Saturday, July 7, 2007

Mixed Reality: Definitions and clarifications

Mixed Reality as a popular term tends to confuse a few ideas and it is necessary to examine what this specifically refers to as well as which portion this proposal will focus on.

With the proliferation of Virtual Reality over the last 30 years or so, there has been a recent emergence and a variety of projects that have begun to explore the fusion of the virtual and physical space. As explained previously, this has become commonly referred to as Mixed Reality. Mixed Reality has been defined by Milgram & Kishino 1994 as that which, "Joins or overlays physical and virtual environments to varying degrees, using a number of different approaches, technologies, and interaction paradigms." Another definition by Benford describes Mixed Reality as that which "Link(s) and overlay(s) multiple physical and virtual spaces that have three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension." Milgram and Kishino seem to encompass the general scope of Mixed Reality spaces defining it as both an approach as well as an application while Benford et. al. identifies the spatial characteristics and most importantly the common temporal dimension. Another definition from (Canon Technology 2001 citation and definition here). This project will focus on the perceptual characteristics of mixed reality space and will refer often to the latter definition.

One of the latter studies sought to divide Mixed Reality into two components along a socio-perceptual scale. This study differentiated perceptual Mixed Reality (visual construction and cohesion) from socially based Mixed Reality (or the ability to communicate). This particular project defined MR as a form of social consciousness where the Mixed Reality only existed to the degree that there were conscious beings perceiving the space in ‘real-time.’ Consistency of social interaction (as defined by Inga Tomic-Koludrovic, Mirko Petric and Ivica Mitrovic (2002) Mixed Reality or One Reality: A Social-Semiotic Approach to Hybrid Multiagent Environments, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol 5 no.1 published 2002). This study introduces the term, "hybrid multi-agent environments" which refer to cross social communication between virtual and actual which is not necessarily the focus of this project. This proposal will take into account these ideas, but will primarily focus on the perceptual characteristics of MR as it applies to spatial inhabitation.

Perceptual MR encompasses two simultaneous perceptual realities; the virtual and the physical. These projects usually fall along a sliding scale between projects primarily based in physical or virtual reality. If we look at the example of a music concert, there have been examples of bands creating avatars and piping their music into a virtual recreation of a stadium or coffee shop. There have also been examples of concerts that simply place screens or portals into virtual space to allow virtual viewers to see the actual concert through a screen from a virtual location.
Projects which are primarily based in physical reality with minimal MR intrusion I have labeled ‘Pbased’ projects as these tend to focus on interface screens or digitally integrated objects into the physical environment. These projects focus on an event or an environment that is based in physical reality where the connection to the virtual is simplified or minimized spatially or programmatically. The physical becomes the primary medium and is required for navigational cues.

Virtual based or Vbased projects are primarily experienced though an avatar or virtual representation of the self. Acting though the avatar brings with it the possibility to focus and respond to virtually constructed events and environments. Vbased projects usually include concerts or sports events held in SL where reality is pumped in and experienced through the virtual medium. A recent example of this is a Wimbledon match that was recreated real-time in a virtual environment. Attendees are able to see and track the movement of the players and the ball which are constantly being updated with actual information from the live event. Another example is the recent creation of a landscape consisting of boxes representing the business of the S&P 500. As stock prices change, the boxes change from red to green and size themselves according to their current price. The result is a constantly shifting virtual landscape which is being fed with real-time data from a physical space.

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