Japanese researchers continue to blur the virtual-real world boundary

A couple of projects by Japanese researchers show that work in the area of augmented or mixed reality is really pushing the boundary between the real and virtual worlds. Michihiko Shoji, a researcher at the Yokohama Nationa University Venture Business Laboratory, has developed a virtual humanoid called U-Tsu-Shi-O-Mi. The robot is covered in a green cloth skin and a head-mounted VR system virtually maps a human avatar onto the robot. The user wearing the display can then interact physically with the robot to add a sense of touch to their virtual interactions with the avatar.

The second project relates to the very specialized field of brain-computer interface (BCI), which relates to technologies that are able to allow humans to mentally control computers. Researcher at the Keio University Biomedical Engineering Laboratory have actually developed a system where a user wearing a headpiece that monitors brain activity in certain areas can actually cause an on-screen avatar to move in Second Life. The research is in the early stages, but the lab has a video online that shows their project in action (the page is in Japanese, but if you look above the photos, you’ll see the video links to either Windows or Macintosh versions).

I am sure all kinds of Matrix and Minority Report analogies come to mind, but it’s just unbelievable sometimes how fast research is moving in these areas, certainly faster than our ability to deal with a lot issues related to the use of these kinds of technologies in the future.

Via Pink Tentacle

Nobel Peace Prize for Climate Change

Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I think this is one of the first Nobel Peace Prizes awarded for an area that is dominated by physical geography. Wangari Muta Maathai won in 2004 for her work in sustainable development, which is the other prize focusing on physical geographic issues. I find it interesting the Nobel people are turning more and more to areas beyond human conflict when recognizing impacts on world peace. The Nobel Institute gives out several prizes in a range of disciplines, but I think the peace prize is the most recognized. It’s also the only slot in which geography fits nicely (although you can make a strong case for Economics). Hopefully this prize might help raise geographic awareness around the world.