Thanks to “intelligent” wallpaper, virtual reality might be coming to a living room near you, with video games leading the way.
Advanced Micro Devices has built a holodeck shaped like a dome and covered with wall-to-wall projectors. The room uses surround sound, augmented reality and other technologies to recreate the real world. Here, a conductor led a symphony of monsters for a conference.
Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are playing poker together.
No, this isn’t a bad physics joke. It’s a scene from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It takes place in a holodeck, a simulated-reality room in the fictional “Star Trek” universe. The three scientists — or at least computer-generated versions of them — have been transported to the 2300s to play cards with Lt. Cmdr. Data.
“I don’t even know why I’m here in the first place,” Newton says.
While the show is set in the future, some scientists and researchers say we could have something like holodecks by 2024. If you have enough money, you could even buy one today, although it would be crude compared with the holodecks on “Star Trek.”
This is all part of a quest by computer companies, Hollywood and video game makers to move entertainment closer to reality — or at least a computer-generated version of reality. Rather than simply watch movies, the thinking goes, we could become part of the story. We could see people and things moving around our living rooms. The actors could talk to us. Gamers who today slouch on the couch could step inside their games. They could pick up a computer-simulated bat in computer-simulated Yankee Stadium while a computer-simulated crowd roared around them.
“The holodeck is something we’ve been fixated on here for a number of years as a future target experience that would be truly immersive,” said Phil Rogers, a corporate fellow at Advanced Micro Devices, the computer chipmaker. “Ten years ago, it seemed like a dream. Now, it feels within reach.”
At AMD’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., Rogers and his team have built a version of a holodeck. It’s shaped like a dome and is covered with wall-to-wall projectors. The room uses surround sound, augmented reality and other technologies to re-create the real world.
“Eventually, wallpaper will become intelligent and we will paper over our entire living room with intelligent paper, surrounding and immersing ourselves with 3-D images,” said Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist. “Much of this technology already exists, but in crude form.”
How would you walk through these virtual worlds without hitting your bedroom or office wall? The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has already solved that problem. It has created a floor called an “omnidirectional treadmill” that enables people to seemingly wander around a room while the floor moves and the person stays in place.
More fake blood, please
But all of this “reality” might be a bit too much for many of us. As much as some people like playing first-person shooter games — who doesn’t like to kill a few zombies before bed? — do we really relish running through a war zone and seeing lifelike brains sprayed across our faces. We might need some virtual therapy after playing a game that realistic.
Yet gaming seems to be what is driving this technology and the major computing it requires.
“Our desire for more realistically spattered blood seems to be our saving grace in terms of keeping Moore’s Law going,” said Brad Templeton, a futurist and a member of the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, referring to the observation that the number of transistors on semiconductors tends to double every two years.
Templeton said holodecks would change photography, too. People will take pictures to show off in their holodecks, he said. Rather than buying a coffee-table book, your coffee table might become a giant book.
Stuck in a virtual world
Microsoft has also been at the forefront of this technology, filing several patents related to holodecks and building prototypes in labs.
Andy Wilson, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, said his lab created a product called the IllumiRoom, which creates illusions of the area surrounding a television, making real-life furniture look as though it’s moving or warping using a projection display.