.::..Nicholas Sagan..::. …:.::..artworks and experiments…::.:…nicholassagan@gmail.com

CV is the new VR

Computer vision is both the antithesis and logical evolution of virtual or augmented reality.  It could be argued that computer vision IS augmented reality, which is a complex form of virtual reality.  But of course, I can’t just make a claim like that point blank.  Well, I could, but I have to make sure there is something driving that point blank claim.  Which I will attempt to do.  To understand how the relationship between humans and computers (and computer imaging) has evolved we could go WAY back to the early days of computers.  But I’m no expert on the history of computers or virtual reality in any sense.  I am just trying to sound out some ideas…

If we go back to Myron Krueger, the s0-called founder of virtual reality, we find responsive computer-generated imaging systems.  These creations used forms of computer vision, rather than the bulky, stereo-typical interfaces that have so seeded beliefs of what VR is…so he is a good place to start.  Krueger’s environments were usually projected into a space that allowed people other than the “activator” to take part in the production of the aesthetic.  This, I think, is diametrically opposed to The Cave, an immersive VR environment developed at the Electronics Visualization Laboratory (EVL) here in Chicago back in the 70’s.  In order to activate The Cave’s visuals the viewer had to adorn bulky sensors that transmitted position data to the imaging system.  The viewers movements were what determined the point of view/perspective and other variables of the environment.  However, these movements were limited to the enclosed area of The Cave, which in reality wasn’t terribly large.  Krueger’s interactive works used much larger spaces and since cameras were the main movement-to-data-to-image creating device, the viewer’s movements were “restricted” to the field of view of the camera (or more specifically the fields setup within the camera’s field, see earlier DGP posts).

Now, a viewer can have much more mobility and thus options for interacting with the environment.  Of course, the restrictions are completely dependent on the system which detects those movements…But say we place a camera on the roof of a tall building and the whole panorama of a few blocks is within it’s field of view.  Already this is an environment much larger, and arguably more responsive, than The Cave.  The trick here is getting this large system to respond to smaller bits of information and in larger quantities.  One example of a version of this is Golan Levin’s robot eye thing at Carnegie Mellon.  He installed this robot eye stalk to track visitors as they entered the building.  If they stopped in their tracks the eye would hold on them.  If they moved left or right the eye would follow.  But one of the limitations was that it was a single line of sight, that is, one eye viewing one eye.  The system tracked to movements of a single object to create a more “intimate” experience while at the same time being played out on the scale of a courtyard to a building.  It would be easy to expand this system or one similar so that it could respond to say, a crowd of people.  In fact, systems like these have been implemented for surveillance purposes…

But the point is computer vision has accomplished what VR set out to do in many ways.  VR has moved into other realms such as internet environments and video games.  THOSE are virtual reality environments.  Games like Second Life, The Sims, etc, etc are all within that category (I would also argue that social networking sites are examples of virtual reality as well).  The role of VR in the production of aesthetics has been given to computer vision.  As soon as you remove the limiting interfaces the aesthetic possibilities expand exponentially.  A camera in a room can solicit a greater range of responses from the “activants”…note PLURAL.  This does not mean to say that VR is a one-at-a-time kind of thing, but that a CV system can be designed to handle more input(s).

So, in these ways it seems that computer vision has taken the place of virtual reality, which has moved into something quite different compared to where the progenitors of it thought it would lead.  Again, I don’t claim to know a complete history of virtual reality OR computer vision (but more so on the CV side) and these are just thoughts or offerings into a larger historical/contemporary line of inquiry.  As my research and development into projects utilizing these forms continues more insights will undoubtedly arise.

0 Responses to CV is the new VR

  1. Something like that.

    I don’t think computer vision is replacing VR. Advances in computer vision will accelerate advances in Augmented Reality, which will in turn, lead to advances in Virtual Reality. It’s all coming…

    “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” — William Gibson

    Nice model building, by the way.

    You should give my blog a glance (GigantiCo.tv).
    I think it might interest you.


    • Thanks for the reply, Chris!

      While I agree that all three fields under discussion (CV, AR and VR) all exist in sort of symbiosis with one another, computer vision is becoming a tool used by artists more and more as both a means for aesthetic production and as interfaces with aesthetic environments. Whereas it seems that Virtual Reality (not AR, necessarily) has gone the route of specialized training and/or video games (some military training programs ARE video games…). Computer vision has also broken past many of the limitations of virtual reality, especially considering the interactive and aesthetic qualities of The Cave. So the argument isn’t necessarily that computer vision is replacing virtual reality per se, but that it is becoming more of a tool for production of aesthetics where VR has gone a different route.

      However, there are notable exceptions to both of these fields (here I am considering Augmented Reality to be a separate discussion for the moment). Computer Vision has somewhat similar roots with Virtual Reality but different in the sense that much of it’s early development has resided in medical and engineering, whereas VR, at least the conceptual grounding for it, came about as a more aesthetically driven force.

      And of course there are artists who have done some amazing work in VR, Char Davies for example and there has been some remarkable engineering feats that utilize CV, such as the stereo imaging cameras on the Mars Rovers. Back to one of the first points, all of these fields are interconnected and one can highly impact the development of the other. Here again, I agree with you.

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