Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Mario and the future of augmented reality.

(Science Week, Day 6!)

Today’s is a nod not to the process of science, but to the application of the knowledge it’s bestowed by hard-working and creative people, which has always fallen well within the scope of Science Week. (Even Oculus’ Michael Abrash has the title “chief scientist,” and I don’t suppose he’s making discoveries so much as helping apply them.)

I've mentioned before that I casually predicted the nature of the now relatively-imminent wave of augmented reality by running-up in a Nintendo Power contest in 1996. My notion: a head-worn headset would map the room using lasers, store the information as a model, and create the illusion before the wearer’s eyes that game elements were milling about the space. 25 years later, I’m not sure there’s any aspect of that I got wrong. As Apple’s first AR device becomes increasingly rumoured and evidenced, “LiDAR” is the abbreviated name for the sensors which can currently model rooms on the iPhone and iPad, using none other than laser light.

Meanwhile, Mario Kart: Home Circuit arrived last year from Nintendo: a more modest but clever and heartful application of sensing and tracking technology to remote control racers which broadcast to your console’s display. As you control Mario or Luigi’s kart with your thumbs and watch the race on the display as usual, their on-board cameras feed back their view of the room, superimposing obstacles and guard rails. It’s a gorgeous way to convey an imaginary experience which has only just become practical to render.

A number of companies have made serious advances in VR and AR last decade, and I think we have every reason to suppose these are the final years of a world without digitally enhanced windows on our own world, and other imaginary realms.