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Blending Reality and the Virtual

2010 April 2
by Richard N. Landers
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Several stories have appeared recently discussing efforts to blur the line between reality and the virtual.

First, in a presentation at IEEE Haptics Symposium, we have the haptic gaming vest, a wearable gaming accessory that simulates gunshots in the front and back of your chest in Half-Life 2.  If you get shot in the back, you’ll feel two solenoids punch you in the back.  If you sliced with a knife, you’ll feel a sudden rough vibration in your shoulders.  Users described the sensation with a range of reactions, apparently dependent on how tightly the vest was fitted.

Second, a multidisciplinary team unveiled a new technology that can convert thoughts to text, called the Mind Speller.  The technology is based on the electroencephalogram (EEG), which monitors brain activity through a cap with electrodes placed at strategic locations around the head.  Such general technology already exists in various forms, but the big advantage to the new system is its ease of portability – so portable, in fact, that a dry version is under development.  If you’re unfamiliar with EEGs, traditionally a gel must be applied to your head between the cap and your skin in order to create the best connection for monitoring brain activity, which is quite inconvenient.  If a simple cap can be fit on the head without any gel, the number of applications for this kind of technology increase dramatically – just imagine a video game or training program driven by thought alone.

Finally, despite all this promising technology, at least one journalist laments the goal of modern games to reach toward realism, saying:

We miss out on some of the great potential of this medium if we focus too heavily on the real. We have the power to create entire worlds—isn’t using this power to create a shadow of reality a bit of a cop-out? And really, it’s only a conceptual cop-out. In practice, reality is quite hard to recreate. This is why the lushly-detailed world of Avatar’s Pandora is so compelling to people. It’s new, but recognizable. It’s compellingly different, but not alienating. This is the potential that exists within games.

Good or bad, these reveals are all certainly interesting.  I for one am very excited about the potential for business and military applications made possible by these sort of integrations.  I’ve never hidden my fascination with the possibilities of augmented reality for training, and this is the same basic idea.

Just imagine how memorable military training would be where getting shot in the simulator gave you a real physical reminder that you could have been dead in the real world.

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