Virtual Reality, Not What We Have Imagined

Computer interfaces have stayed the same for very long. Virtual, remote, locked in a glass screen and interacted with via a mouse cursor. This kept the 3D world separate from the digitized world. The dream of fully immersive virtual worlds is still years away.

Computers are changing. The new mobile devices, such as the iPhone, are portable computers fully aware of their location in the physical world. They can act as a portal into a virtual layer of information on top of the real one. A virtual, digital space that we can all tap into, pull and push information from and to it.

The revolution starts with applications on the mobile phone. Applications such as Layar. Layar has a whole slew of geo-located layers of information, that will hover in front of you whenever you need them. Here’s a sample of a real-estate information layer, used to find a house to rent:

Not Good Enough

This is all fun and games, but not really useful. I don’t want to have to walk with my eyes on my device at all time. I want to act naturally in the real world, and I want the information available to me at all times.

I want a pair of goggles with built-in LCD. I want a glove with a controller in it. I want it to know where I’m looking at. In his very compelling book “Daemon“, Daniel Suarez* envisioned a D-space, a digital virtual layer of information to which everybody is connected. It is the ultimate blend of reality and virtual.

The technology is still far for perfect, but it is on it’s way. Minority Report style controlling gloves just turned into a reality, thanks to some very clever fellows at Oblong. These are the guys who designed the original Minority Report gloves for the movie, and in the past few years have developed the system for real. They claim it will be commercially available for every computer within five years.

Last Piece In The Puzzle

The only missing piece right now are the goggles. Creating a display system that is both lightweight and can accurately tell where your head is directed is still far away. Devices are available, but they seem cumbersome. They require too much power, too much equipment. They’re too expensive, too big, too obtrusive.

I mean, if you were to wear these goggles all the time, you would be more in the virtual world than in the real.

Wearing them you’d be stuck in the virtual world. There is no way to anyone talking to you would feel comfortable.

“Is he listening to me, or is he updating his Facebook status right now?”

No. It has to be much more subtle, much less intrusive. I want to be able to look the other person in the eye, and have him look back at me. What I want will look exactly like seeing glasses or even contacts. Most of the time, the display will be minimal. When going to the grocery store, I can review my shopping list. When buying a book, I can read reviews. Most of the time, I need additional display, not alternative reality. It would be nice if the display was good enough to read the news on the bus. Most of the time, however, it is the real world I want to dominate. I’d just like to have the Internet available at my fingertips to put an extra edge on reality.

OK. Daydream is over. Back to work. Where did I put my phone, anyway? Can somebody give me a call so I can hear where it’s ringing?

* Read it. No, seriously. Read it.