Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Frog Gets Real

“How do you define real?” asked Achin Bhowmik, kicking off his Monday Seminar, “Augmented and Virtual Reality: Towards Life-Like Immersive and Interactive Experiences.” (He was quoting the character Morpheus from the iconic science fiction movie The Matrix – a pretty irresistible reference when you’re talking about AR and VR.) Bhowmik, who is with the Perceptual Computing Group at Intel, offered a 90-minute whirlwind tour through the past, present, and future of immersive computing, with some pretty entertaining examples of burred lines between “real” and “virtual,” including a video clip of an actual frog trying to zap virtual bugs crawling on a smartphone screen. (The video is instructive as well as cute, particularly at the end. Check it out.)

Bhowmik also described a series of early VR implementations, the most intriguing of which is the Sensorama, developed by Morton Heilig in 1955. This all-mechanical, arcade-style device featured stereoscopic 3D imagery, a tilting seat, and – amazingly -- wind and aroma.  

The discussion then moved to human factors including accommodation/convergence, depth perception, and various physical cues that can cause users to feel discomfort in immersive/interactive situations if not properly addressed by the systems. Word of the day: proprioception -- perception of your limbs.

It was a lively, compelling, fact-filled presentation that left you feeling like you understood the potential of virtual reality in a new way. Not surprisingly, Bhowmik ended on a positive note, describing the brave new, possible world of AR, VR, as well as a concept he describes as “mixed reality.”  Once again he quoted Morpheus: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the matrix is; you need to see it for yourself.”  Bhowmik urged listeners to do just that and experience some VR/AR applications for themselves. “This is just the beginning here,” he said. “If you haven’t tried VR yet, I urge you to try it.” 

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