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The Various Realities of the 21st Century

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From key historical and philosophical steps to the technological functions that have helped determine our current various realities.

virtual reality

Inside the different types of simulated reality

36 years have passed since Hilary Putnam wrote and published, Brains in a vat, where he imagined a brain immersed in a vat and attached to a computer. The brain receives the same impulses and conscious experiences as if it were housed in a skull, however, would it know that it disembodied in a vat? The argument is no, it wouldn’t know any different.

This mindboggling concept can be summed up perfectly from a quote right out of the movie, The Matrix:

“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Morpheus, Matrix (1999)

"…you take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes” Morpheus (Scene from the Matrix movie, Wakovski sisters, 1999)

This philosophy is at the core of constant fascination and research that focuses on the construction of simulated reality—Freud would suggest that this happened because of our desire to escape.

Like never before, new technologies are giving us the opportunity to recreate scenarios and old worlds or even build new ones, thanks to the magic of the computer.

It’s truly remarkable that for interacting with this reality (as we know it), humans have managed to create devices that are able to reproduce ‘reality’ in a digital sense. I’m talking about virtual, augmented, and merged reality.

Ivan Sutherland with his first VR headset

Virtual Reality was a technological feat that was created in 1969 when Ivan Sutherland, with the help of his student Bob Sproull, created what is considered the first virtual reality system that could be reached through a headset. As technology has progressed, it has led to the construction of virtual and mixed reality headsets such as the Vive from HTC and Oculus Rift from Oculus (now owned by Facebook).

So how do these devices work? And how are they different from other types of simulated reality?

Let’s start from the beginning—we have to cut away terminological misunderstandings due to the rapid evolution of technological innovations.

Virtual Reality headsets are hardware devices which, through a dual screen and two lenses placed at a short distance from the eyes, that can running multimedia content, or even more specifically, stereophonic contents (so one frame per eye).

The device, thanks to the mixed data collected from an accelerometer and gyroscope placed inside, gives us the opportunity to change our point of view thought the x-y-z axis in 360° angle, with or without the possibility to interact with the object inside the faux reality.

According to the definition provided by Intel, we could describe this type of experience as synthetical because it’s fully enclosed with no sense of the real world outside.

These devices can be tethered like the Oculus Rift or Vive, which means they rely on an external graphic engine and processor (like an ultimate generation of Windows computer) or combined with a top of the line smartphone (Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR for example). A smartphone is an effective device for virtual reality, exploiting data calculation power from the embedded hardware.

The common content that is available with these headsets are 360 videos and mostly VR games, which the leader in VR games is Sony with their Playstation 4 VR.

Now, onto the next type of “Reality”. For all the attention that VR is receiving, the real revolution in the consumer world is actually known as Augmented Reality. As you can see follows behind VR on the Hype Cycle.

Hype Cycle by Gartner — July 2016

Many people are familiar with Augmented Reality and may be using it unknowingly. We are talking about the technology which developed the mainstream game and smash hit of summer 2016, Pokemon Go. Virtual objects and animated characters are reproducing in 3D with the real world as a backdrop. The playful and professional uses of AR (augmented reality) are without limits.

Another note to mention about AR—it can be run on a top range smartphone or with external hardware especially developed for it like the Microsoft Hololens. The Microsoft Hololens it’s a tethered headset for AR which is able to project virtual objects and animated charters directly in our retina. They are still in a developing phase and not for commercial use at this moment in time.

The last type of reality has increasing taken importance in the simulated reality panorama of the 21st century is…Merged Reality.

Source: Intel.com “Making virtual a reality”

Merged Reality gives us the opportunity to take part of the real world in the virtual world, and interact with it by manipulating the virtual or the real world. It’s kind of confusing, but here’s an example.

Project Alloy (Merged reality) — Hands tracking

The developing tethered headset known as Project Alloy by Intel, allow us to see our hands inside the virtual reality and to interact with the environment. Special cameras placed in front of the headset are what make this possible.

Now HTC Vive with some extra unofficial accessories, gives us the opportunity to do the same sort of things. In addition, coming soon is the Vive Tracker where we will be able to track real objects into the virtual reality.

The Vive Tracker by HTC

In regards to all the simulated realities, we can say that this year will be a year significant development and we still do not realize how this technology will change the world as we now know it. With professional and consumer uses, there are endless opportunities with these technologies so…

…prepare yourself for the new realities of the 21st century!

At ZR.Productions, we are gearing up for the new era of reality. Are you ready to join us?

Nicola Scopelliti

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