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Virtualization: From Avatar to the Mirrorworlds (Part Two)

Soldier on omni-directional treadmill. Photo provided and approved by ARL HRED

Hihi, Valkyrie Ice here again. In my last article, I discussed how the technology had arrived for making the very basic Audio/Visual immersive VR rig was available. Since then I came across a nifty omnidirectional treadmill, for allowing walking in place... which means that most basic elements are now covered. There are quite a few haptic systems in development, but for the VR revolution to start, sight and sound are two of the biggest hurdles that have now been overcome. And it doesn’t look like I’m the only one to think so. A few recent stories I’ve read give me the impression that both Microsoft and Google are angling to have an edge in the emerging VR market.

Microsoft seems to be making a push towards 360 Avatars to use them in games, both through releasing their own “Game Room” arcade for avatars and through releasing a set of design rules for use of Avatars in 3rd party games. The gist of it is: “Do nothing to break the Avatar/Player surrogate bond.” Added to their ever expanding list of customizations in clothing, pets, and body forms, it speaks heavily of their thoughts for the future of an avatar centered web. Perhaps the next version of Windows will be WinAV.

Google seems firmly set to make sure the mobile web gets built by any means necessary. Between their forays into mobile advertising, mobile webtops, mobile smartphones, and the mobile OSes of Chrome and Android, it would seem Google has its eyes firmly on a future in which the web is available to everyone everywhere, and where your mobile device is your all in one game/communications/web device. But there is another thing that leads me to suspect Google plans to be a leader into the world of VR that I’ll go into later. Then there’s this little item I just read here. Also, corporations are already experimenting with VR worlds for training and some conferencing, and it seems likely that as Avatars become more common, and virtual employees more frequent, the need for highly realistic virtual clones will become a factor pushing for universal, highly customizable, personal avatars.

Xbox Game Room. Photo: kotaku.com/So what? So we’ll make custom versions of ourselves to use online, what’s the big deal? By itself, nothing. It would just be more internet weirdness. It’s only when you start looking at a bigger picture that you begin to really see exactly what VR will mean.

In my last article, I talked about how videophones would likely only become common when combination with Avatars. I hope you didn’t just think of landlines when you read it. Because once video glasses become common in the home, they are going to be attached to smartphones. It’s inevitable. And it’s that combination with smartphones that makes VR a technology to change the world. Because it’s mobile. You’re going to have VR available everywhere.

But universal VR by itself is only one single part of a larger puzzle. Augmented reality, mirrorworlds and lifeblogging are the other four parts that make it a monster.

So imagine — if you will — a set of glasses attached to a smartphone circa 2015-2020. Transparent wraparound OLED displays, with CCD cameras mounted strategically, and a Natal-style lidar capable of motion tracking the world around you, tied into a network of smartphones and public surveillance cameras that more or less enables your phone to accurately place where your body is to within millimeters of precision. No matter where you are, your surroundings and your body are mapped into a virtual mirrorworld that exactly duplicates the real world you are in, but which allows you to interact with the virtual world, the real world, and the mirrorworld all at the same time.

You would look at the world through these lenses, but it might not be a world you would recognize today. Because in that world, you may not see exactly the same thing you would see without the lenses. That checkout girl at the grocery store might be a nightelf. The person you pass on the street might be an alien, a game character, or a Hollywood icon.

You might see a totally mapped mirror world, one in which Virtual, Real, and Augmented are all mixed to makes such a world possible. And smartphones and VR will make this possible. We don’t need robots to make Surrogates a reality. Indeed, the limits of robots don’t apply to VR, which makes it even easier for people to customize — and indentify with– their avatars. And just like the examples above, a lot of people might just stop appearing as anything but their Avatars, as in Surrogates. So it might not just be the net that’s filled with aliens and anime cat girls. Our entire world might look like this coke commercial.

NAVTEQ Lidar Scans. Photo: gizmodo.comGoogle is already well on it’s way to creating that world with Google Earth and Street View. Navteq is now planning to map the world in 3d with lasers and there’s even research underway to use existing surveillance cams to enable such augmented reality abilities as seeing through walls. With other Google software being used to create 3d models of buildings such as Sketchup and Building Maker, the public is already collaborating in the construction of the mirror world. Other approaches — such as using thousands of photos from the internet to create 3d models of entire cities — are also underway.

The mirrorworld is in the making, and right now, Google Earth appears to be the center of it. With Google’s push into mobile web technology, it seems almost assured that — as smartphones begin interacting with the mirrorworld and augmented reality lenses get added to them — Google’s mirrorworld and AR, as well as VR are all going to collide… and create a digital wonderland. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s probably going to happen far quicker than you might expect. And that is going to lead to some rather revolutionary changes in our world. It’s not just that we may end up with a world that has some resemblance to a sci-fi convention overlaid onto a mundane reality, a world where Avatars walk down the street and we can meet up with our buddies at the giant pin sticking out of the bar. It’s not even that we could play the same avatar in real life, or in any virtual game. It’s not even that this mix will enable us to do all kinds of wild and wacky wonders like teleport from one city to another virtually. The real head banger is what all this virtuality is going to inspire. You see, humanity is not a species known just for having a vivid imagination. It’s known for making that imagination real. Just like we demanded Star Trek Communicators and got cellphones, once we get our perfect avatar bodies and get to play with them in the streets, go shopping with them, and hang out in bars with them, we’re going to want them in real life.

And that’s the biggest game changer. We’re not a species that is happy with just the seeming of a thing. Once it’s in our face, we’re going to have to make it a reality. We’re going to want those pointed ears, and angel wings. We’re going to demand our neko-mimi and anime eyes. And we’ll push research that will make it happen, because we will have created a demand so massive that no profit-minded business will be able to ignore it. VR will open the door through which Biotech, Nanotech, and Robotics will emerge, and drag them kicking and screaming into reality.

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