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How Augmented Would You Like Your Reality?

Do you recall the original Terminator movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger portraying a cyborg sent from the future to kill someone in our time? On a number of occasions during the movie, we saw the world through the cyborg's eyes, with additional information being overlaid on the scene he was observing.

This was an early depiction of augmented reality, which refers to a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphical, and textural data.

About 12 years ago I saw some very interesting work in the augmented reality arena, including a pilot flying a plane with a computer screen in front of him instead of a window (his co-pilot did have a window and was poised to take over if there were any problems).

A photorealistic 3D model of the outside world was displayed on the screen in front of the pilot. This was augmented with imagery from a variety of radar systems (so if something flew in front of the plane, it would appear on the screen).

The interesting thing was that the pilot was attempting a real-world landing at a small airport in a tricky, mountainous terrain. Displayed on the screen in front of the pilot was a “corridor” of rectangles in the form of glowing lines that were superimposed on the scene. It looked like a computer game, with the pilot flying his real-world plane down the “corridor.”

The idea was that, even at night or on a foggy day, the pilot could be presented with a scene that looked as though the world was in bright daylight. My understanding is that pilots consistently achieved better landings using this experimental technology than they did using more traditional approach techniques.

Of course, this was some time before the days of smartphones and tablets and us all having GPS-based location information at our fingertips. There are already a variety of forms of augmented reality that are commercially available, with many more on the way. Personally, I don’t think that many of us really have a clue as to how pervasive augmented reality has the potential to become.

Take a look at this YouTube video, for example. This depicts a variety of possible augmented reality scenarios in which a young lady looks at the world through the screen of her smartphone.

When she points it at the sky, she is presented with the immediate weather forecast, along with a simulation of raindrops falling on her screen. When she points the smartphone at an art gallery, she is informed as to current exhibits. Looking at a tram via the smartphone returns details as to destinations and schedules. Pointing the smartphone at a hotel provides an indication as to which rooms are currently occupied and which remain available.

What other sorts of augmented reality information could be presented to us? Well, let's return to that in a moment but — before we go there — let's first consider how this augmented reality information might be presented to us. One approach — as we've already seen in the video above — is to view the world through the screen of a smartphone or tablet computer.

Another alternative might be something along the lines of Google Glass. This has the advantage of being relatively unobtrusive, but it doesn’t really offer a fully immersive experience.

I think a lot of it depends on the quantity and quality of augmented data that is made available to us. If there were to be sufficient data, then it wouldn’t surprise me if — sometime in the not-so-distant future — we were to see people walking around in public sporting a full-up Oculus Rift-type display.

What? You think this couldn’t happen? Well, all I can say is that I bet when you saw the original Star Trek featuring Lieutenant Uhura with an oddly-shaped communicator module stuck in her ear, you would never have expected to actually see people strolling down the street with flashing Bluetooth earpieces.

As an aside, my 70-year-old mother-in-law has long hair. She also has a Bluetooth earpiece linked to her smartphone, and this system is set to automatically turn on if anyone calls. I had no idea she was so in tune with the times. We were strolling around a supermarket together when she suddenly commenced to have what seemed to be a one-way conversation with herself, arguing vehemently and giving herself orders. I honestly feared she had gone insane (it turned out she was talking with her administrative assistant; the jury's still out on the question of insanity). But we digress…

The advantage of wearing something like an Oculus Rift is that you do get a fully immersive experience. Also, you can change reality to suit your whims. It could be midnight in the real world, but your display could present the scene around you as though it were midday, or vice versa, of course. The downside is that it's somewhat bulky and you would tend to look like a bit of a plonker. On the other hand, once enough people are doing it, this could become the new reality (pun intended), in which case it wouldn’t be long before we were inundated with designer models.

What about the farther future? Well, there are already experiments going on to embed LEDs in contact lenses. I can imagine a time when contact lenses have the capability to project high-resolution textual and graphical imagery directly onto their owners' retinas. At some stage, it wouldn’t surprise me if it became possible to have such equipment embedded in the eye itself.

What do you think regarding the various technologies that might be used to present augmented reality information? Do you agree with my thoughts above? Do you vehemently disagree? Can you offer any other suggestions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also, earlier on in this column, I said “What other sorts of augmented reality information could be presented to us?” Don’t answer this now, because I'm going to post Part 2 of this miniseries tomorrow, but you could certainly start noodling on this question and we'll see if what you come up with matches my hopes and fears.

— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting Circle me on Google+

This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times .

24 comments on “How Augmented Would You Like Your Reality?

  1. Eldredge
    May 16, 2014

    At some stage, it wouldn't surprise me if it became possible to have such equipment embedded in the eye itself.


    Hadn't thought about that until you mentioned it in your article – but this seems like it would be very feasible to integrate in an implanted lens, or in conjuction with it.

  2. _hm
    May 18, 2014

    @max: I got enamored by some person. Person is is in my brain memory. Can this augmented reality bring back this image from there to my mobile phone or computer screen?

    I need this!

