Thursday, February 20, 2014
The Holodeck Begins to Take Shape
Long before you find yourself slashing at dragons, you will enter a Holodec Boardroom along with several others from elsewhere and conduct a full face to face meeting and the resolution will be so excellent that it will be impossible to separate reality from image.
Just as useful, we will map a body of a living person so that we can walk into the image to look for abnormalities at whatever scale we desire.
Games are quite another matter and will need serious design and imagination but we can be sure that will be forthcoming.
I actually think that the practical aspects will be stunning in themselves. An office in a Holodec is totally cool. Imagine a clear view and perhaps a clear smell of the surrounding chaparral or pine forest available for the morning. Dramatic content has its value in terms of leisure time activity, but passive pleasures work for days while we work. Perhaps some ongoing human activity in the distance all in real time.
The Holodeck Begins to Take Shape
By NICK BILTON
A.M.D.Advanced Micro Devices, the computer chip maker, has built a version of a holodeck that is shaped like a dome and is covered with wall-to-wall projectors.
Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are playing poker together.
No, this isn’t a bad physics joke. It’s a scene from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” It takes place in a holodeck, a simulated-reality room in the fictional Star Trek universe. The three scientists — or at least computer-generated versions of them — have been transported to the 2300s to play cards with Lt. Cmdr. Data.
“I don’t even know why I’m here in the first place,” Newton says.
While the show is set in the future, some scientists and researchers say we could have something like holodecks by 2024. If you have enough money, you could even buy one today, though it would be crude compared to the holodecks on Star Trek.
This is all part of a quest by computer companies, Hollywood and video game makers to move entertainment closer to reality — or at least a computer-generated version of reality. Rather than simply watch movies, the thinking goes, we could become part of the story. We could see people and things moving around our living rooms. The actors could talk to us. Gamers who today slouch on the couch could step inside their games. They could pick up a computer-simulated bat in computer-simulated Yankee Stadium while a computer-simulated crowd roared around them.
“The holodeck is something we’ve been fixated on here for a number of years as a future target experience that would be truly immersive,” said Phil Rogers, a corporate fellow at Advanced Micro Devices, the computer chip maker. “Ten years ago, it seemed like a dream. Now, it feels within reach.”
At A.M.D.’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., Mr. Rogers and his team have built a version of a holodeck. It’s shaped like a dome and is covered with wall-to-wall projectors. The room uses surround sound, augmented reality and other technologies to recreate the real world.
“Eventually, wallpaper will become intelligent and we will paper over our entire living room with intelligent paper, surrounding and immersing ourselves with 3-D images,” said Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist. “Much of this technology already exists, but in crude form.”
How would you walk through these virtual worlds without hitting your bedroom or office wall? The United States Army Research Laboratory has already solved that problem. It has created a floor called an “omnidirectional treadmill” that enables people to seemingly wander around a room while the floor moves and the person stays in place.
This all sounds fun. But it also sounds terrifying to some industries.
As a byproduct, the holodeck could render traditional TV makers obsolete, cutting the already dwindling TV market, where an estimated 226 million televisions shipped in 2013, according to IHS, a research company.
Business travel, which is projected to rake in $288 billion from United States travelers this year, according to the Global Business Travel Association, could fall as holodecks become less expensive and more productive than hopping on a plane, booking a hotel and suffering unproductive jet lag, all for a 30-minute meeting.
But all of this “reality” might be a bit too much for many of us. As much as I like playing a first-person shooter game once in a while — who doesn’t like to kill a few zombies before bed? — I’m not sure I want to run through a war zone and see lifelike brains sprayed across my face. I might need some virtual therapy after playing a game that realistic.
Yet gaming seems to be what is driving this technology, and the major computing it requires.
“Our desire for more realistically spattered blood seems to be our saving grace in terms of keeping Moore’s Law going,” said Brad Templeton, a futurist and a member of the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, referring to the observation that the number of transistors on semiconductors tends to double every two years.
Mr. Templeton said holodecks would change photography, too. People will take pictures to show off in their holodecks, he said. Rather than buying a coffee-table book, your coffee table might become a giant book.
Microsoft has also been at the forefront of this technology, filing several patents related to holodecks and building prototypes in labs.
Andy Wilson, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, said his lab created a product called the IllumiRoom, which creates illusions of the area surrounding a television, making real-life furniture look like it’s moving or warping using a projection display. “We can do things like make the furniture in the room disappear,” he said.
Another Microsoft research project is called a Lightspace, a digital chandelier that can detect the people and objects in a room and then display images from the ceiling that cover the walls and floor.
Last year researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago created a version of a holodeck called CAVE2, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. CAVE2 uses eight-foot high screens that cover 320 degrees of a room and can be used to model global weather patterns, study the way new drugs work in the body and help doctors practice surgeries.
Dr. Kaku warned that there were dangers with this technology. “One day, people might prefer to live in a virtual world rather than the real one,” he said.
That is what happened on Star Trek. In one episode, Lt. Reginald Barclay becomes dependent on computer-generated versions of his colleagues for friendships, preferring virtual relationships to real ones. He ultimately requires therapy from Lt. Cmdr. Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor, to wean himself off the simulations and back to everyday life.