Augmented Reality has been around as a concept for a long time. It has very often been described in images of the future as enhancing the real world with additional layers of digitially created information. As more people are becoming aware of virtual worlds and seeking to build within them they, in general, start with trying to recreate some element of Real Life. This may be representations of themselves as avatars, existing buildings and offices they frequent. real world metaphors such as chairs, tables, presentation screens. This is something I have observed as the willingness to engage with virtual worlds has extended past gamers and early adopters. The representation is focussed on the boundaries of the environment being used and on how to manipulate the building tools to create that vision, crafting for that environment.
We are seeing more uses of things from the real world crossing over into the non-game metaverse environments. e.g. tennis ball trajectories and scores from Wimbledon into Second Life.
Is this augmented mixed reality? Are we creating Augmented Reality for virtual worlds? Is there a continuous circle feeding real things and virtual things into representations of one another?
This circle of real to virtual and back again has become increasingly easy to demonstrate.
I have been impressed recently with things like ARTag. The simplicity by which we were able to explore Augmenting Real and Virtual means scope for many ideas to be tried out. With companies like fabjectory making the virtual objects into real objects on a commercial level we are able to glimpse a local fabrication future. Creating elements of what you need as physical objects when you need them from virtual resources has quite a future I think. Many of these things have existed before but not with the ease of access to the general population.
The ability to render information and data either in multiple ways with multiple transformations and augmentations seems very exciting. We seem to have many of the pieces of the puzzle available and commercially available. We have mobile phones, with colour screens, video cameras, GPS, wi-fi/3g connectivity. We do not have to solely rely on underlying programming interfaces, we are able to use other devices to instrument and understand a physical environment, such as cameras and GPS locations and many other types of real world sensor.
Taking real world properties and enhancing a real world experience with those has been done. From cave paintings on a wall to speedometers in cars we have been able to express things about the world to enhance our view.
Headsup displays and projections of additional information have been used in a military context and some high end car manufacturers. Taking information and representing it to augment reality.
The Wimbledon Second Life project was in part an extension of an idea to determine what was needed to rebuild the live experience in a virtual world from the technical data available. This extended the experience in a virtual world to people, who were not able to be at the live event. This is a the reason the championships website exists too Projecting forward it is possible to imagine re-rendering a sports event from the data captured using virtual world and game technology. Television does for us already, except is it not something that individual users have control over, it is a rerendering of a live event. Choosing from multiple TV camera angles goes some way to providing control for the viewer, but a complete photo-realistic virtual rendition powered by real life events does not seem that far fetched.
Considering how to completely recreate an event, re-render and provide additional information to those in a virtual world is a sliding scale of detail, more data, more pixels, more people. The fidelity of experience technically and socially both starting to increase as more effort is applied and as a market grows that expects a richer experience.
This gives us with some more options to consider. If you are at the real world event, and there is more to add to your experience we should look to enhance the real. using sporting events as the example we already see things like the Hawkeye ball trajectory replay rendered on a big TV screen for the crowd to experience. That is physical data turned virtual and then reinjected in the real world again. The same data is used on the web and in the virtual world. It is however just television, the same view for all the people at the venue. Someone in the crowd could have had a wireless laptop open accessed the web page or the virtual world and watched the replay, just as I tend to have the F1 live timing website open at home when watching the grand prix on the television.
During the Wimbledon fortnight I experienced an unusual mix of virtual and real life. Firstly there was the technology, we had the data and we had a virtual build. The data is about matches, about points in the game of tennis. Everthing is geared around the things that happen in playing the point in real life. We took some of that data that we use on the website and we pushed it into a virtual world to show points and ball trajectories. I was physically at Wimbledon with my collegues in the media bunker to meet our visiting corporate customers and I was also was present at the Wimbledon virtual venue to meet, greet and discuss.
I was augmenting the data in the virtual world with some personal experience and descriptions of atmosphere and explaining behind the scenes things in live context. I did realize that in trying to recreate the event we did not yet have the additional elements from the real world that added to the social experience, because up until now there had been no need to instrument them. We did not know which chair a player sat on during a break, or that someone was lying on the floor suffering from cramp. Those sort of atmosphere elements are the ones that add to the experience as opposed to reporting the data facts.
It is much easier to augment the real event with the overlay of data about the match than it is to overlay the atmosphere onto the virtual. Ok, so TV works, it shows the pictures, sounds and overlays tv graphics. At the event people can start to use commonly available technology to enhance their experience, mobiles, tv screens etc. It does work as it is today for sporting events, but there is always room for improvement.
One of the web trends is for mashups. People provide data and services, other people combine them in ways that make sense for them. That tends to be software based, e.g. maps with geotagged photos. Are we heading for a more sensory mashup set of concepts. Mixing the real and virtual in all sorts of ways?
Will we see things like slateit emerge for the real world as well as the virtual world?
Metaverses have opened up 3d, live online interaction and use of game style technology to a whole group of people who have never been near any of this. It is these people, who are not burdended with the pureness of gaming environments, or who do not use digital environments for escapism that start to ask the questions about integration. How does this technology help my business? How does this social change alter my customer service? How can I get my existing business working in a virtual world? How can my virtual world presences fit into my existing business. Can I make my brand experience seemless across all channels?
Helping people understand that a metaverse does not have to be a stand alone channel, just as real life and web do not have to be stand alone channels sounds like the next big challenge. They are not just games and they are also not just stand alone.