Q: Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? A: Augmented Reality

Let me kick off these sections on Augmented Reality & Technology Trends with a mention of Christopher Mims’ recent post over at [MIT] TechnologyReview.com:

So what was it, really, that kept us from getting to Virtual Reality?

For one thing, we moved the goal posts – now it’s all about augmented reality, in which the virtual is laid over the real. Now you have a whole new set of problems

It will be worth your time reading his entire analysis of the question. Meanwhile, interesting things have been happening in the Augmented Reality (AR) field. First, it was Pranav Mistry from the MIT Media Lab demonstrating a cheap, adaptable and wearable gestural interface, aptly called SixthSense. Watch the TED Video from November 2009 here.

Then in 2010, marketers started experimenting with adding AR layers into the real world, making use of software such as the Layar platform for mobile phones. You can watch a convincing demo here. I say convincing because mobile phones are the most likely candidate for widespread adoption of AR technologies. Because if they were not, we would have more devices like the Wrap 920AR from Vuzix, which are basically wraparound goggles that provide an immersive AR experience.

The Video Game industry is always quick to adopt new interfaces (and often invents them),  and AR is no exception. Motus from the University of Abertay Dundee uses a Sixense TrueMotion controller (I couldn’t find any relation to SixthSense) to manipulate a virtual camera in a virtual environment, with applications in gaming, animation and simulation. It was originally inspired by the Simul-Cam that finally enabled James Cameron’s 20-year old dream to come to life, in the form of the 2009 movie Avatar. Ironic, a movie about remotely controlled humanoids, filmed using AR cameras.

Speaking of Avatar, not only was the technology behind it futuristic, but so was the marketing, which used an i-TAG system that allowed the manipulation of an on-screen 3D model, using a Webcam that scanned interactions with a tag in the physical world. Also, the same idea of controlling remote representative agents is explored in a different form in the 2009 movie, Surrogates, which IMHO was more “epic” than Avatar.

So the next question is: When will we reach the point when we won’t be able to tell the difference between what is “augmented” and what is “real”? Or would we rather not be able to?

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Forget UAVs, The OPVs Are Coming

Imagine a behind-enemy-lines rescue operation where a pilot-less aircraft penetrates enemy territory, wreaks havoc (or not), picks up some friendlies, and lo! The helicopter now has a crew to fly it around, make their escape, wreak more havoc, penetrate deeper into enemy territory, any or all of the above. Kinda like KITT returning to Michael Knight, isn’t it?

As technology increasingly shrinks the gap between science and science fiction, the US Army estimates that half of its aircraft will be OPV, Optionally Piloted Vehicles. And here’s the clincher: this is their estimate for the next 15 years. In other words, OPVs are already here.

And you thought Skynet’s electronically waged real war was unbelievable.

(On the brighter side, it may not be Skynet that wages the war, it could just be some Iraqi militants using a $26 shareware program.)

Day 147 – The Space We Are

_Captain’s Log, StarDate 2007.12.01-11.03_

“Give all that you can be
All you leave behind
Feed the state
That is in your mind”

-Ronski Speed, “The Space We Are”

Spent the better part of today dealing with one of my greatest nemeses (does nemesis really have a plural?), which is packing – the unsolved optmization problem of fitting in a seemingly infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of space. I need to pick up some more stuff tomorrow, and hopefully everything should fall into space (I mean place).

Stumble upon an incredible movie called Legends of the Fall on TV at night. Perfect for a winter night.

Day 112 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

_Captain’s Log, StarDate 2007.10.27-01.33_

It’s Saturday… call your friends, shake a leg. Or sleep till late afternoon and watch two movies. Which is what I did, in an attempt to unwind from the crazy week I just had. I watched a bit of A Few Good Men in the afternoon. Late at night I stumbled across a masterpiece from Michel Gondry (who has directed some Chemical Brothers’ videos) called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The movie has a gripping story and even more gripping visuals. Besides, it stars two very good actors – Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Don’t miss it for the world. I didn’t.

Day 105 – Back Laid

_Captain’s Log, StarDate 2007.10.20-01.55_

My back has given way again, and I had spent the day time-sharing between the sofa and the bed. In the evening I watched The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The cars were fantastic, the acting non-existent. Nobody can stand up to Paul Walker 😎

I found a funny kind of coincidence between the guy who finds himself in an alien city (Tokyo; Montreal in my case) and suddenly has access to a powerful car (an Evo; a Mazda 6 in my case). Interesting. Also the part where the guy is trying to explain the concept of drifting: pull on the handbrake and step down on the accelerator. The look of incomprehension on the would-be driver’s face was probably the same that I had when I attended rally school and was told for the first time to pull the handbrake to control the car’s direction… (“What?! Pull the handbrake?! Are you nuts?!”)

Organization, Productivity

I’ve always argued that life is all about unlimited tasks (or possibilities, if you prefer) and limited time. You can either do a lot of things (and still have some left over), or you can do a few things and do them well. As Gandalf the Grey says in The Lord of the Rings, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides good and evil”.

In the end, all that matters is what you did with your time. Success is always projected. “Misdirection. What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes”. That was Gabriel Shear in Swordfish.

Day 098 – Saturday Night Beaver

_Captain’s Log, StarDate 2007.10.13-16.44_

OK, forget about the part about staying up all night. Evidently, my body was so tired that without an alarm, I woke up at 4.30 in the evening. Wow. I must really have been tired not to notice. We had a, well, meal at around 6. We watched Ronin at night. I’m going to have a lot to catch up on tomorrow.