What Happens in Virtual Reality ... Probably Won't Stay There

Illustration for article titled What Happens in Virtual Reality ... Probably Wont Stay There

Cross Reality, Dual Reality, X-Reality: all of these terms describe the recent work of an MIT Media Lab team to bring the virtual into the real and vice versa. So far, the X-Reality group has focused their attentions on Second Life; last year, its Shadow Lab project allowed the game's users to virtually check out real-life activity inside the Media Lab building in Cambridge. Later this month, the next X-Reality project goes live — and they've got big, wormhole-tunneling, reality-crossing plans for it.Group leader, MIT Professor Joe Paradiso, and his students are installing 45 "Ubiquitous Sensor Portals" in the Media Lab building. Each of these portals has a touchscreen, camera, and array of sensors that are wirelessly connected to the active Second Life universe. Through these portals, Second Life users can interact with real-life people, and real-life people can enter and experience Second Life without even having to download the software. As the group itself puts it on their Media Lab project page, in this way "events in the real world drive phenomena in a virtual environment that is unconstrained by time, space, or the constraints of physics." Sounds like the best kind of futurism to me. Forbes.com quotes Paradiso on the nature of the Second Life portals:

"These devices are designed to be like wormholes that let you tunnel through to a second reality," says Paradiso. "Second Life is detached. We're tying it into the real world."


X-Reality group member Josh Lifton, the mind behind the Shadow Lab project, offers plenty of application ideas for such technology:

Lifton argues that the "Shadow Lab" setup could be expanded to a more complex scenario like a building's emergency response system. In a fire, for instance, responders could map out the building's temperature and even find inhabitants in the virtual world before risking their lives in the real one. Paradiso offers the more prosaic example of a factory floor outfitted with ubiquitous sensors that lets any executive monitor its manufacturing in the virtual world.


After a bit more development on projects like this, it will be hard to tell where the real world ends and Second Life begins — looks like it's time to start lecturing your real-life friends into accepting your Second Life girlfriend. And while teleportation might not be on its way, you'll certainly be able to beam yourself virtually to a business meeting in Bangkok, just like Will.i.am did at CNN; with X-Reality's technology, though, you might one day be able to toss a paper airplane to your colleague at the other end of the table. A Realer Virtual World [via Forbes.com] Ubiquitous Sensor Portals [MIT Media Lab] Dual Reality Lab [MIT Media Lab]

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So long as they're black and white and all grainy, that'll be OK.