Apple's newly unveiled Augmented Reality Kit (ARKit) has developers diving in and thinking about the possibilities. Apple provided a presentation of the technology at their World Wide Developers Conference earlier this month and it did not disappoint. Virtual objects were shown on a table, taking into account the surface size, camera movement and lighting solutions, all in real-time. Needless to say it was an impressive demonstration.
During the unveiling of ARKit, Apple had John Knoll of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) provide a Star Wars VR presentation. John introduced Lauren Ridge of EPIC Games, who was backstage, complete with green screen and her VR goggles ready to go. John and Lauren showed off a Star Wars experience and some quick programming, adding in tie-fighters and Darth Vader for what played out as a pretty close call with the Dark Lord. It was cool stuff, but I started revisiting the presentation again. As Darth Vader came towards Lauren, what if she had a physical lightsaber that integrated into the game? ILM and EPIC Games could deliver the holy grail where VR and reality completely blur. But it could go much further.
Theme parks and gaming entrepreneurs alike may be racing towards truly large-scale AR worlds. Suppose a multi-acre gaming park opened up in the desert near Las Vegas. In one of the corners of the property is a half-car sized object with no wheels and two chairs in it. In front of those chairs, a windshield and some type of controls... Much of the acreage is sandy with some rolling mounds, rocks and such, but the land also contains some odd looking half-built facilities throughout. The AR engine has mapped the entire park, and once you put on the AR goggles you see that the actual terrain has been turned into a graphics representation, but so much more is now around you. As you gaze across and see the two sons, you realize that yes, you are on Luke Sywalker's home planet of Tatooine! Crossing the desert you spot a landspeeder. But it's not just virtual You get in and sit in it's chairs! What is going on?!
That half-built object with two chairs and controls you saw earlier? That is now Luke Skywalker's landspeeder you are sitting in, completed in it's entirety via the AR engine. It's virtual, but the important physical parts are also there and you can interact with them, such as the sides of the vehicle, the chairs and controls are also real. Mapping reality, while overlaying a graphical representation of it could really take AR to a new level.
You reach for the landspeeder's controls, and your mind continues to be blown away as you are physically sitting in a landspeeder, grabbing the controls, and whoosh, you are flying across the desert at 110 mph, headed towards Mos Eisly space port. Upon arrival, you get out of the speeder and head towards the bar...
In reality all you did was traverse the desert a bit to get into a lame half-bult prop with controls, and then 5 minutes later you jumped out and walked around some more before sitting at a cheap wooden table in a shack. But what you experienced in AR was battling Sand People and Storm Troopers across the desert, racing to get to the landspeeder, then floating along the desert terrain at breakneck speeds to Mos Eisly. At that point you met up with Chewy at the cantina, boarded the Millennium Falcon and blasted your way off that rock!
How far away from this are we? To what level will laser tag, paintball, or a new types of AR/VR theme parks emerge? Perhaps Apple just has you put on some VR goggles and ARKit maps out adventures in your local neighborhood park, real-time as you go. The possibilities are endless, but I have a feeling that in the not too distant future we will be able to meet up with some Jawas, take a ride with them in their transport and drink some blue milk at Uncle Owen's pad. At this rate it looks like Apple is going to get us there first.
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