September 12, 2013
Seeing Into The Future
Most people have heard of virtual reality, in which a person’s senses (one or all of them) are overridden by virtual input. The idea is that you plug your brain into a computer and you find yourself in a computer generated landscape where everything you see, hear, and even feel, smell, and taste are actually signals being sent to your brain from the computer. Of course, that is still mostly in the realm of science fiction. More realistically, there is the idea of augmented reality in which what you see is “enhanced” or, more accurately, “supplemented” by digital input. Most smart phones are already capable of this, using their cameras and various apps. Wikitude World Browser for the iPhone is one such example of this that uses GPS and a solid state compass.
Imagine yourself in an augmented reality world. It is much like the world we live in today, but everything we normally use our smart phones for is sent directly to our own eyes. Someone sends you a text message, and the message appears in the upper peripheral of your vision, waiting for you to acknowledge it. You walk into a store, and automatically you have the option of viewing any store information, sales, or even a map with a simple command. Directions to that restaurant you are planning on meeting your friends appears street by street, updated in real time for traffic conditions, weather, construction, and anything else that might impede your progress. On the way there, you can go ahead and order your food and drink so it is there waiting for you when you arrive. Sound like the future to you? Well, it is, but it is a future that might be closer than your think.
Google has been working on a project called Google Glass, a computer you wear like a set of glasses that gives you a digital heads up display (HUD). The device is controlled by use of a touchpad and by vocal commands. With the tilt of the wearer’s head and a simple “Okay, Glass,” the wearer can tell the device to perform a variety of actions, from taking pictures to calling people to accessing the Internet to getting directions and much, much more. There are a lot of amazing possibilities with this device.
At the University of Washington, researches have also figured out a way to use LED lights to create AR contact lenses. Much like Google Glass, these lenses will allow wearers to do just about everything our modern day smartphones are capable of doing, only without the smartphone itself. Imagine being able to watch television or access Facebook without needing a television or a computer. Imagine being able to call or text just by speaking, without the need for a phone.
For me, this is where the line between what is reality and what is science fiction has really started to blur, and I find it fascinating. A longtime fan of science fiction books, games, and movies, the idea that I could one day view the world with eyes supplemented with an augmented reality overlay is incredibly exciting. Technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds, giving us new ways of viewing our modern world. In this case, quite literally.
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