World building and the simulation of reality have been part of computer and new media culture for decades. From videogames to virtual worlds to virtual reality, computers and digital networks have become a platform for the creation of new worlds and experiences. Furthermore, as computers have become smaller, ubiquitous, and mobile, and people are carrying them everywhere, the possibility of augmenting the real world and physical environment has also emerged. That is precisely what is known as augmented reality.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are new media technologies that are waiting to go mainstream in the information society. VR generates a completely new world in three dimensions that is interactive and tracked in relation to the user of the technology; AR augments the perceptible world, adding visual, audio, and other data to the physical environment. Both technologies intend to generate a mediated reality in where the user can immerse and interact.
According to the emerging technology hype cycle, these two technologies are currently at the “trough of disillusionment” phase. There are early adopters using the technology and entrepreneurs continue to experiment with different forms of implementation. Although their application has expanded to a variety of fields that include health, education, architecture, marketing, videogames, among others, their massive adoption is still pending.
At last week AR in Action, a summit at the MIT Media Lab that gathered an impressive group of developers and entrepreneurs, I realized that perhaps one of the limitations for the diffusion of these technologies is their reliance on bulky apparatuses. When experiencing the different demos of AR and VR projects at the summit, users where somehow let alone in their own worlds, isolated in isolated realities.
The apparatus, in the form of glasses or helmets, created a limitation for a shared experience. That lack of a shared experience is perhaps one of the reasons why these technologies have still not gone mainstream. In order to do so, they will require to connect more people and to allow them to leverage those connections, create spaces where several users can interact with shared alternate realities and fictional worlds.