these batteries globally.

It also spoke of producing scooters, called Gogoro, powered by smart swapping batteries that can be docked in power stations and swapped for a fully charged unit on the spot.

Finally the firm announced its Gigafactory which is currently under construction, designed to produce electric vehicle battery products. Panasonic predicts an annual production for 500,000 tesla cars by 2020 to be powered by renewable energy. The factory will employ 6500 workers and aim to establish more green mobility manufacturers. 

CES Unveiled 2015: What's happening in Vegas?

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In the lead up to this year's Consumer Electronics Show, a number of companies including both startups and established brands exhibited their innovative ideas to press and industry analysts, benchmarking this year's trends.

By far this year's standout trends are automotive connectivity and bigger, better and smarter televisions, as well as an increase in internet of things connected products and ever more useful wearables.

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Among some of the familiar brands exhibiting included technology services company Accenture, consumer health technology developer Withings and networking equipment producer D-Link.

Although there were many familiar faces, there were also some new companies such as Slow Control, which were boasting a smart baby bottle, Patchworks Inc and its edge-to-edge smartphone screen protectors and Fitlinxx developing fitness wearables.

There were also a number of innovative new products including a digital pinball machine, a slate that can be used to track and digitise things written on physical paper, and a smart plant pot.

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The internet of things and wearable technology are big trends still being developed from last year's CES, but last year we also saw a lot of technology many people probably didn't need.

This year there seems to be a theme of connected technology that actually gives back - creating that ever important feedback loop to justify data collection in the first place.

During Unveiled, I overheard a passer-by claim "Anything that saves you a little bit of hassle is a good thing." and I think this year we'll definitely see more technology designed not just to save people time, but to implement a positive change in the way they behave.

It's clear we can look forward to some exciting things over the next week as the show enters full swing. 

What can be defined as wearable tech?

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We're slowly moving into the wearable generation, and the number of people bringing wearables into the workplace is steadily increasing.

The battle of wearable technology is in full swing, with Microsoft launching its first wearable device just months after Apple announced plans for its Apple Watch. 

When many people think of wearables, fitness trackers and smartwatches are what spring to mind.

But wearable technology can be anything from a health monitor to mobile controlled garments.

Or can it? Designer Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen, has roots in Chemistry and has developed a range of clothing that reacts to biological and chemical stimulus as opposed to just electrical.

Her garments, which she recently showcased at the Innovate UK event in London, are "human focussed" and include pieces that change colour depending "environmental fluctuations" or stimulation from the brain.

The first piece is made of leather and changes colour in reaction to the wind and air. Originally Bowker thought this type of technology could be used for F1 in order to assess the aerodynamics of vehicles, but began developing clothes designed to reflect the way wind and air passes over the human body.

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Another piece reacts to heat in the brain and therefore changes colour depending on your thoughts. It could be used in healthcare to communicate feelings that are hidden.

She says in the future, she hopes materials will be created for purpose, and there will be no need for disposable fashion, as one garment can be adapted to be suitable for all situations, moods and weather.  

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But she doesn't believe this is wearable tech, to her it's just material.

"Everyone is calling The Unseen wearable tech whereas we really don't want to be called wearable tech. There's wearable computing, which I see more as the smartwatches," Bowker says. "That to me is just another gadget."

Bowker points out that other fabrics such as polyester could been deemed wearable tech if the way it is used it taken into consideration, so people should be careful to address specific categories garments fall under.

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"Treat this as a design-led project rather than a recent trend." Bowker says.

A recent survey by Beecham Research found technology companies do not have the right approach to wearable technology and devices are not what consumers want to wear.

Not for profit organisation the London College of Fashion's 'Innovation Agency' works with technology companies to make technology driven clothing.

Matthew Drinkwater, head of the agency, describes working with Nokia on a digital skirt made of smartphones, and collaborating with Microsoft to create trousers that charge your phone in your pocket as just some of the projects the agency has worked on.

At Innovate UK Drinkwater showcased the Innovation Agency's Tinkerbell inspired dress, created during a collaboration with Disney using fibre optics and LEDs.

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But again, he claims wearables should centre on fashion instead of simply being another branch of technology.

Drinkwater says: "Everything before had been functionality focus and device focus, we just want to try and use tech to make something really beautiful."


Video Review:BlackBerry Passport

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I've spent a few weeks using the BlackBerry Passport, which was launched at the start of October.

BlackBerry positions the Passport as a business device. It is instantly recognisable by its Qwerty keyboard and large 4.5 inch display. It also supports Android and provides direct access to the Amazon Android store.

Speaking of the Amazon store, it is no way near as complete as the Google Play store and I could not even find the Kindle app. That said, I was able to use the Android British Gas Hive and Nike+ apps.

I ended up downloading the APK Installer App from the Amazon App store to get access to Google Play, when I was then able to download the official Amazon Kindle App!

Side-loading still works if you are happy downloading the APK (Android app installer file) file directly. I actually downloaded apps for my Nexus 7, then used a file manager app to copy the APK files onto my NAS drive, which the BlackBerry Passport could access. There are several APK to BAR (BB10 app) converters available online.

As a BlackBerry Q10 user, I find a real keyboard essential for creating content. In fact this blog post was written on the Q10 earlier this morning on my way to work.

The Passport's keyboard is larger, so it should be easier to use. But having tried writing long articles on the Passport, I could not get used to the layout. The most annoying feature was in fact one of the new devices big highlights - a touch-enabled physical keyboard. When you touch the keys the keyboard acts like a touchpad, for moving the cursor. While this sounds fantastic on the spec sheet, in practice, it made working on the keyboard slower, especially if you tend to rely on the delete key to make corrections. I found I was correcting the wrong word more often than not, which slowed done my progress when writing text.

Among the best features of the Passport is the screen. I found reading on the Kindle app a pleasure, thanks to the high res screen on the Passport.

For business users, BlackBerry Blend is definitely a killer app. It is a unified communications and file manger application available on iOS, Windows, and Android - giving you an integrated way to share files, text messages and email across devices.

The BlackBerry Passport has the potential to replace your laptop, tablet and smartphone and I really wanted to like it. But, even though I am old fashioned and still rely on a physical keyboard, I simply could not type fast enough on the PassPort's.

That said, the screen is superb and Blend is excellent. Let's hope BlackBerry rolls out Bland across its smartphone range.

REVIEW: Dux iPad Air case

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It's almost impossible to complete a daily commute in London without spotting someone using a sad looking phone with a badly bashed up screen.

Smashed iPads are spotted less frequently, but it has been done, and there's nothing sadder than squinting through a myriad of cracks as you try but fail to make out the latest episode of 'Game of Thrones' on the tube.

The Dux iPad Air case by STM bags promises military grade protection for your device to help you to avoid this very situation. This means drops from over 6 feet with no damage, and water resistance for clumsy days. It has been tested to 'meet or exceed' US Department of Defense Standard 810F/G durability tests, and hopefully that means it keeps your device totally safe.

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The case is quite heavy, and combined with the iPad feels weighty, but is still portable. It's very sturdy, and once you've put your iPad in it, there is no danger of it slipping out what-so-ever. The case adds a few millimetres to the outside of the device, but has very clear recesses exposing ports, speakers and microphones, and does not hinder their use. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the volume and power buttons, which are enclosed in the case and can be quite difficult to press at times.

This isn't too much of a problem in terms of the power button, as the felt lined protective screen flap switches the iPad on when opened and off when closed to preserve battery. This magnetic flap also wraps around the side of the case, making it less likely to pop open if dropped. Sometimes the flap doesn't lay snug against the case, but this is easily solved by positioning it properly. You can see the back of your iPad through the clear rear panel, and STM suggests using this as an opportunity for customisation by inserting pictures.

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I tested the case with my iPad Air, and was told by STM that they weren't able to reimburse me if I dropped my device and broke it whilst using the case - although they assured me that a breakage was very unlikely. I dropped it a couple of times, and was brave enough to drop it on its corner from desk height and everything was fine. The sturdy corners prevented any damage and the screen didn't crack. I didn't want to tempt fate any further, so that's as far as my testing went. There are videos of more rigorous tests on their website, and I've included one below to show how durable the case really is:


Video: STM on YouTube

One criticism of the case is that the folding flap isn't very sturdy when folding it back to stand the case up. The case is meant to fold back and clip magnetically to allow you to stand the case for watching videos or typing. This didn't really work for me, and the case fell over a few times. 

All in all if it's durability you're looking for this case lives up to its promise of protection, and would better suit an environment where users are out and about or in danger of dropping the device during use. 

Cognitive enhancement devices - can accessories really make you smarter?

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We're being launched into the days of smart technology, where our phones are better than computers, we're wearing devices that can monitor our every move and even our fridges are connected to the internet. 

It isn't surprising that manufacturers have been toying with devices designed to make you smarter, and we managed to get hold of a Foc.us gaming headset. This uses an electrical current to stimulate particular parts of your brain to 'improve' your thinking power. 

