(from The Matrix- What is real?)

Social Media meets Augmented Reality:

The scene above is one of the memorable moments from the movie The Matrix. With augmented reality now becoming a “reality”, this may soon be a question we could be asking ourselves. Every one now knows what the basics of AR are; It’s the overlaying or mixing of Computer generated imagery in proper registration with the live view of our world. It has come to the fore-front because advertising agencies have found a great way to engage audiences and also due to smart phones getting more processing power, built in phone cameras getting better and importantly, computer vision tracking and processing algorithms getting better.

(A digital version of your Facebook buddy in your room?)

Computer generated virtual worlds are not new, and have been “inhabited” by the gaming community for a very long time. Usually also called MMOGs. There are also virtual worlds such as the well known Second Life by creators Linden Labs that has been an online world for quite a few years now. It has all the makings of a social network, and in-fact CAN be called a social network that is much more powerful in what it does than networks such as Facebook and MySpace. The reason that it may not be as widespread as the latter social networks, is because it is a computer generated 3d world that needed fairly decent PC hardware to run. I say needed, because hardware and technology has rapidly become cheaper and more accessible than ever before, Today’s notebook PCs are more than capable of handling the graphics demands of this virtual world. There is even talk of a smart phone version of Second life coming out.

What if we were to think of FaceBook as a huge computer generated 3D world, just as in second life, where each users FB page was actually a 3D model of their house? The same goes for a person’s or company’s LinkediN profile. What if these social/business networks were to use the Second Life visual depiction and networking analogy?. So the LinkediN profile of a company like Google would actually be a 3D model of the google campus or at the very least a simple 3D building that you “enter” with your avatar, and roam around learning more about the company.

Now, imagine Augmented Reality technology being thrown into the mix! So using applications already available today such as Junio, and with technology already built into smart phones such as GPS and Digital compasses, when a person walks into the real world and is at a location, think of the possibilities. A GooglePlex 3D augmented building in the middle of Italy? Yes it’s possible when viewed through the live view of a smart phone! Or think about “meeting” the Digital version of your Facebook friend as he/she enters the Real World as shown in the second Youtube video above.

Augmented Reality would  be regulated or Governed?

AR_Sunglasses (c) Vuzix.com

Things start getting complicated and truly mind boggling when you consider that all that is needed is a Smart Phone with video output and external camera input sockets. Basically a smaller PC that is in your pocket and can augment the real world as easily as wearing a pair of these AR sunglasses. This is an actual product available today from Vuzix

So to create an alternative “world”  in the world as we know it today (line borrowed from the movie Matrix), all that we need is a smart phone, connected to a see thru or semi-see thru pair of AR sunglasses above, and a virtual world network such as Junio, or SecondLife. I predict an official authorized AR version of  Second life coming out any time.

“Authorized” is the interesting term here, because we would be at liberty to switch in and out of such augmented worlds at will, just as easily as we jump effortlessly from webpage to webpage in a browser. So eventually will there be a body such as the one that regulates domain names on the internet to prevent chaos and mayhem in our Digital Personal Space?

It’s easy to see how Microsoft could have a virtual building standing at a real life location on earth, if logged into Junio’s platform, and Google having it’s Augmented presence occupying that exact same real-estate if switching to another social network run by say, Layar. On a more practical note, today if Facebook were to release a similar application, you could then geo-tag your FB profile page. In real life if someone was in the vicinity, they could either see a virtual “page” of your profile, or a smaller private icon if the profile is not public.

The future of Mixed Reality – What is real?

AR or MR (mixed reality) works by recovering the XYZ axis of point of view (in this case from a camera) and then allowing the overlay of a computer generated imagery, either 3d or video, in correct perspective and registration with the real world. A mini desktop sized computer or even a beefy laptop can already render realistic graphics and be connected to a see thru or see around device such as these AR sunglasses. As technology within the next few years gets more powerful, the laptop may not be needed and everything would fit into the frame of the sunglasses itself.

Within this decade, imagine walking down a city street, and the municipal department is demolishing an old building and does not want the city to look unsightly. They just run a “beautiful city” network that you plug into, and a virtual building covers the unsightly work in progress. – The beginnings of the Matrix?

In desert cities, virtual Greenery with lush grass blowing in the wind? A real world advertisement on a billboard being “overwritten” by a rogue advertising agency? People will be using AR a lot, because besides eye-candy visuals, there can be important information being overlaid. Assistance for the physically challenged, assistance for the visually impaired etc. The fact that people will come to depend on a pair of AR glasses as much as they never leave home today without their cell phones and sunglasses, will then raise the question… What is Real?

Disclaimer: Some of the ideas are forward thinking, and provided as food for though on the future of AR.
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