Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and the Intersection Between Them

Ever since I stumbled upon 'Second Life', and tried my hand at the game for a brief while, I realized that I was looking at something special. Not because the game was all that amazing as games go. But because really, Second Life is not a game at all. It's a virtual reality environment. And the thing that was really the kicker about it was that it was already proving itself to have strong economic value. As I mentioned in some of my initial posts on this topic, $50M in US dollars is spent annually on virtual goods and services such as real estate, clothes, accessories, interior design services, gambling and "other" activities. These goods exist only in the game world itself -- and yet these digital creations have real monetary value. Now real life businesses such as hotel chains are investing in virtual recreations of their real life businesses to promote their brands and connect with consumers in new and exciting ways.

This is fascinating stuff, and holds direct relevance to Microvision and its investors. Microvision's IPM platform can uniquely enable lightweight, stylish color eyewear that will become the medium for truly immersive virtual reality experiences -- taking VR games such as Second Life to an entirely new level. This enhanced level of immersion and realism in VR will necessarily increase the economic value of virtual reality environments, and we will begin to see a huge ramp in both the amounts of US dollars spent by citizens of VR gaming environments, as well as investments made by real-life businesses to establish a VR presence and marketing channel.

So that's something that's come to my attention recently that I think is really going to be significant.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my general focus on MVIS Blog over the last 2 1/2 years has been augmented reality services.

We can define augmented reality as:

An information services layer on top of the real world that provides information about locations, objects, users and events and allows transactions between them.

Then virtual reality would be:

Services to support interactions and transactions between user-representative avatars, AI characters, in a self-contained, artificial environment.

These concepts, while definitely distinct, share some important commonalities. At their most basic levels, they are information services to support users in 3D space (be it real or virtual space). They exist to facilitate interactions and transactions, including the purchase of goods and services, such as information content (pertaining to the real or virtual), or something manifestly physical such as a can of soda from a vending machine.

So where is the point of intersection between these two distinct information services? We've established that there's a commonality of interactivity, transactions and economic value between both AR and VR. But when we're out in the real world, even if we're using AR services, we're necessarily not participating in our preferred VR environment. Or are we?

Maybe it is the avatar, the 3D modeled character that represents us to ourselves and others in virtual reality, that is the go-between amongst these disparate scenarios.

People who are used to instant messenger applications already use postage stamp images of themselves or their pets or whatever to represent themselves. These are text conversations between real people but you can't see the other person, you can only see their chosen image. (Lately I have taken to using Kool Aid Man..."Oh, Yeaahh!")

If you can imagine the projection of 3D avatar characters into real space (whether user controlled representatives or as AI constructs) as an aspect of augmented reality, and interacting with that avatar character in a manner similar to instant messenger -- basically, having a conversation with something or someone only you can see -- then maybe this represents the nexus between these two worlds. Only digital characters can exist in virtual reality AND augmented reality. (This is likely another reason to spend some cash on designer clothes for your avatar.)

One reason that I think 'video phones' haven't ever gone anywhere is that we don't really want people to see us when we talk on the phone. We haven't combed our hair, or maybe just got out of the shower or whatever. But the avatar is always looking like a million bucks. He can be an idealized version of one's self, or some other animal entirely, but he is basically a messenger -- going out into the world to interact on our behalf. Definitely in virtual reality, probably in augmented reality.

Imagine if you're wearing a pair of Microvision IPM enabled glasses and are connected to Sprint's WiMAX network. You may see floating figures that represent your friends or colleagues as you walk around (for some reason as I write this, I'm envisioning the puppet characters from 'Team America: World Police'). They talk to you, and you talk to them -- each of you appearing as your 3D avatar to one another, walking alongside each other, while potentially being separated by thousands of physical miles.

Growing connectedness and the interaction of people who are geographically separate has been the predominate theme in technology since the internet and cell phones got established. It's only going to get more interesting and intense as time goes along.

Fun stuff...!


  1. This is too, too funny. I was just talking about this today with someone and we were saying how cool it would be to be talking to a virtual friend at some physical location; a location that your virtual friend is at in the virtual world. It changes the whole dynamic of commerce as well as how people begin to interact with each other. I mean what if your avatar is just some symbol that represents how you think you are? How does that affect your interactions with people in the real world? Do we begin to move to a reputation type commerce where your actions count towards your total score (see "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow)? It's a whole new world opening up in front of us.

  2. I think semantic networks might be one of the most important connections between virtual and augmented reality.


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