November 22nd, 2007 by Kenan Farrell
The Associated Press reports that Japanese researchers are hard at work on new ways for users to interact with virtual worlds such as Second Life. Some of these raise the possibility of long-distance assault and battery claims.
One technology involves a user moving across a large mat with specially coded patterns on it. As the user moves across the mat, the system tracks all movements and reflects them in the on-screen avatar. Not simply limited to the basic “forward, backward, left, right,” the system can also process vertical distance and tilt. To demonstrate this ability, the researcher crouched down on the mat to peer under a virtual parked car. Accordingly, the on-screen image swerved to show what the avatar would “see” — the vehicle’s underside.
Another technology monitors brain activity (.pdf, via Keio University), so players can make their avatars move just by thinking of commands like forward, right or left. The interface uses electrodes attached to the user’s scalp to sense activity in the brain’s sensory-motor cortex. The brain activity is then translated into signals that control the avatar.
When these technologies, particularly the first, are eventually paired with “force feedback” devices, such as a recently released vest which lets users “get pounded with body slams, crushed with G-forces, and blasted with bullet fire,” science fiction questions of real-life battery (requiring contact) arising from virtual world interactions move a bit closer to reality.
While interesting, it’s unlikely that these new interfaces will replace the mouse and keyboard anytime soon. After all, virtual worlds are about much more than movement. A user needs to be able to interact with objects and communicate with others. Combine these technologies with voice recognition software and they may be on to something. (Of course, good luck making space for that mat system in the typical San Francisco flat.)
From a health perspective, I do applaud any idea that gets users up off their seats and burning calories walking around the room. On the other hand, the brain interface makes even those pesky hand movements unnecessary. Quite a coup for the lazy gamer.
On a final note, they’d better do a lot more testing before this blogger straps any sort of electrode to his scalp!
Kenan Farrell is an intellectual property attorney who recently moved to San Francisco from Indianapolis. He is a member of the U.S. Patent Bar and past chairman of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Executive Board.
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