Virtual Reality was hot in the 80s. We were so ready to jack in to fully realized worlds that were indistinguishable from reality.

Then we actually tried VR, and found that while it was cool in theory, the execution was a more than lacking. The visuals were lacking, the goggles were heavy, and the interfaces were clunky at best.

Now we’re well into the 2000s, and not only are there no flying cars, but there are no virtual reality salons. It’s a shame. I imagined that they would be like opium dens, where addicts would pay to jack in and escape from the real world for hours at a time. (No, instead I pay $15 a month to do that in the comfort of my own home, in a place called Azeroth.)

So we’re not really living in the future. We’re living in the here and now.

So what’s here and now? “Augmented Reality.”

Instead of trying to create a computer generated reality that is virtually indistinguishable from real life, they are working on a way to change what you see. In retrospect, it’s the first step we should have taken before making a movie like “The Lawmower Man.”

Human Interface Technology New Zealand is working on augmented reality and it’s got some of the best movies that I’ve seen. The whole concept is a little hard to explain, but I’m going to point out one of the prototypes that they have, “Magiplanet.” When you watch the video, you can see that it’s a fantastic bit of technology.

I think the project’s title is very accurate. When you see the planet rotating on a piece of cardboard, it’s almost magical. The voice of the narrator could use some work though. It’s a little too, “xxxtreme!!” Knowing that this was for children of course, I liked the way they pronounced, “Uranus.”

I chuckled.

I watched all of the videos and each time, I was impressed.

What’s amazing is that the perspectives of the augmented reality are correct. If you rotate the book with the boat popping out of it, you can actually look around the boat and it looks right.

Educational applications seem incredible. You know those audio tours that they give out at museums? Now imagine they hand out goggles instead. You could “see” ocean currents on a globe, or the inside of a steam engine.

Now, I can see this being very cool for tabletop gaming enthusiasts, people who play things like WarHammer. I’m not thinking about making the figures actually shoot or move. I’m thinking more of a user interface.

There’s measuring involved for things like movement, lines of fire, and areas of effect. Now, imagine that the figures are equipped with id tags. With augmented reality, you could see how far the figure was allowed to move on your next turn and where they could fire. You could also see the same info for your opponent’s figurines. I can see this improving the flow of the game, as well as making it more enjoyable for the players.

Another interesting thing to do would be to make actual scenery, something akin to what the company Total Immersion demos inthis video. The video’s a bit long, (not to mention Windows Media–but at least the part that I’m talking about happens early in the video.)

If you believe HIT labs, this technology’s only two years away from implementation.

I’m not holding my breath, but I would certainly like to see what else people come up with.