Will we demolish the distinction between our physical and virtual lives?by Christine Rosen / November 14, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Left, Theodolite shows users geographical data about their location, top, an augmented reality toy by Visionaries 777, currently a prototype, and, above, the Acrossair app highlights the nearest tube stations
During New York Fashion Week this autumn, Google co-founder Sergey Brin formed an unlikely partnership with clothing designer Diane von Furstenberg to promote an accessory with a difference: Google Glass, a prototype for the company’s first wearable computer. At the von Furstenberg show, lithe models strutted down the runway wearing the futuristic Glass, which resembles a sleek visor and includes a tiny display screen over the right eye. This allows the wearer to take pictures and videos, send emails, and browse the internet using voice-activated commands. Google is invested in the idea that the smartphone will eventually give way to the wearable computer, just as the basic mobile phones of the 1980s and 1990s led to today’s smartphones.
Although it is several years away from making Glass available to the public, the project indicates Google’s enthusiasm for an idea that has been quietly growing in the technology community for several years: augmented reality. Broadly speaking, augmented reality describes the myriad ways in which digital data—in the form of video, sound, graphics or text—can be layered over real-world settings using screen-based devices to make daily life more efficient and exciting.
If you own a smartphone you have already taken a small step into the world of augmented reality. If you get lost, the phone’s map and internal Global Positioning System (GPS) can offer a real-time route home, tracking your movements along the way. Smartphones can also provide information about our surroundings by retrieving data based on images taken with the camera; iPhone users can download the Wikitude app, for example, which allows them to point their phone at a physical object to retrieve digital information about it. Direct it towards a restaurant and Wikitude will summon recent reviews; aim it at a mountain range and it will display the name and elevation of the peak you are admiring. Similarly, online shoppers can use software such as Virtual Interactive Podium and Fits.Me to create virtual fitting rooms in their homes. Users can “try on” simulations of clothing from online retailers through motion-sensitive video game consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect.