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VR, AR, and a wearable future

oculus-rift-kickstarterImmersive computing is critical part of the cyberpunk canon. A shiny metal skull plug and a coaxial cable is all it takes to launch the cybernaut into the virtual ether, with full sensory immersion into a virtual reality. It’s been an essential theme of the cybernetic future since the genre’s inception. Hell, I’m writing this in 2013—in 1998, I was sure I’d be ‘jacking in’ by now. So imagine my disappointment at having to type this post the old fashioned way… While full neural interfaces are not coming along quite as well as I hoped they would, it has still been an extremely exciting week for virtual reality. A couple of very cool technologies—including a Kickstarter done good—made the headlines this week and have given me renewed hope that stuff will continue to get a whole lot cooler.

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Click below the fold to find out what revved my engine this week.

First up, lets talk about Rift: Stereoscopic 3D goggles for the hardcore gamer. I’m sold. The Oculus Rift was the subject of a very successful Kickstarter, garnering nearly two and a half million dollars from ten thousand backers. That’s almost real money, folks. And that kind of up front investment on the part of consumers is a real incentive for venture capital to get involved…

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Actually, Oculus’ Kickstarter was meant to jump start the building of developer kits for the device, but it certainly paid off in spades. After a strong showing at E3 in late 2012, the New York Times ran a piece on Oculus and it’s founder Palmer Luckey just this week. The verdict: it’s about damned time! I know that I’ve been waiting for the kind of experience the Oculus Rift promises, and I can’t wait to fire up Skyrim or Dishonored (or, more appropriately, Deus Ex: The Human Revolution), and feel like I’m in those worlds. It’s not exactly like jacking into your favorite hot sim, where you can smell the smoke or taste the blood (and if you can smell smoke or taste blood while using Rift, you need to shut it off call 911), but it’s a damned fine start.

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The other product making waves this week is less about virtual reality and more about augmented reality. That device is Google Glass. All right, it’s not quite AR—at least not yet—but it has some promising advancements in that direction, and I think it represents a critical middle step between our current state and the AR environment that seems somewhat inevitable. First, it’s a wearable device that takes a lot of smartphone functionality out of the pocket and puts it in a heads-up display. It leverages advancements in natural user interfaces (including, by some accounts, subvolcalization!) to keep users focused on the environment and not on the technology. As technology becomes increasingly essential, these kinds of developments are going to be more and more welcomed by people looking for better tech/life integration. Already, most of us would consider our smartphones indispensible. What I wouldn’t give to toss my phone away because all that functionality lives in my glasses.

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Which brings me to my one gripe with Google Glass. As a bespectacled man, I don’t know how I could use Glass in its current form. Just doesn’t seem compatible with my current optical solution… Also, it makes whoever is wearing it look like a dorkier Geordi La Forge, but I digress…. Ultimately, I want my everyday eyewear to become my window to a digital world, and Google Glass is a big step in that direction.

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Here we are in 2013 (which still sounds sorta sci-fi to my ear), and while we are no where NEAR where Cyberpunk 2020 promised we’d be by now, we’re a helluva lot closer where Cyberpunk 2077 suggests we’re going to be in 54 years. I know a lot of (somewhat older) folks who thought flip phones were the bee’s knees because they were reminded of Captain Kirk’s communicator. This latest round of technology may well be my “flip phone” moment. I can’t wait to see how they shake out in the real world.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

4 thoughts on “VR, AR, and a wearable future

    • I backed it. Was looking for alternatives to the system of Shadowrun. What ended up selling me was all the free 1.0 material for being a backer, plus it had tangible stretch goal items beyond “it will be better and more!”

      I’m not usually one to get the latest gizmo on day one, that’s David’s thing, but I suspect I’ll be an early owner of Google Glass. That’s right, I’ll be right there bitching with everyone else that it doesn’t live up to the hype.

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