The shifting sands of immersive computing, currently fluctuating between augmented reality and virtual reality, can be hard to navigate if you're only versed in one of the platforms. But a new series of videos from Leap Motion paints a picture of a near future world in which AR and VR will seamlessly merge together, forcing us to change the way we see both.
That's the thesis in a new series of videos posted by Leap Motion that describe a new kind of immersive computing referred to as "mirrorworlds."
"AR and VR are often presented to the public as separate, even competing technologies. Ultimately though, devices will be able to span the entire continuum, from AR to VR and all of the rich shades of reality in between," says Keiichi Matsuda, Leap Motion's vice president of design, on the company's blog.
"In this future, we will be constantly moving between worlds, shifting between perspectives, changing the rules of reality to suit our purposes. We will be able to fluidly and intuitively navigate, build and modify our environments, creating spaces where physically present people and objects intersect seamlessly with their virtual counterparts. We will look back on the current era and try to remember what it was like being trapped in one place, in one body, obsessed with devices and squinting at our tiny screens."
Matsuda illustrates this new reality through two videos and a set of graphics that depict people engaging real world settings that are mapped in real time and converted into an amalgam of AR and VR, resulting in a completely new reality.
This is actually an idea I've explored myself in a science fiction novel published several years ago (Cryptopolis) in which AR mapping transforms entire city blocks, and sometimes the sky itself, into fantastical alternate versions of the real thing. But science fiction is the idea, what Matsuda is talking about is companies like Leap Motion and others actually turning these concepts into reality.
"Mirrorworlds immerse you without removing you from the space. You are still present, but on a different plane of reality," says Matsuda.
"You will be able to see and engage with other people in your environment, walk around, sit down on a chair. But you can also shoot fireballs, summon complex 3D models, or tear down your walls to look out on a Martian sunrise. Mirrorworlds re-contextualise your space. They change its meaning and purpose, integrating with our daily lives while radically increasing the possibilities for a space."
At present, most of the immersive computing industry is focused on just one piece of the puzzle, either AR or VR. Sure, some are calling what they're doing "mixed reality," with some examples that hint at the promise of mirrorworlds, but we're not quite there yet. However, new AR constructs like AR clouds and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) will get us there a lot faster.
And as we move closer to this new approach, you'll see begin to see AR and VR developers and artists merge into one collaborative community. And that's when things will get really weird, and even more amazing.
"This future is closer than you might think," says Matsuda. "It's largely possible on today's hardware, and now the limitations are less about technical constraints, and more in our ability to conceptualize, structure and prioritize the aspects of the world we want to build. That's the brief we've been working on at Leap Motion Design Research. As we continue to build this framework, we'll be exploring all facets of virtuality, from its materials to its grammar and spatial logic."