  3. Max The Magnificent
    May 19, 2014

    @Eldredge: Hadn't thought about that until you mentioned it in your article – but this seems like it would be very feasible to integrate in an implanted lens, or in conjuction with it .

    There's also a dark side to this — suppose you start getting adverts displayed and you can't turn them off — or if a hacker takes control or your implants…

  4. Max The Magnificent
    May 19, 2014

    @_hm: I got enamored by some person. Person is is in my brain memory. Can this augmented reality bring back this image from there to my mobile phone or computer screen?

    I think you think you are joking — but check out my article Techno-Telepathy, Mind-Reading & Touchy-Feely Virtual Objects and they we'll see if you're still laughing LOL

  5. FLYINGSCOT
    May 19, 2014

    In 300 years we will have displays planted or simulated into our brains so that we immedaitley access the universe of the web.  I can see the benefits but I can also see the pitfalls with big brother, advertising or the dreaded blue screen.  It's the stuff movies are made of.  

  6. Max The Magnificent
    May 19, 2014

    @FlyingScot: It's the stuff movies are made of. 

    It might be the stuff “historical documentaries ” are made of in the not-so-distant future.

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 19, 2014

    There's always a dark side to these technology enhancements. I also wonder if we'll find that this sort of thing affects brain development over time in humans. I know, for example, that today's young people have much stronger thumbs than past generations because of texting!

  8. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 19, 2014

    It's definitely the stuff of television. I caught a show this season: Intelligence – CBS.com

    In the show, the main character has a chip implanted in his brain–and it allows him to connect with systems, computers, etc. He is able to have it because he was born with a certain genetics that allow it to work–and he finds that he is able to walk through a scene in 3D if he has the video. There are always unknown remifications. I know this is make believe but it's not outside the realm of imagination.

  9. Eldredge
    May 28, 2014

    @Max – Really hadn't thought about that possibility. I suppose, as a measure of desperation, you could have that intrusive lens removed and have it replaced with a standard lens.

  10. Eldredge
    May 28, 2014

    @ Max – As an alternative, perhaps we could offer a software security package for implanted lenses.

  11. Max The Magnificent
    May 29, 2014

    @Eldredge: As an alternative, perhaps we could offer a software security package for implanted lenses .

    I think security is going to be a huge issue for this type of system

  12. Max The Magnificent
    May 29, 2014

    @Eldredge: I suppose, as a measure of desperation, you could have that intrusive lens removed and have it replaced with a standard lens.

    All I can say is that if someone comes near my eyes with a needle, scalple, or laser, then they had better be wearing protective gear around their private parts because they are going down LOL

  13. Max The Magnificent
    May 29, 2014

    @Hailey: I know this is make believe but it's not outside the realm of imagination .

    I really think this is closer than we would like to believe…

  14. Eldredge
    May 29, 2014

    @Max – I agree. I'm sure there are applications in the wings that we have not even concieved of….and security will be paramount for many of them.

  15. itguyphil
    May 29, 2014

    I'm sure that would augment their reality! 🙂

  16. Eldredge
    May 29, 2014

    @Max – I'm with you. A little quid pro quo goes a long way in doctor-patient relations.

  17. ahdand
    May 30, 2014

    @eldridge: Yes its vital to have a good relationship but also should get the maximum out of technology too. Then you should be able to save lots of time and will be able to help to find new breakthroughs via research work. Remember time is a vital factor which cannot be reversed. 

  18. ahdand
    May 30, 2014

    @eldrigde: Indeed, security is a vital thing and should be given much more attention. Also while budgeting it should be a major factor that needs to be keep In mind 

  19. Max The Magnificent
    May 30, 2014

    @nimantha.d: Remember time is a vital factor which cannot be reversed.

    The older I get, the more precious time becomes because it slips between one's fingers so easily — you blink and another hour… day… week has passed you by 🙁

  20. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 30, 2014

    I'm with you…my sister had Lasix, but i'm keeping my glasses, thanks.

  21. itguyphil
    May 30, 2014

    Should be is often the talking point. It simply doesn't get implemented enough. Even when “security” is put into place, it's not suffice.

  22. Eldredge
    May 31, 2014

    @Hailey – exactly – the last thing you want to hear from your eye surgeon is “oops”!

  23. Max The Magnificent
    June 2, 2014

    @Hailey: …my sister had Lasix, but i'm keeping my glasses

    Years ago on TV I saw a news report about a guy who had had Lasik that had gon horribly wrong — they showed an impression of what he now saw, which was blury blocks of color — he was in tears saying that he'd had perfectly good vision with his glasses and that it was vanity that had cost him his vision.

    It turned out that his eyes were slightly different to the norm — the Lasik folks say that they now know to look for thsi special case and deal with it.

    I will stick with my glasses.

    The other consideratyion is how  do we know that this will “stick” and won't need to be re-done every 10 years — or even words it won;t go catestrophically pear-shaped after say 20 years?

     

  24. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    June 2, 2014

    @Max, i'm with you! My eyes are just too important to me to take any chances.

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