Saturday, March 31, 2012

Like Reality, But Better

While browsing the technology news recently, I kept coming across the term “Augmented Reality (AR).”  Not being familiar with augmented reality, but being always curious, I decided to investigate exactly what it is.  As it turns out, it’s awesome, so I’m gonna blog about it.

I’m sure you’ve heard of virtual reality.  Virtual reality refers to computer-generated worlds or environments in which a user can explore and interact with virtual objects.  Of course, under that definition, pretty much any video game counts as a virtual reality, but the more popular, science-fiction concept of virtual reality is that of a person completely immersed in a simulated environment, interacting with computer-generated objects, like the holodeck on Star Trek, or the Danger Room of the X-Men, or the world of the Matrix (just to name a few fictional examples).  While modern VR technology isn’t nearly as advanced as it is in sci-fi, this technology is being used and experimented with these days not only for the obvious gaming applications, but for various sorts of military training, and medical applications.

Augmented reality
is a little different.  Instead of creating virtual worlds, AR technology superimposes virtual data onto the real world, essentially enhancing the real world with computer-generated graphics.  This actually isn’t such a new or uncommon concept – if you have a smartphone, you have access to augmented reality technology.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Soundtrack of the Jurassic

Possibly the most amazing aspect of paleontology is not what we know about ancient life on Earth, but how we know what we do.  After all, most of what researchers have to work with is simply bones or impressions of bodies in the dirt; how much could we possibly be able to tell about the life of an ancient organism?  Well, the most challenging – and rewarding – part of a paleontologist’s job is finding ways to use the limited material they have to go beyond simple anatomy and make exciting inferences about prehistoric life: bite marks on fossil bone can tell us about predator-prey interactions; footprints can give us an idea of how ancient animals moved; I’ve posted before (twice actually) about how recent discoveries have actually allowed us to infer the color of ancient creatures.  Well, a new study based on an exceptional fossil katydid – yes, bugs can be fossils too! – is now not only filling out our picture of what the age of the dinosaurs looked like, but also giving us insight into what it sounded like.