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New research into "mixed reality states" promises Matrix-like "whoa"

Real-time model-based feedback is something that is far from commonplace in today's world.  The basic concept of real-time feedback is to take a physical system, modeled by mathematic equations, and then couple it with a computer as a virtual system. 

Sensor monitoring gives the processing logic an idea of how well the real world system is conforming to the theoretical model.  The results are processed and yield adjustments (feedback) to the real world system to make it in tune with the theoretical model.  The result is that the virtual and real world models converge into a single "mixed reality" system, bridging a the virtual (theoretical) and physical world.

Such an approach holds large benefits for everything from car handling and fuel economy, to better aircraft dynamics and smoother robotic control.  To accomplish such useful applications, researchers working on mixed reality had to start simple -- real simple. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois created a virtual pendulum and a real world counterpart that behaves as the world's first mixed reality system.  Bidirectional instantaneous coupling, adjustments both to the real world pendulum by motor feedback and the virtual pendulum by tweaking mathematical parameters, yielded a single system in which both systems' are synchronized.  The result is two pendulums swinging as one.

The experiment, the first fully successful one of its kind, sounds simple but raises mind-blowing questions about reality.  According to Illinois physicist Alfred Hubler, "In a mixed reality state there is no clear boundary between the real system and the virtual system.  The line blurs between what’s real and what isn’t."

Hubler describes the pendulums synchronization, stating, "[The pendulums] suddenly noticed each other, synchronized their motions, and danced together indefinitely."

Two physical mechanical systems have been previously coupled, but never before has a real world and virtual one been mixed.  Such a breakthrough was only possible thanks to ultra-fast computing, which allowed real-time processing of the pendulum data, and real-time response.  Hubler states, "Computers are now fast enough that we can detect the position of the real pendulum, compute the dynamics of the virtual pendulum, and compute appropriate feedback to the real pendulum, all in real time."

Hubler thinks that eventually coupling of the real and virtual worlds, may lead to it being hard to tell what is real and what is fake -- a topic immortalized by generations of science fiction writers.   Hubler worries people may become defensive and paranoid in the real world, based on threats in the virtual world.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and will be presented by Hubler at the annual American Physical Society meeting, which will be held in New Orleans, March 10-14, 2008.

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So, what exactly is the point?
By Zurtex on 3/10/2008 4:51:41 PM , Rating: 3
As a mathematician looking at this I seem to be missing something.

They've created a pendulum that can be slightly manipulated by a complex computer program to slightly get closer to a theoretical model of it. The computer program can be viewed as an abstract and is slightly correlated to being closer to the real life version. All of this in a highly controlled environment, doesn't seem that exciting.

This is also not truly bidirectional, there is still going to be a small error, it would of seemed to make more sense to create a 1-1 mapping from real life to the virtual model as to exactly measure the error of the theory with a great degree of accuracy.

Can someone explain what I'm missing?

By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 3/10/2008 5:14:14 PM , Rating: 1
The breakthrough isn't exactly that they've been able to create a mixed reality state, but that via processing and feedback the device can fix the real pendulum in real time when changes occur in in the real environment that aren't expected in the virtual environment.

RE: So, what exactly is the point?
By clovell on 3/10/2008 5:15:17 PM , Rating: 3
I'm kind of seeing the same thing. The idea, from what I can gather, is to be able to accurately, and adaptively simulate reality before it happens - like some sort of real-time bayesian analysis (which probably a better term as this idea will inevitably be probability-based).

Still, there will always be lag between the stimulus and response, however minute - if there wasn't then we wouldn't have any need of a model, as we'd simply use the instantaneous (for lack of a better word) mechanism to adjust based solely on the real-world conditions - there'd be no simulation involved. The philosophical arguement seems to be headline fodder, as it simply can't happen without holding time still.

Adaptive computing simulations are useful, and I'm pretty sure they're already used in common applications like automatic transmissions among other things. Another bottleneck for this type of thing has been measurement technology its economics (you wouldn't put a breadboard on a 4x4...)

RE: So, what exactly is the point?
By RobinBee on 3/10/2008 5:18:08 PM , Rating: 2
Mixed reality can:

- Let a robot man grab an egg with a »soft hand«.
- Let a robot car drive with a »soft foot«.
- Anything in a »soft« way. Meaning clever.

It will make machines much safer. And more dangerous.

Combat robots: A young female soldier can be far away from the battlefield, with feedback sensors on her body, feeling the fight being done with her (avatar) robot. That would make a young girl a very dangerous opponent, because of her much faster reactions compared to Ordinary Man, and even helped by mixed reality technology, a »model« that anticipates what is going on. Much better than that, is currently impossible.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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