04 April 2012

Don't Make Augmented Reality Boring

Today, Google unveiled their newest future technology project, called Glass. The demonstration video shows a man who goes about his life using the Glass technology, which overlays what he sees with an interface that allows him to schedule a meetup with a friend and navigate to a book store, among other hipstery things. What is being billed as an augmented reality project is more like a heads-up display (HUD) for a smart phone. That's really all that the video for Glass shows; potential smart phone functionality placed into the frames of your glasses and controlled by your eyes and your voice instead of your fingers. When I think of augmented reality, I am imagining computer-generated graphics placed into the scenery, instead of hovering around like desktop widgets.

Well, with all of this buzz going around about what is supposedly augmented reality, I thought it was a good time to unveil my vision for where (real) augmented reality can best be put to use:

Laser tag.

Yeah, you heard me right. Laser tag. It's time to revamp that old American past-time and give it a new identity with bleeding-edge technology. Here's how it'll go:

You step into the dark arena with a gun in your hand and a pair of AR goggles strapped across your face. The game boots up and all of a sudden, the surfaces of the walls and obstacles in front of you are lighted and textured. It appears that you're in a vast junkyard with scraps of metal and rubber strewn all over the place. At the far end of the junkyard, you notice a stirring; there are monsters coming for you! You dive behind a stack of tractor tires, peek out, aim your gun, and fire.

What you're doing now is playing a first-person shooter video game, but instead of sitting on your couch with a controller in your hand, you're in the environment and you have to move and aim with your body, just like you're used to making your character do with a few flicks of your thumbs.

What's happening technologically is your goggles understand the surfaces in front of you and paint over them with computer graphics. Your body position is tracked throughout the arena with technology similar to what we have now with the Kinect. The monsters aren't real; they're merely projected through your goggles, but they move convincingly and make real-enough sounds. When you pull your trigger the direction of your gun is calculated against the position of your target in the simulated game environment. If you hit it, you get to see a splatter of blood and a body hit the floor. If you miss, you should probably find a new position to take cover from.

From the outside, a technician is monitoring your movements by camera on one screen. All they see is a kid who is dashing and scrambling around and aiming his toy gun at thin air. On another screen, the technician sees the entire computer generated environment. And when you've finally beaten the final boss of the level, he hands you your score sheet, just like the good old days, and you can go brag about it to your friends. You can extend this to a multiplayer game where people cooperate against the baddies or, just like classic laser tag, fight team-to-team. Except now, you have an infinite palette of scenery, power-ups, modifications and effects.

Somebody, please make this happen.