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Blame COVID for a lack of AR and VR at the Tokyo Olympics

USA Today's emerging tech team embraced creative workarounds to produce an AR experience for the Olympics during the pandemic. Not every project had that luxury.

Screenshots of USA Today’s 2020 Olympics AR experience

USA Today's Tokyo Olympics AR experience was produced during the pandemic.

Image: USA Today

Unused AR headsets. A VR app widely panned by reviewers. A lackluster catalog of 360-degree videos. The Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to start this week, won't exactly be a major showcase for immersive media.

That's not for a lack of interest: A number of companies had planned to go all out with AR and VR at the event. Then the pandemic hit, the games had to be rescheduled and production schedules for immersive experiences ground to a screeching halt.

That's exactly what happened to the USA Today Network team, which had started to work on multiple Olympics-themed AR experiences around new types of sports at the games, including one featuring an interview with Team USA rock climber Kyra Condie, in early 2020.

"We had started development of the project back in February 2020," said Gannett and USA Today Emerging Technology Director Ray Soto. "Just a couple weeks after the interview, the pandemic hit, forcing us to scrap our entire 2020 editorial calendar including additional Olympic AR opportunities we had been exploring with the editorial team."

Soto and his team eventually decided earlier this year to pick up where they had left things 12 months prior, despite the fact that the fate of the games was very much uncertain. "We had to be prepared to launch the projects, so we pushed ahead," Soto said.

His team had already captured enough assets to finish the AR experience featuring Condie. However, another experience featuring skateboarder Tom Schaar was still in its early stages. "Considering we didn't have the opportunity for the Emerging Tech team to travel just a few short months ago, we worked with our LA-based USA Today video production team by training them via Zoom on our photogrammetry process," Soto said.

The original plan had also called for recording videos of Schaar that would then be used to create 3D animations. Without the ability to easily capture new material, Soto's team had to rely on archival footage. "With videos provided to us by Vans, we used artificial intelligence to process short clips into animated assets that would eventually be integrated into the final project," he said.

In the end, Soto and his team managed to finish both the Schaar and the Condie experience in time and launch it within the USA Today app for iOS and Android on Monday morning.

Not everyone has been so lucky. Intel and NTT Docomo had planned to show off a number of immersive experiences throughout the event in Tokyo to highlight the power of AR and 5G. Visitors of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre were supposed to be able to pick up special AR headsets to watch races with immersive graphics overlays. Those headsets will now in all likelihood remain unused, as visitors have been banned from all Olympic events due to a rise of COVID cases in Japan. (Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Other immersive initiatives announced ahead of the games haven't fared much better. An effort to showcase all 55 sports of the Olympics with immersive video has fallen short of its goal, with the official Tokyo 2020 YouTube channel only featuring 360-degree or 180-degree videos for a total of 13 sports thus far.

Not all of these shortcomings can be blamed on COVID, though. Comcast launched an NBC Olympics VR app for Facebook's Oculus Quest headset that is supposed to stream live competitions in VR. However, judging from multiple negative reviews, the app appears to struggle with technical problems; reviewers also took issue with the fact that the company is restricting viewing of full events to cable subscribers.

The irony is that AR and VR could have been a perfect substitute for a sports event that fans aren't able to attend in person. But for anyone hoping to experience the Olympics in truly immersive fashion, there's always 2022.

Protocol | Fintech

Amazon wants a crypto play. Its history in payments is not encouraging.

It missed chances to be PayPal, Square and Stripe — so is this its chance to miss being Coinbase, too?

Amazon wants to be a crypto player.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The news that Amazon was hiring a lead for a new digital currency and blockchain initiative sent the price of bitcoin soaring. But there's another way to look at the news that's less bullish on bitcoin and bearish on Amazon: 13 years after Satoshi Nakamoto's whitepaper appeared on the internet, Amazon is just discovering cryptocurrency?

That may be a bit unkind, but the truth is sometimes unkind. And the reality is that Amazon has a long history of stumbles and missed opportunities in payments, which goes back more than two decades to the company's purchase of internet payments startup

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Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a senior editor at Protocol overseeing venture capital and financial technology coverage. He was previously business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and before that editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, a technology news site. You're probably going to remind him that he was managing editor at Valleywag, Gawker Media's Silicon Valley gossip rag. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and Ramona the Love Terrier, whom you should follow on Instagram.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Enterprise

How Google Cloud plans to kill its ‘Killed By Google’ reputation

Under the new Google Enterprise APIs policy, the company is making a promise that its services will remain available and stable far into the future.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has promised to make the company more customer-friendly.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images 2019

Google Cloud issued a promise Monday to current and potential customers that it's safe to build a business around its core technologies, another step in its transformation from an engineering playground to a true enterprise tech vendor.

Starting Monday, Google will designate a subset of APIs across the company as Google Enterprise APIs, including APIs from Google Cloud, Google Workspace and Google Maps. APIs selected for this category — which will include "a majority" of Google Cloud APIs according to Kripa Krishnan, vice president at Google Cloud — will be subject to strict guidelines regarding any changes that could affect customer software built around those APIs.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Amazon job opening points to plan to accept crypto payments

The news sparked a rally in the values of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Amazon may be planning to let customers pay for orders with cryptocurrencies.

Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Amazon is looking to hire a digital currency and blockchain expert suggesting a plan to let customers accept cryptocurrencies as payments.

The tech giant's job opening says Amazon is looking for "an experienced product leader" to help develop the company's "digital currency and blockchain strategy and roadmap" Amazon is looking for product leader with expertise in blockchain, distributed ledger, central bank digital currencies and cryptocurrency.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Protocol | Policy

Big Tech tried to redefine terrorism online. It got messy fast.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism announced a series of narrow steps it's taking that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

Erin Saltman is GIFCT's director of programming.

Photo: Paul Morigi/Flickr

A little over a month after the Jan. 6 riot, the tech industry's leading anti-terrorism alliance — a group founded by Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter — announced it was seeking ideas for how it could expand its definition of terrorism, which had for years been more or less synonymous with Islamic terrorism. The group, called the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism or GIFCT, had been considering such a shift for at least a year, but the rising threat of domestic extremism, punctuated by the Capitol uprising, made it all the more clear something needed to change.

But after months of interviewing member companies, months of considering academic proposals and months spent mulling the impact of tech platforms on this and other violent events around the world, the group's policies have barely budged. On Monday, in a 177-page report, GIFCT released the first details of its plan, and, well, a radical rethinking of online extremism it is not. Instead, the report lays out a series of narrow steps that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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