For the past month or so, the Internet has been awash in excitement and speculation regarding Google’s reported $542 million investment in Florida “stealth mode” startup Magic Leap. Though Magic Leap has provided little concrete information on its efforts, it’s apparent that the company is developing technology that will facilitate the real-time overlay of virtual imagery on the physical world, immersing users in a virtually augmented reality that the Magic Leap blog coyly likens to scuba diving, i.e. immersion in another world.
Augmented reality of the nature suggested by Magic Leap necessitates sufficient development of key hardware and software technologies: the wearable interface (Google glass, VR goggles, or some retinal projection tech), wireless broadband technology of sufficient bandwidth/speed, and software and content to bring the virtual overlay to life. Individually, it seems that none of these technologies are beyond reach at this point, but tech has long been about ecosystems, and the successful development of a rich ecosystem of augmented-world experiences is the work to be done.
I have blogged previously about the convergence of our virtual and physical worlds, as the virtual space becomes more life-like, and as we transfer our online habits and practices to the real world. The Magic Leap isn’t such a big leap, when you think about it, but yet another of the next steps in this convergence.
Regardless, thinking forward, here are ten items (think of them as “apps” perhaps) that Magic Leap–like augmented reality might lead to, in no particular order:
1. Idiosyncratic Individual Experiences — Like desktops, skins, or themes on our computers, we may all be able to decorate our visual experience with stuff we like. If you’re a dog lover, see dogs walking around everywhere. If you’re into science fiction, fill the negative space of your reality with starships and hovercraft. Star Wars fans, for instance, could simply live in the Star Wars universe, wherever they are.
2. New Advertising and Marketing — You know it’s going to happen, right? But it will be different than ever before. Instead of movie trailers, how about a virtual insertion of Brad Pitt promoting his new film directly to you? Or what about virtual salespeople and storefronts facilitating instant purchases of items displayed virtually to you.
3. Virtual Guides and Personal Assistants — Taking our GPS maps and Siri to another level, we could have personal assistants that appear and give us directions or answer questions. They could even be interactive and answer questions or perform virtual tasks such as managing our schedules.
4. Personalized Validation Objects — Based on what the net knows about you, your augmented reality could be populated with objects that guide you through your virtual experience or validate you in some way you find meaningful. By detecting your blood pressure, a soothing counselor may appear to calm you down, or signposts may appear giving you positive affirmations or homespun advice.
5. Virtual Art Installations — With sufficient creativity, a vacant lot could be transformed into a virtual art gallery. Imagine walking a vacant lot in Los Angeles while plugged in and experiencing instead the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Flash art shows and cinema could be delivered anywhere and promoted instantly.
6. Friends and Family Telepresence — Imagine being able to call up a realistic image of a friend or family member and converse in augmented space instead of through the phone or skype. Miss your kids? You could have them with you at all times, virtually, if you wish.
7. Shared Augmented Experiences — Lasertag and paintball will have nothing on the augmented games that could be played. Get together with a few friends in an empty field, network into your favorite augmented RPG game, and go at it. Similarly, dating could be more than sharing a meal; it could be sharing a world.
8. Augmented Everywhere Work — If you think technology keeps you tethered to the office now, just wait. How will you feel in an augmented world in which you could teleport into augmented meetings, review reports, and do actual work while walking the dog or dropping the kids off at school. You boss could potentially show up anywhere.
9. Instant Education — Education of all forms could be overlaid on the physical world. Need to fix leaky faucet? Get a real-time virtual demonstration. Need to learn general relativity? Call up a course with a virtual professor (Einstein, no less) who teaches you in your living room, and who answers your questions in real time.
10. The Virtual Nanny — No need for flesh-and-blood babysitters or nannies. Leave your kid plugged into the virtual Mary Poppins reality, where a kind but firm virtual agent watches over the child, provides her magic entertainment for the evening, and puts her to bed at night. Spit-spot!
Amazing possibilities, and I’m sure there are a hundred more. How rich and wondrous augmented reality will seem to the plugged-in, and how odd and surreal it may appear to the unplugged. Part of the visual landscape in such a future, after all, will contain other people talking and interacting with stimuli only they themselves can see. So if you are the least bit annoyed by a public environment in which people are constantly staring or talking at their phones, just wait for the “Magic Leap.”