The main technology utilized by the Augmentarium is the highly popular Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, developed by CEO Brendan Iribe and chief software architect Michael Antonov, both former UMD students and current supporters of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

Augmentarium director and leader of the event, Amitabh Varshney, a professor of computer science at the University, explained the differences between augmented reality and virtual reality, both of which are developed in the Augmentarium: Essentially, augmented reality superimposes and mixes virtual content with the world around us, embedding digital information into real-world settings via special visors, glasses or cameras. Virtual reality takes this concept a step further and fools the senses of sight and hearing (and perhaps one day even touch and smell) into thinking we are in a completely different real-world setting or even a world that would otherwise be impossible to represent.

After it became clear that imagination was seemingly the only limiter on what it is possible to create, attendees were treated to a host of examples revealing how many different areas of life could be improved through advances in augmented and virtual reality.

For example, augmented reality can play a large role in helping users unpack large amounts of information around them. On the consumer side of things, attendees were shown an example of being in a grocery store (and with lightweight, comfortable eyewear) and able to automatically identify what products, for example, do not have peanuts or gluten. Unique new experiences with the arts and video games should be expected as well.

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Consumer uses for virtual and augmented reality include eyewear that can immediately show nutritional information for food products and other data for people on the go. Illustration by Brian G. Payne

In the world of public safety, attendees were shown how drones carrying cameras capable of taking gigapixel images could help law enforcement officials create a detailed augmented reality map of a sprawling national park to find a missing individual.

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Augmentarium director Amitabh Varshney shows how specific hikers on Mt. Whitney can be quickly located thanks to a combination of high quality cameras and augmented reality. Photo by Ron Bethke

Safety can also be improved on college campuses or in any large space using virtual reality technology, as a safety official could get a  better look at what’s going on around campus by being in a virtual live space thanks to the combination of a 3D model of a height map mixed with current video recordings (versus having to watch dozens of monitors that don’t give a good idea of space and timing).

Does Iron Man’s heads-up interface seem like fiction to you? Think again. Attendees were shown images of what a future solider or first responder could see through lightweight, durable visors attached to their headgear, which included constructive designations of their allies, potential IEDs, and even thermal outlines of potential enemies, all of which would simplify how to act and react in life or death situations.

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Future uses of virtual and augmented reality technology under development at the University of Maryland include military applications that can present an array of critical information needed by U.S. military personnel in a battlefield environment. Illustration by Brian G. Payne

(Next page: Augmentarium positions UMD as innovative business partner)


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