However, a recent policy paper by researchers at Oxford University's Oxford  Martin School has urged for greater regulation for devices such as this.

In this video, Computer Weekly interviews Adrian David Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University. Cheok tries out a cognitive enhancement device (CED) to see how it makes him feel, and whether it does indeed make him 'smarter'.


During the testing process, Cheok stated that the device made him feel as though his brain was more stimulated, and he did perform better with the headset on. But he also said that it left him with a strange sensation in the area the headset was touching, as well as sensitive skin.

These devices are currently used by consumers in gaming and education in order to enhance their performance.

But according to Hannah Maslen, lead author of the Oxford Martin paper entitled "Mind Machines: The Regulation of Cognitive Enhancement Devices", this device by Foc.us is the first commercially branded cognitive enhancement device, and people have previously attempted to make these devices themselves. 

Maslen emphasised that consumers should be provided with "evidence based information so that users will be able to decide for themselves if the risks are worth taking."

Currently though, there is a distinct lack of regulation around devices such as this, which according to Maslen and other authors of the report could be dangerous, as these devices change the electrical activity of the brain. 

In Europe, these devices are only required to pass product safety requirements, even though the electrical signals used by these devices have the potential to alter the brain's electrical activity. 

Similar devices are under trial in the medical industry to attempt to treat illnesses such as depression and Parkinson's.

But because CEDs do not provide any kind of medical diagnosis or therapy, they do not come under the Medical Devices Directive, and can therefore not be governed by the same rules.

In the paper, Maslen and fellow authors Thomas Douglas, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Neil Levy and Julian Savulescu, outline a pathway to designing a regulatory model for the use of CEDs.

They recommend that devices such as this should come under the EU Medical Devices Directive as they provide some of the same medical risks as similar devices used for medicine. 

When it comes down to it, it's all about consumer safety. Maslen says: "It's about making sure that devices that we're sold are as safe as they can be."

How virtual reality can be used to train fire service personnel

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When Facebook announced earlier this year its plans to buy Oculus VR, developers of gaming headset the Oculus Rift, many gaming companies announced that they would not develop games for use with the Oculus in the future.

However, as a virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift has shown the ability for use in other industries too, and that's where G2G3 come in.

Immersive simulation designer G2G3 has developed a 3D emergency services simulation, initially for use by the Fire Service College, which can be used with the Oculus to train fire fighters to face virtual reality emergencies before they enter the field.

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Representatives from G2G3 commented that since the number of emergencies has dropped over the years there has been less opportunity to train individuals in real-life situations.

Although the lack of emergencies is a huge positive, it is important for junior fire fighters to be aware of how they would react in an emergency situation.

The Oculus allows these trainees to be immersed in several different emergency scenarios to enable them to learn how to cope during a response operation and determine whether or not they would be capable of making the correct decisions under pressure.

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The system allows the trainee to watch, move around in and assess the situation through the Oculus headset and tell their instructor what they think the next action should be. The instructor can then manipulate the environment remotely and also monitor the trainee's performance.

I was able to test the environment at the recent IT Support Show in Earl's Court, and it does feel very real. The display shows smoke and the people around you, and the environment includes realistic backdrops including broken windows and damaged vehicles.

I've even been told that the simulation displays different coloured and textured smoke depending on the type of fire simulation that has been selected to display.

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You can look around you with 360 degree vision in the headset, but use an external controller in order to turn and move your 'body'.

It really immerses you into the surroundings, and you sometimes forget that there are other people around you outside of the headset - exactly the reaction that is needed in order to place your mind-set in the seriousness of an emergency situation.

Unfortunately during testing I did experience slight motion sickness, which is apparently not uncommon when first using the headset as your vision does not always face the same direction as your body.

The simulation currently assesses Fire Services Incident Commanders to level 1 accreditation, and includes 14 different types of scenario representative of real-life situations that emergency personnel could find themselves in.

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G2G3 has plans to develop the platform in the future in order to encompass assessment for higher levels of accreditation in order to further help to develop the education of the emergency services.

With technologies such as the Oculus steadily growing, G2G3 has even speculated that there may be the opportunity to add other features in the future to increase realism and really prepare for these life-or-death situations, including the ability to physically walk around a simulation, record heart rate and stress level or even the injection of smell into the simulation. As the technology for virtual reality continues to progress, it is becoming clear that these technologies can be used for all manner of things, from gaming to training and beyond.

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