Feature: Telepresence: A Technology Transcending Time and Space|
HIROSE Michitaka and MINATO Chihiro
Conditions for Conjuring Reality
MC : I've just come from experiencing the VR in the CABIN (Computer Augmented Booth for Image Navigation), a telepresence research environment which you developed. There were scenes of computer graphic simulations of racing through urban environments, yet I was very surprised to feel myself as a mystic flying through space. I guess I'm still a bit excited from the experience, but I felt that this kind of reality really goes to the heart of what VR is all about.
HM: That is an extremely difficult question.... What we can say, however, is that recently it seems we're coming to the realization that there are many realities. For example, the reality that you experienced in the CABIN is probably better described as a visually induced sense of
presence. Because the CABIN features a display field mapped across five planes (left-right-up-down-forward), the CABIN user is offered an extremely comprehensive field of view. This is perhaps one of the "points" which you referred to. Unlike, for example with the TV, you are no longer outside of the medium looking in.
MC: Because there is a delay in the HMDs....
HM: Precisely. Raising one's head in an HMD, the images don't follow in real-time. This is an important difference between the CABIN and the HMD. Because the imagery is already being displayed on the
surrounding screens, there is no need to change the imagery with each movement of the head.
MC: When I first entered the CABIN, I noticed that the four-cornered room was completely different than the world of the HMD. If one follows the history of VR, I think that its logical predecessor was the 360-degree domination of image found in 19th century panoramas.
HM: When beginning to study VR, I considered what elements my system would be required to have. The first was presence, the second interaction and the third was simulation. The connection between simulation and reality may be difficult to understand, but say, for example, that you were to throw a rock in VR. It is clear that the rock's trajectory must either seem accurate, or be shown as a lie. It must behave as reality would behave.
MC: It must behave according to the physical laws as we have experienced them, or we will cease to believe it as reality.
HM: As such, there are many instances of things which must behave within acceptable reality tolerances. Of course there are many instances where elements of reality must be letter perfect, and then there are elements of reality which can meld into the broad visual field. Other elements of reality will only become apparent when actually engaged. This is why when you ask the question "what is reality?" I can only offer that there are many.
MC: In the 1980s, when VR first appeared, there were a number of new reality-specific research fields which sprang up. Now, however, it seems that we've shifted to yet another era, where we are inversely using VR to emancipate people from their assumptions about reality.
HM: Artificial Intelligence may be one good example, but at the moment of its conception, what was most pronounced were its missing links, and they formed the basis for the research that is going on today. VR research is still dominated by discussions about the visual field, but additionally, research into aural, haptic and other forms of "presence" have also emerged. I find it interesting that the moment when our senses are able to be synthesized using engineering methods is the same moment that we return to seeking new propositions CABINiComputer Augmented Booth for Image NavigationjExterior View about exactly what our senses are.
MC: While it seems like we are dealing with issues of the "real world,"in fact, we are actually dealing with those of the human interior. Or to put it another way, gaining further insights into the incredible extent to which we had no idea about what we are.
HM: We come to many practical applications for research into sound. There are many technologies presently available to us, such as digital processing technologies which can simulate the resonances of being in a cathedral while a choir sings, or technologies for having a sound seem to emanate from a virtual object placed directly in front of us. With haptic technologies, much of the research is still in a more interim phase. It seems that the sense of touch is really just beginning to be brought into the digital realm.
MC: The visual faculties play an inordinately important role in helping the human brain recognize reality. Another is the sense of touch. I've heard it said that the greatest concentration of nerve endings on the surface of our skin is in the tips of our fingers.
HM: Surface sensations are said to be almost equal in the visual and haptic domains.