Sunday, January 1, 2012

Augmented Reality (AR) - The World is Your Playground

Augmented Reality (AR) - The World is Your Playground

By Josh Hunt

One of the most exciting current developments in gaming technology in my eyes has to be Augmented Reality (AR). The possibilities this technology provides developers are endless and although AR is still in a fairly primitive state I believe that development of the technology is going to accelerate very quickly over the next 5 years. For those of you that don't know what Augmented Reality is, the simplest way to define it is that it is where a virtual environment is combined or placed over a real world environment to deliver a single reality which we call Augmented Reality. A good example of this is in Terminator 2 where Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator has augmented vision where he can see the real world around him but also has various different scans and data being presented around the real world objects. Another example I've given in the past is that with Augmented Reality in theory you could walk down a busy street with real world people and virtual characters from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings looking through shop windows or climbing up lampposts.

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Augmented Reality is currently being developed because of its usefulness in everyday life, imagine you're someone with a very busy and hectic lifestyle, with Augmented Reality you could have a device built in to your prescription spectacles that allows you to walk to work or catch a train whilst accessing your emails and surfing the internet viewing all this through your the spectacle lenses. Obviously Augmented Reality has much greater uses and can be used in just about any scenario but what really interests me is when you apply AR to the gaming industry. I've recently written an article about the development of AR contact lenses, imagine as a gamer going to a local forest, quarry, beach or just about anywhere on your own or with friends and being able to play a first person shooter with real world surroundings wearing these AR lenses. In theory you could be playing a game like Halo and have crazy alien characters jumping out from behind real world trees and buildings firing lasers and throwing grenades at you. Augmented Reality could even reach a state where it is able to enhance and alter the appearance of the real world around you to make it look for example like the world of Pandora from James Cameron's recent blockbuster hit film Avatar. To be able to walk around a beautifully enhanced version of an area that doesn't really hold any interesting features in the real world would be incredible and people could escape into their own utopia whilst for example sitting on a bus. The possibilities with this technology really are endless and not just in gaming.

Augmented Reality as a concept really does start to become interesting when you combine it with other technologies. As we've seen from demonstrations of Xbox's upcoming innovation Project Natal voice recognition technology has come on leaps and bounds and is starting to be applied effectively to video games. Although voice recognition has been used in the past it has been clumsy and frustrating to work with and now we're really starting to see the human voice become a feasible control option. If we were to combine voice and facial recognition with Augmented Reality it is easy to see the potential that Augmented Reality has to providing an immersive gaming experience within a real world environment. With this combination of technologies you could in theory be able to have two way communication with high definition computer generated characters within your augmented world opening up a whole new avenue of potential in how we play games. I like to think of the experience as something similar to paintball shooting. Paintball shooting in essence is a role playing activity as the people involved in a game are recreating a scenario you would find in warfare. Augmented Reality can provide a similar experience without the need for paintballs and safety gear and instead of shooting real people you could be shooting real people and virtual characters with virtual ammunition. You'd probably still need some kind of gun controller in the example of a first person shooter but it wouldn't fire any ammunition in the real world, just the augmented environment.

Obviously this is all conjecture and most of what we write on this site is. I imagine this idea would work by connecting the AR lenses wirelessly to a portable console (possibly built into your mobile phone as we are talking about the future here) and obviously you would have audio delivered to a pair of wireless or bluetooth headphones that also provided a built in microphone for communicating with the virtual and real world characters.

In recent years video games have received a great deal of bad press in terms of how it is believed they help prevent the social, physical and mental development of young people and in some cases you would have to agree that this is true. The thing I love most about the potential with Augmented Reality is that it will mean young people will be outdoors more, socialising with friends, learning the importance of teambuilding, exercising and basically developing the skills and experience that are required later in life. The truth is Augmented Reality could be used everywhere to help make life easier and to improve the quality of life, we will probably see it in education, healthcare, security, design, manufacturing, sales, teambuilding and the list goes on endlessly. Augmented Reality clearly has unlimited potential and I hope some of the possible developments I have outlined in this article will come to fruition along with millions of others, but I guess time will tell. Please leave your own ideas, comments, thoughts and suggestions on how you could picture this technology changing the video game industry or of course whether you disagree with my ideas and believe AR is unlikely to become mainstream.

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