This weekend I climbed Everest. Next weekend I’m thinking of walking on the moon. But for both, I don’t have to leave my armchair in London.
Environmental pressure and costs may have pushed global travel beyond the means of most people, but technology has come to the rescue. Full-sensory immersive computing means that vivid ‘living’ memories of real adventurers doing things like climbing Everest can be digitally captured, stored and sold.
This isn’t a movie or a video game; this is the real experience! Users feel the cold, the fear, the exhaustion, the altitude sickness – and the incredible high of reaching the summit.
While marketeers are touting this as the greatest product in the history of leisure, social scientists are warning of a new generation of ‘armchair adventurers’ who never actually venture outside into the real world. And the pornography industry is salivating at the opportunities!
The new technology, called ComArt, which is short for Computational Artefacts, arose from developments in the gaming industry and massive investment into virtual environments, primarily in the manufacturing and defense industries.
It was leaped upon by Nintendo, now the giant of the gaming market, and has just been released as the fourth-generation Wii.X range.
But I must go – I’m meeting Brigitte Bardot in Thailand for dinner. Virtually, of course!
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
At the end of the millennium, electronic gaming – or video-gaming as it was then known – was a smallish but rapidly-emerging industry. New graphical and interface technologies were about to rewrite the rules. At the same time, architecture and the design industry, particularly in manufacturing, started paying serious attention to working in the virtual world. The scene was set.
2005: Computer gaming hits the big time
For the first time, gaming overtakes Hollywood in terms of market value. Meanwhile, the gaming wars between console manufacturers Sony (PlayStation), Nintendo and newcomer Microsoft with the X-Box, led to massive investment into gaming technology. Sony ups the ante with the launch of its PSP console, which is so powerful that scientists strip out the chips for use in laboratory experiments.
Simultaneously, the advent of virtual communities such as Second Life introduces the crazy idea that humans can ‘live’ more than one life.
In industry, the concept of Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) becomes firmly established. Designers use sophisticated computers and databases to record every aspect of any production process, from sourcing raw materials and suppliers to design and manufacturing, right through to customer delivery; and reproduce this in incredible ‘living’ detail in the virtual world – before starting actual construction or manufacturing. Companies like Siemens perfect systems that slash design and manufacturing costs and minimize production errors.
2008: Nintendo leaps ahead
Nintendo gets the jump on the competition with the introduction of the Wii system, which takes gaming out of the ‘geek’ market and puts it in the living room. Suddenly gaming becomes really interactive and open to everyone.
2011: The breakthrough!
The first systems that crudely tap into the senses appear. Players immerse themselves in ‘gamepods’ that stimulate but largely simulate the five senses. The next few years see major refinement of the technology, until, in 2016, biologists isolate and are able to digitize the chemical compositions that cause emotional reactions in the body. Now the digital code is ‘implanted’ through sensors and simulates emotions and feelings as if they were real.
2019: Gaming rules, OK
The gaming industry has become the primary leisure industry in the world, largely because it was the first to leap upon the new immersive technology, closely followed by the pornography business (now accepted as the semi-legitimate ‘black sheep’ of leisure). Close behind are new procedures for medicine, in particular psychiatric therapy, and educational applications. Long-entrenched-users are the design industries, from architecture to heavyweight industrial design, and manufacturers. Immersive computing has applications in potentially every business!