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Microsoft MirageTable Takes Augmented Reality to the Next Level

May 11, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.
microsoft_augmented_reality.jpgPerspective, illusion, suspension of disbelief. The fundamental and timeless elements of a good magic trick. They can also be applied to today's communication technology for amazing results. After all, the telepresence experience is essentially the use of proper perspective (and other cues) to create the illusion of actual presence. Microsoft's MirageTable uses these techniques to provide a 3D traditional face to face telepresence meeting combined with an advanced augmented reality session.

As shown in the video above, the MirageTable uses a Kinect camera to track the position of the user and adjust the image in real time. This means the system can use perspective to create an extremely convincing augmented reality effect. The power of perspective can be seen in the art of the amazing Julian Beever (shown below).

julian_beever_perspective_art.jpgJulian Beever's Street Art demonstrates the power of perspective.

The effect can be extremely convincing. For example, in the picture above, it is hard to shake the belief that the woman in the red shirt is a Lilliputian, or a result of Photoshop. In reality, she is just far away from the camera, and the purple letters are actually stretched out along the pavement. However, even after knowing how it is done, it is still very difficult to see past the illusion.

julian_beever_perspective_art_with_side_view.jpgThere is one major limitation to this illusion. It only works if the viewer is standing in the exact right spot. The illusion immediately fails if the viewer does not have the correct perspective. This is why the use of Kinect makes the MirageTable so interesting. By constantly tracking the viewers position, the solution can create real-time, interactive, 3D objects using the perspective tricks shown above. The result is an experience where two remote parties can sit across the table from 3D images of each other, and work together on both real and virtual objects on the table between them.

Microsoft_mirage_table.jpgThe potential for products based on this technology is pretty exciting. Initially, I expect to see it included in products for the traditional first adopters of video technology (healthcare, edu, gvmt, etc.). Eventually, I expect engineering and design teams would find this to be a serious productivity tool. I think it is also safe to predict that some sales and marketing folks will be salivating over the idea of showing their products to remote customers with this level of immersion. In the final analysis, this is yet another technology designed to help people in remote locations work together as if they were face to face. Is it only a matter of time before we can create an experience so convincing that users literally cannot determine if it is real or telepresence?

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