Whereas virtual reality (VR) has been expected to be the next breakthrough for IT human interfaces, the future seems to be late.
Together with the cost of ownership, a primary cause mentioned for the lukewarm embrace is the nausea associated with the technology. Insofar as the nausea is provoked by a delay in perceptions, the consensus is that both obstacles should be overcame by continuous advances in computing power. But that optimistic assessment rests on the assumption that the nausea effect is to be uniformly decreasing.
Virtual vs Augmented
The recent extension of a traditional roller-coaster at SeaWorld Orlando illustrates the difference between virtual and augmented reality. Despite being marketed as virtual reality, the combination of actual physical experience (roller-coaster) with virtual perceptions (3D video) clearly belongs to the augmented breed, and its success may put some new light on the nausea effect.
Consciousness Cannot Wait
Awareness is what anchors living organisms to their environment. So, lest a confusion is introduced between individuals experience and their biological clock, perceptions are to be immediate; and since that confusion is not cognitive but physical, it will cause nausea. True to form, engineers initial answer has been to cut down elapsed time through additional computing power; that indeed brought a decline in the nausea effect, as well as an increase in the cost of ownership. Unfortunately, benefits and costs don’t tally: however small is the remaining latency, nausea effects are disproportionate.
The way virtual and augmented reality deal with latency may help to understand the limitations of a minimizing strategy:
- With virtual reality latency occurs between users voluntary actions (e.g moving their heads) and devices (e.g headset) generated responses.
- With augmented reality latency occurs between actual perceptions and software generated responses.
That’s basically the situation of Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable: in the physical realm the hare (aka computer) is either behind or ahead of the tortoise (the user), which means that some latency (positive or negative) is unavoidable.
That lesson applies to virtual reality because both terms are set in actuality, which means that nausea can be minimized but not wholly eliminated. But that’s not the case for augmented reality because the second term is a floating variable that can be logically adjusted.
The SeaWorld roller-coaster takes full advantage of this point by directly tying up augmented stimuli to actual ones: augmented reality scripts are aligned with roller-coaster episodes and their execution synchronized through special sensors. Whatever the remaining latency, it is to be of a different nature: instead of having to synchronize their (conscious) actions with the environment feedback, users only have to consolidate external stimuli, a more mundane task which doesn’t involve consciousness.
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