Augmented reality: Star Trek’s holodeck or Bradbury’s Farenheit 451?

I sometimes take a walk on the wild side and simply post about something that interests me so today, I have two items about augmented reality projects from the Fast Company website. The first article by Cliff Kuang highlights a project at McGill University in Montréal, Canada where researchers have created a floor that can feature different textures. From the article,

What happens when display screen technology gets so cheap you can lay it down like carpeting? Researchers at Canada’s McGill University have an idea: floor tiles which use precisely calibrated vibrations to simulate snow, grass, sand, and myriad other surfaces–and can even be programmed to become virtual buttons and sliders.

It sounds like a promising start to Star Trek’s  holodeck suite doesn’t it? You can read more about it in Kuang’s article and if you’re interested in additional detail, you can go to Kristina Grifantini’s article in Technology Review where she notes that the project was presented at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 2010 Haptics symposium in Waltham, Massachusetts this last March. From Grifantini’s article,

Yon Visell, a researcher at McGill’s Center for Intelligent Machines and first author of the paper, says the tiles could be used “either for human computer interaction or immersive virtual reality applications.”

This next augmented reality project is written up in a Fast Company article by Ariel Schwartz and features a focus on changing social behaviour. Ever been somewhere and observed someone getting beaten not knowing how to intervene and put a halt to the situation? This project in The Netherlands features a giant billboard where such a scene plays out but if you look up, you’ll see yourself incorporated (realtime) into the scene as a bystander. Here’s the video from YouTube,

Live interactive mega billboard against agression

The experience of watching  this piece (watching the watchers become part of the drama they watch on the big billboard) reminded me of the movie version of Ray Bradbury’ story Farenheit 451 where in a future time firemen are called in to burn books which are illegal to read or own. We meet one of the lead characters, a fireman played by Oskar Werner, as he and his team are called in to destroy a library in someone’s home. He later returns to his own home where his wife demands that he purchase a fourth video wall for the room where she watches her soap opera. She needs the fourth wall as it will give her an immersive experience where she’s entered and become part of the soap opera.

This project is lightyears from Farenheit 451 dystopic scenario in terms of how and to what uses these technologies can be implemented. The billboard offers you both a reflection of your own behaviour as a bystander (in what is thankfully a drama this time) while offering you practical options for dealing with the real life situation should it arise.

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