Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Limiting the physical risk in virtual and augmented reality

Brian Wassom, an attorney from Michigan has a nice post on Staying Out of Trouble While Playing Augmented Reality Games. It details several concerns relating to playing augmented reality games including run-ins with law enforcement (such as when pointing the phone at a police station), physical injury and commercial-tie ins.

On the physical injury side, Brian writes:

Physical Injury.  I’ve also writtenspoken, and started discussions about the potential for AR gamers to hurt themselves while chasing digital objects in the physical world.  It turns out that this, too, has already happened–at least to both of the players to whom I spoke.  One admitted to slipping on ice and twisting their ankle; the other got themselves a bit scuffed up while searching through bushes for the exact coordinates of a resonator.
Other potential avenues for mishaps were spotted and avoided.  For example, they told me about one digital portal that was originally located in the driveway for a hospital emergency room.  This was reported to the game’s designers, who moved it out of the way.  Lessons like these should help future game designers avoid similar issues.

Players at any physical game inherently accept some risk of injury. One can twist one's ankle or get a bit scuffed up playing basketball, not just augmented reality games. Nevertheless, I think that games that understand the user's environment can reduce the risk of injuries.

Pit demo from WorldViz
For example, in one of our favorite demonstrations at trade shows, we ask an attendee to put on one of our goggles and then open a virtual pit - a large abyss in the floor that only exists in the virtual world. We then ask that person to take a step forward into the pit. 99 out of 100 times that person refuses to take the step forward, even after peeking multiple times into the real world and being convinced that the hole is not real and only appears in the virtual world. Why? Probably because we are hard-wired to avoid such obvious dangers as walking onto an abyss.

The same lesson could be applied in games. If the game is in the living room and the nearby sofa - an obstacle - is shown as a brick wall, most people just won't try to run into it. Holes, walls, pointed swords, moving cars could all be used to enforce the 'do not go there' message.

Of course to do this the VR system would need real-time understanding of the surrounding objects - where as the sofas and walls, and where is the user relative to them. We call this context and believe it will become critically important to VR and AR experiences, both as a way to avoid injuries as well as to provide a dramatically more compelling experience.

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