The Future of Augmented Reality

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I’ve seen so many bits and pieces of the virtual reality recently that get me out-of-this-world-excited. Technology is advancing in so many different directions right now with so many interesting ideas popping up all over. I wish I had links to them all. Of course there’s the mainstream

Wii with the most original controller since the light gun. But there is so much more going on than that like the omni-directional treadmill dubbed the Cyberspace Interface that allows you to walk in any direction and still remain in one place. Not only are there innovations to bring us into a virtual world there have been just as many to make our own world feel virtual. There’s an Avatar Machine which I may have brought up before – a camera mounted some distance behind your head, and goggles to allow you to see the real world in third person much like online role playing games. There’s even a set of goggles that, among other things, allow you to see the world in ascii art. Couple those ideas with Markerless Realtime 3D Tracking & Modeling and you have real items in a virtual world and virtual items in a real world. This opens up insane possibilities for the future.

Imagine a day that wearing a pair of vr goggles around with you all day is accepted as normal just as glasses or contacts are today. You walk down a main street and observe ads on the sides of buildings or stop to watch a street performer… but they aren’t actually real, or maybe they just aren’t there. The street performer is a computer program. Or maybe it’s a real person, but projected from the other side of the earth to your gps location. The ads displayed on the walls are just graphical overlays rather than real billboards or posters. There’s no reason for these things to be real or the need for them to be physically there. They are just as real as anything else in the world.

Take things a step further from goggles past gloves to a suit. I’ve seen or read about interfaces that allow you to in a sense feel virtual items and whether they are soft or hard. Now you can accidentally bump into a street performer, or trip over a virtual item, making you question ‘what is real?’ even more. Maybe you stop at a virtual internet terminal – typing on what you think is a keyboard, using a mouse, but it is actually thin air.

Pretend for a moment you are walking. You turn right and head down a short path to get to a destination, but little do you know you have stepped onto an omni-directional treadmill. You keep walking but you are no longer moving. The world in your eyes has become a completely virtual experience. Perhaps the treadmill raises you 100 stories up while you perceive yourself as walking the equivalent or different distance down the street. You reach your destination reach forward and open the real door of the real place. You step off the treadmill out of complete vr, back into partial vr and into the building.

There would be much to develop and overcome to fuse our world and the virtual world but think of what innovations can be done virtually that currently can’t be done for real. How about holograms? Were getting closer, but it sure would be easy using a computer rendering. What about flying like Superman? Obviously not possible in the real, but how about vr? Think about the problems of trying to live in a completely virtual world as most perceive as the only option. How are you going to eat, drink, go to the bathroom? Those issues are also overcome with this merging.

What scares me in all of this is how relatively easy it is to consider this a possibility when comparing it to trying to develop a completely virtual world from scratch such as the holodeck. It reminds me so much of the Matrix, although unintentionally. It makes me question if it would be possible to forget you were wearing the goggles, the suit, or the gear (keeping in mind your virtual self does not have to look like your physical self). I question if I am wearing it right now, becoming aware of an environment I have forgotten.

I imagine over time the world I describe would be no more or less exciting than the one we already live in. But the idea of having a Second Life (pun intended) in our first would be an adventure at the very least to those who’d be involved in building it.

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