How about a first-person shooter that you can play in the real world, or a filmmaker's tool for displaying space ships and flying dragons out of thin air on a small budget? That's just two immediate applications that spring to mind with Augemented Reality Second Life, a project from a grad student at Georgia Tech (known in SL as Tobey McElroy, supervised by his professor, known as Blair Potluck.) As the name suggests, it's a technology that lets you export and merge SL video with real world video in such a way that the image appears in proper perspective, and proportion-- in other words, to make Second Life elements convincingly look like they're part of the real world. This is achieved, Tobey tells me, with a "fiducial marker", a pattern printed on a sheet of paper that enables their program to properly match the SL feed to the RL video. (See the YouTube video above, where a moving SL car seems to ride on the surface of a coffee table, or the image to the left.)
But that's only the first part of their Augmented Reality project, because they've also taken a headset display and mounted it with a video camera and a tracking sensor. The sensor monitors the wearer's motion and position, while the display feeds Second Life video into the headset.
There's already been numerous projects dealing with this kind of mixed reality, one I even mentioned earlier today. However, says Tobey, "Past attempts and software tools to create Augmented Reality experiences require sophisticated technical knowledge and experience in programming." So a major goal was to create a program that's merged to the open source version of SL, thus making it a standard feature readily available in the client, one that even novices can use. "This novel design concept sees an AR experience less like an 'application' that is designed, loaded and executed," as he puts it, "and more like an 'installation' that is created, evolved and performed in a defined area in the virtual world." For that reason, they call these mergers "AR Stages", like a theatrical space. "Residents with the AR enabled Second Life client can create and visit such an AR Stage in Second Life and perceive the augmentation in their own physical environment."
The AR Second Life project is actually part of Tobey McElroy's Master's thesis at Georgia Tech. "Depending on public interest and further research projects," he says modestly, "we plan to release our modified client in the near future."
Images courtesy of Tobey McElroy.
Update, 1/16: Corrected status of Blair Potluck per his request.