Virtuality reality at a desktop computer has always seemed so -- how should I say it? -- unreal. Now a new generation of inexpensive video cameras that sense 3D information is taking a tiny step toward the Star Trek Holodeck.
Take a peek at the video that Mitchell Kapor and Philippe Bossut posted Friday demonstrating software that allows navigation in virtual world environment without a mouse or a keyboard. Video can be seen here:
Mr. Kapor was the original investor in Second Life and he took up the idea of a prototype navigation system after he and Mr. Bossut began thinking about the implications of cameras such as the prototype from 3DV Systems, an Israeli company that has begun showing the ZCam, a low cost, real-time depth sensing video camera.
The camera can translate human hand motion or body motion into the movements of a virtual character inside Second Life. The demonstration works by placing the camera near the computer screen and pointing it at the human navigator. It is possible to move forward by leaning forward and move backwards by leaning back. It is also possible to jump and even fly around in cyberspace with the correct hand gestures.
It all looks like great fun, but is it, as they say, more than a dancing dog?
At this point this isn't a product but just a demo. Mr. Kapor said that he believes that eventually these systems will make interacting with a 3D world as comfortable as using a Webcam.
"This phase was pure evangelism," he said of the software project, "but in the course of doing it I became completely intrigued with the possibilities which I think are huge."
The arrival of low-priced 3D cameras will ultimately have an impact that goes far beyond entertainment or gaming, he said. The implication is being able to entirely rethink the way humans interact with computers.
One of the areas that Mr. Kapor said he was hoping to explore is the ability to conduct meetings in Second Life that are closer to experience of a face-to-face meeting.
The cameras, which have sub-centimeter resolution at the five to ten foot range, might be able to do motion capture. That would make it possible to directly convey facial expressions and body language in cyberspace, something that is largely missing from today's multiplay video games and virtual worlds.
"I think we can be much more realistic in terms of interpersonal depth," he said.
It seems like it might be a bit more fun after we get the it integrated with 3D virtual reality goggles. In a way its kind of scary. If you think of all the things that have been broken by errant Nintendo Wii videogame controllers accidentally turned into missiles, consider what happens when you start wandering around your house
I guess if I squint really hard I can visualize this as the precursor of the Snow Crash, Neuromancer or Matrix worlds that we all assume is coming, but I probably wouldn't want to perform in front of an audience.
Maybe in the privacy and comfort of my living room this would make some sense.