As artificial as it gets

MS is releasing HoloLens emulator for developers to create content. Credit MS

Meta 2. Credit: Meta

Do you remember the ads for Flight Simulator? Every new version provided better graphics and better feeling of flying the real thing. According to Microsoft it was "as real as it gets".

This claim came to mind as I am seeing the announcement of several products that provide a variety of augmented and artificial reality. Oculus Rift is getting ready to ship, Microsoft HoloLens is accepting order and ships in March, Meta 2 is releasing its product to developers to create content. 

Oculus Rift, OR,  is selling (not shipped yet) at around 600$ (but you need a good PC to operate it), HoloLens is priced at 3,000$ (this is the developers price and it does not need a computer, it is embedded) and Meta 2 has a price tag of 949$ but it won't be available till Summer 2016 and, like OR, requires a computer to run it. Both Meta 2 and OR are tethered, a cable is connecting the visor to the PC, hence the experience is somewhat more constrained.

OR is designed for immersive artificial reality. Through software it can become an augmented reality headset (with a camera picking up the real ambient and projecting it along with artificial artefacts in the visor). Both HoloLens and Meta 2 have a transparent visor that provide full vision of the ambient and project on it the artefacts.

Looking at the specs Meta 2 seems to be the best with high definition images that should provide a Matrix like feeling. When presenting the Meta 2 at a recent TED, Gribetz, a neuroscientist, said that the interface was the result of a merge between user interface design and brain science. This resulted, his words: "in the creation of natural machines that feel like extension of ourselves rather than the other way around".

and:

"Meta believes the new version has the potential to fundamentally change the way people collaborate, communicate and engage with information and each other, including medicine, education, and manufacturing”.

I already commented on this new vague of devices with  bit of skepticisms in the actual foothold they will manage to gain (but I also warned that I am probably too old to appreciate them). 

This drive towards blended life, made of bits over-imposed to atoms, is a reality in several everyday behaviours. How many times do we turn to the web to get information on the place we are in, on the people we see... even using a car navigator is a sort of blended life.

Having a seamless overposition of bits in the images captured by our eyes is just the next logical step.  Google Glass was a clear step in this direction, although it didn't fly, at least to the extent some people imagined. Having a helmet like device to wear may be even less appealing than a Google Glass.

Clearly you cannot move around with OR (too cumbersome and the reality projected in the visor is quite artificial), nor can you move around with HoloLens/Meta 2 since you are tethered to a computer (a heavy one so far). So they are clearly in a different league with respect to Google Glass.

However, they may find a place in your living room, for gaming, for surfing the web, for immersive communications with friends, for tourisms, for education. Some expect them to replace the glasses used to watch 3D television (that did not had any particular success....).

I guess the key issues is how much artificial reality is going to grab our attention and become part of our world. We'll see.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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