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Mark Warburton (Global) - Passing the Baton - From Virtual to Augmented Reality - Part 1

The Failure of Virtual Reality

In retrospect, the mass fascination for Virtual Reality (VR) during the late 80s and early 90s was fairly comical. It was a classic case of an ambitious idea lacking the technological power to realize it. Mirroring cultural artifacts like the film Tron (1982), the fascination for a computerized, alternative world become prevalent in consumer consciousness. A desire for virtual apparatus was presented in game-centered films like The Wizard (1989). The film's pivotal emblem of virtual manipulation was the Nintendo power glove, pictured below:

Many of the proto VR devices were, at best, cumbersome. Some of the more ridiculous headsets (often ‘shown off' in the media) resembled red painted cinder blocks. Ultimately, these initial forays into VR wowed our imagination, but fell considerably short of expectations. With the mid 90s came the realization that VR was a pipe dream. The degeneration of a hope for VR in the real world provoked a pessimistic perspective culturally - most notably in films like Lawnmower Man (1995), which depicted the technology as problematic and dangerous - belonging to the unknown.

With virtual consoles phased out during the mid-1990s, the use of the Internet became the predominant concern for investment. The application of *Moore's Law since the early 90s would suggest that VR - helped along by the law's rule that technology is growing at an exponential speed - could be fully implemented. No doubt it could - but VR does not attend to the cross-over practicality of a new force in visual and spatial manipulation, Augmented Reality.

 

Augmented Reality

So what is Augmented Reality (AR)? AR is a technology that relays real-world locations (primarily visually) while superimposing computer-generated input (both audio and graphical) in order to present information and additional guidance to a person's day-to-day living. AR makes it possible to create interactive encyclopedias, such as iPhone applications, that allow users to hold their handset up to landmarks and view superimposed data and images. In this sense, AR is manipulable and sensitive to people's needs, e.g. They can modify layout, cycle through info etc. Before it manifested as a useable technology, AR was hypothesized both in computer games and films. In games, first-person-perspectives often highlight a HUD (heads-up display), while in films we were presented with its possibility in the alien POVs of other-worldly villains (Predator 1987, Terminator 1984).

Because of AR's capability of combining rich, contextual info with real-world imaging, its potential uses cover much of our lived experience. iPhones have apps like Magic Plan. It captures the interior dimensions of buildings; giving a visual frame wire overlapping the real-world representation. In a self-referential turn, the possibility of AR was directly demonstrated on the front cover of the July/August issue of E-learning! Magazine.

Unsurprisingly, AR is also being used for novelty advertisement. Back in May 2010, Disney setup character ‘ghosts' at bus stops to launch a new film. With the proliferation of AR-based apps, it is only a matter of time before this method of advertising becomes standardized and a mainstay of consumer culture.

Part 2 will be published this afternoon..

 

*"The number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This trend has continued for more than half a century and is expected to continue until 2015 or 2020 or later."

By Mark Warburton, editorial assistant, IDG Connect

 

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