Let’s be honest. Augmented reality as we know it, is pretty underwhelming. You print a sheet of paper, point an iPad at it, and witness some kind of animation pop up through your screen. Most AR experiences are simply marketing tools for big companies, designed to sell us something. Do they really improve our lives or add value to the world?
If you keep up with tech media, you’ve probably seen the word “holodeck” pop up here and there. The term, borrowed from Star Trek, is used to describe a dedicated space that supports immersive experiences. Throughout the Star Trek series, Cap'n Picard and crew get their sensory organs massaged when a blank room fills with scenery that isn't actually there. On the VR/AR spectrum, that experience lies all the way on the virtual reality side of things.
Our vision of a Holodeck is one where any room transform into a virtual scene; where the real and unreal merge together to create something spectacular. The Holodeck 2.0 — a digital space that appears wherever you want it to, and one that can interact with what's already there.
Much of today’s AR technology relies on markers—a cluster of unique feature points programmed to trigger preset animations—to work. Amusing as these may be, there are big limitations to marker-based methods. If you move away from the marker the experience vanishes.
What if, instead of some company’s logo or a printed sheet paper acting as the marker, applications could treat the door frames, windows, and the furniture in your home the same way? This difference marks the transition from "shallow" AR; a superficial veneer on the real world that can't stray far from its anchor, and "deep" AR; augmented reality that works in the entirety of your space because it understands your space. When 3D mapping and computer vision are involved, this capability is not only possible, it's inevitable.
Since the beginning of time humans have told stories to preserve history, teach lessons, and for entertainment. We imagine. We escape our everyday lives and get sucked into fiction. So far, traditional forms of media: books, music, movies, video games have helped provide this experience for us. Yet there's still a barrier that separates us from those worlds.
My son really loves Pokemon. He also has a wild imagination. In my house, it’s a common occurrence to walk into his room to find him shouting commands like, “Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!” I love that he’s using his imagination, yet I can’t help but wonder what a fully immersive AR Pokemon experience would be like for him. It’s something I’ve dubbed "imagination squared." While I don’t want his inner world to be replaced by technology, I think there's a sweet spot where augmented experiences can enhance and further his imagination. Isn’t that the goal? I’m in my 30s, but I can’t deny that I want that too.
I want an experience that lets me chase ghosts around my home or sends shivers down my spine with a zombie hunt. Since markers are limited and GPS doesn't work indoors, we're going to need 3D models to make it happen.
Fortunately, the how-we-experience-media paradigm is on the verge of shift. The idea of 3D mapping being the missing link in this formula is gaining traction. We're working to make it possible to capture spaces easily and for content creators to augment them with awesome experiences. Whatever your flavor: Pokemon battles for the kids, zombie hunts, or virtual tourism (Louvre, anyone?), you will soon have the power to multiply your imagination by merging your world with another. Your house becomes the playing field. Or rather, the Holodeck.