Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
The Other Reality
Augmented reality is the far less talked about cousin of virtual reality, and while many know what virtual reality is, only few know that what most think of as virtual reality is in fact augmented reality. The definition is simple: is it a totally immersive, other reality? If yes, then it’s virtual reality. On the other hand, if it adds to our reality, if it somehow supplements (and not entirely replaces) the world we live in, then it’s augmented reality.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Odds are that most of what you think is virtual reality is in fact augmented reality.
When Google first announced Google Glass I got excited, like a puppy hearing the jingle-jangle of keys. If I had a tail I would have been waggling it. The thought of living in an augmented reality excites me. Of course, those dreams were dashed when I realized that Google Glass was little more than a phone you wore on your face. I still have high hopes, though. The technology is there… all we need to do is use it.
This weekend, I went to a wedding fair with my fiancee, and one of the photographers there showed me a pretty simple app. When you purchase a printed wedding photo from this guy, the photo is added to the app and linked to your wedding video (which is also uploaded on the cloud). Then, you simply point your phone’s camera at the printed photo whenever you want, and the photo is replaced with your wedding video in-app. Pretty cool, pretty simple. But the concept reminded me of what I love the most about technology: the ability to improve the reality around us.
Reality is cool and all, but I like my reality with a little something extra.
And I’m not the only one. Microsoft’s Hololens, for example, lets users see and interact with live “holograms”. Whether it’s building 3D objects in the real, live environment which you can then print, or turning your room into a Minecraft world, the Hololens takes our world and makes it better. Unfortunately, it’s still in the Developers-only phase, is available only for US citizens, and costs $3,000. It looks freakin’ awesome though. Check it out below (warning: may blow your mind):
I like the Hololens because it’s a perfect representation of the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. In VR, you move out of your reality and into a new one. You’re cut off. You’re interacting entirely with a different reality, even though it might be modeled on our own. But with AR, you improve your reality. You change it, hopefully for the better. You’re still interacting with our world, but you’re adding to it.
If you’ve ever seen sci-fi movies, you know why this next AR product’s got me throwing money at the screen. NEC, a Japanese corporation, have announced that they’re developing an augmented reality keyboard, that’s projected on a person’s forearm. It’s called the ARmKeypad and it uses special glasses to “project” (but not really) a keyboard onto your forearm and then track your fingers as you zoom around pressing the imaginary keys. Imagine plugging into a terminal for some quick sysadmin work, and not having to carry a keyboard around with you. Instead you just type away on your forearm.
Check it out. (Keep in mind this is a very early representation.)
A Desire Fulfilled
When all is said and done, augmented reality feeds a need we all have: the need to make the virtual real. Human beings have always held a deep-seated desire to push the boundaries of what is real. When we close our eyes at night and dream, we are unbound by the laws of our reality. We can fly. We can see our loved ones in an instant. Then we wake up and the jarring transition into a universe bound by unbreakable laws leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
Technology allows us to overcome that. No longer are we bound by the reality of sifting through pages and pages, volumes and volumes of written knowledge to find what we need. Google pulls 600,000+ results on “Xin Dynasty” in 0.57 seconds. No longer are we forced to forget the faces of those that have gone to live abroad. A simple Skype call takes a second to set up.
Augmented (and Virtual) Reality tools take our dreams and meld them right into the world around us. AR and VR is the true future of tech. The moment we unchain ourselves from physical technology and move into the realm of the virtual, that is when humanity will collectively take a real step forward.
Not with an extra 0.5″ of screen space you will pay $200 for.
I just hope I’m still around when the revolution happens. I’ve no doubt it will simply be magnificent.
Want to read more about Augmented Reality? Check out the book “Augmented Human: How Technology Is Shaping the New Reality” by Helen Papagiannis, available on Amazon.com for $32.29 (Paperback).