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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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RE: Say What
By Parhel on 3/10/2008 4:58:30 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not following you. The 'real' pendulum is the one that physically exists and has physical properties such as mass.

And how is this categorically different from the kind of software that already exists to monitor automobiles, production line equipment, etc.? Software adjusts the behavior of the real (physical) system to make it behave like a simulated one.

The excitable physicist reminds me of a recent trip I made to the art museum. There was a canvas painted entirely black, with a three page explanation attached to tell you why you should think that it's significant. I bet someone paid a lot of money for that painting too.

RE: Say What
By BoxCutterLou on 3/10/2008 5:10:05 PM , Rating: 2
I know this is a stretch, but you could potentially pick something up in the computer environment( say your very heavy dresser or fridge) and move it with out ever touching the real physical thing. Well thats where I percieve this kinda tech is headed. but what do i know. I still don't understand how we won't beable to tell whats real and whats not unless its used for vr. And all i want in life is a vr helmet. They have 50 yrs to make one before I'm probably dead. Get on it!

RE: Say What
By Silver2k7 on 3/10/2008 6:13:33 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah bring on the vr =)

It just need some sensor(s) to detect the real world then add some layer of vr into the real world.. only visible for the ones wearing the helmet/glasses of course.. then you can have mixed reality vr games :D

RE: Say What
By DASQ on 3/10/2008 11:04:55 PM , Rating: 2
Okay, think of it this way: (this will seem kind of ridiculous, but just read it to the end :))

Your skin is biomechanical (like the Terminator). At the same time you feel sensation (and the electricity races up to your brain through the appropriate nerve clusters), the same 'feeling' is sent to a computer. If the computer has some kind of infinite bandwidth and CPU power, it can essentially duplicate everything you see, feel, smell, taste and hear (information). Like a super realistic video game, except you 'play' it with your own body.

Following me so far?

Now, if the computer instead 'hijacks' your senses, and says, creates the image and smell of a pie (let's say blueberry) on a windowsill, how can you tell if that pie is real or not? The computer is telling your eyes there is a blueberry pie on the windowsill. You see steam rising from the little holes in the top, and you smell it's flaky delicious crust and hot filling. But as you walk forward to pick up the pie, the computer tells your hands (brain) that you have a hot pie in your hands that weighs 1.3lbs, and otherwise perfectly obeys our known laws of physics.

How can you tell if the pie is real or not?
Kind of a basic example of how the illusion can be translated into our reality.

I think the usages listed in the article are pretty basic and nowhere near as 'whoah' as the Matrix comparison.

Think of a robot arm. It welds two pieces of metal together. Simple. Now the computer program is following along, movement for movement, tracking the arm. If the computer program detects the physical robot arm has gone off by 1nm (say, a gear is getting slightly rusty, or one side is lubricated better than the other), the computer can correct it in real time and put the arm back on track. The mistake will be still be there, but it was caught almost as soon as it started (far more efficient than human error correction). The arm doesn't realize it is off by such a tiny amount because it can't actively track everything. It think it's okay. A human brain can tell if his drawing looks 'off' ever so slightly, but a computer would normally need time to analyze the differences between the source and the actual output.

It's not that it was "omg impossible" before, it was simply never accurate to this level. Meaning we can now start mimicking the experience of the Matrix.

RE: Say What
By JustTom on 3/11/2008 11:32:29 AM , Rating: 2
How can you tell if the pie is real or not?

I could tell when I bit into it and the blueberry goodness does not end up in my belly.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm pie.....

RE: Say What
By KristopherKubicki on 3/11/2008 1:36:17 AM , Rating: 2
And how is this categorically different from the kind of software that already exists to monitor automobiles, production line equipment, etc.? Software adjusts the behavior of the real (physical) system to make it behave like a simulated one.

Software that monitors cruise control, for example, is typically just a mechanical system. If its not a mechanical system, its some sort of analog transform that just compensates for jitter.

What they're doing here is actually simulating what should occur (in this instance, where the pendulum should be without friction) and what actually does occur, and then compensating for it.

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