Virtual reality is more than shiny new game titles, an interesting alternative to your typical conferencing apps, or a neat place to meet up with friends. Don’t get me wrong. These are all great use cases, but there is a significant shift happening right now. A whole new world is being built, blurring the lines of all our realities, and we need to pay attention and take advantage of the opportunity before us.
Avatars as Alter Egos
Back in 2008, I started playing Second Life. For those who don’t know what Second Life is, it’s an online virtual world. You can create an avatar that allows you to interact with others in a vast space. Avatars like the one I made are a big step forward in a digital age where pixels are beginning to blur into reality.
Why? Avatars embody human characteristics, and we sometimes customize them in ways we wouldn’t in real life, allowing us to have alter egos that represent us in the digital realm. Take, for example, Lil Miquela. Who is she, you ask? She’s an Instagram influencer, and she has the true-life characteristics and the attitude to prove it. But, at the end of the day, she’s only an avatar. She isn’t a real human being.
In 2017, I was at the VRLA Expo and saw “The Scan Truck.” Ignoring the ominous name, I was scanned and digitally created into an avatar. Several cameras took pictures from every angle, the process required multiple takes, and then it was all stitched up using software.
From classic MMORPG avatar creation to purely digital avatars to scanning ourselves into the digital world, the line between the real and the virtual is continuously thinning and raising new questions. For example, if you create an avatar of yourself, is it “real”? Or, more specifically, is it “you”?
Later that year, I stepped into Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios, which creates holograms. While scanning is static, capturing is dynamic. And as technology becomes more affordable, new ways of capturing and interacting with reality will come to fruition. Take a look at the release of the Azure Kinect DK; when combined with Depthkit, it’s an affordable solution for volumetric capture. If you combine a few Azure Kinects, you can have your very own “volumetric truck.”
A Fine Blurred Line
Whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the shift from reality as we know it to the virtual. Everything is being digitized and rendered in front of our eyes, giving us new experiences and enhancing our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined ten or even five years ago. We can go skydiving for free, “literally” move mountains, and meet people we otherwise would have never met with a few taps of a controller. The sky and our physical boundaries are no longer the limit; our imagination is, which means there is now a universe of possibilities at our fingertips. I wonder what we’ll do next.