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Try mixed reality, where the virtual and real collide

January 2, 2014 | Telepresence Options

oculus_merged_reality

Story and images by Sandrine Ceurstemont / New Scientist

Virtual reality is so 2013 - a new, immersive blending of physical and virtual worlds suggests we could one day live our lives in "mixed reality"

I SLIP on the virtual reality headset, expecting the real world to vanish. Instead, something odd happens: I can still see the room I'm in, but it's slightly blurry. I look down at my body - everything's where it should be. With the click of a button the floor suddenly becomes cluttered with virtual objects and an avatar appears before me, extending her arm to shake my hand. She's trying to blend in with the real people but I can tell she's computer-generated. Then everything goes black and white, and suddenly the entire scene feels real.

oculus_merged_reality

This is a new type of augmented reality (AR) - called mixed reality (MR). A system that creates it is being demoed for the first time at an event at the graphics company Inition in London. The idea is to show how seamlessly the physical and digital worlds can be blended.

The setup uses an Oculus Rift headset, known for its ability to immerse people in virtual reality. But Will Steptoe of University College London has designed an attachment that pipes in real-time video of the real world, then augments that view. "In tablet-based AR, the user holds a window on to the mixed reality so there is a clear disconnect between what is physical and what is virtual," says Steptoe. With the new rig, a person sees the real world from their normal, embodied perspective (see video).

To blend the two spaces, Steptoe's system applies filters available in image editing software to the combined world. The filters make everything appear slightly cartoonish, but they hide the imperfections of virtual objects, making it hard to tell what's real and what's virtual.

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