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Society 3.0: Technology Trends, Section 3.7 Excerpt

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Following is an excerpt from excerpt from "Society 3.0", by Tracey Wilen-Daugenti Immersion, Gaming, and Robotics

For many people, their introduction to immersive technologies may have been that first visit to the local IMAX theatre, where everyone wore special glasses to watch images seem to jump off the big screen, endowing viewers with a sense of being part of the action. Today, the IMAX 3D experience has evolved considerably, and we have the option of not only being a part of the action, but also being able to respond, communicate, and interact with digital objects and environments in meaningful ways.

The movie Avatar is considered a tipping point in the U.S. for transforming 3D technology into a mainstream expectation for U.S. audiences (“The Champions of 3D,” 2011). This feeling of immersion, or the blending of artificial and real environments, is garnering attention as a powerful tool for enhancing many areas of our daily lives, whether it’s shopping online for new clothes or walking through ancient cultures in museums as a way to enrich our understanding of distant times and places.

Immersion technology is also being actively employed in the world of gaming, where participants create avatars, or digital alter egos that represent their virtual characters, to engage in 3D virtual environments. Over the period of a human generation, gaming has evolved from a feature of mall arcades and something played on cumbersome game systems and early home computers, to a sophisticated immersion experience taking place in virtual worlds.

Internet gaming today is going mobile on cell phones and other portable devices (Eskelsen, Marcus, & Ferree, 2009). Rather than using games as an opportunity to sit down face-to-face to challenge a single opponent, members of this new generation of game players are engaging with thousands of others online in avatar form.

As immersion and gaming technologies make inroads into our everyday lives, robotics technology is also figuring more prominently in our work world, complementing many human tasks with greater safety and speed. While the ability of machines to do human work has always been the lore of science fiction, real-world applications are unfolding in robotics-assisted surgery, deep-sea oil exploration, and search-and-rescue missions during natural disasters.

Rather than being considered futuristic, robotics, as well as immersive environments and online gaming are the emerging technologies of today and are actively being pursued and researched for uses in education, the military, medical research and practice, and the aerospace, automotive, construction, and manufacturing industries, as well as the corporate and business worlds for teaching, training, and management.

A brief overview of these technologies will show their impact on society, work, and education, and how virtual worlds, gaming, and robotics are imperceptibly informing our lives in new and different ways.

Immersion Technologies

Immersion is the state of being in which users are so absorbed by events and interactions within a virtual world that their consciousness of the physical world is diminished, and one’s awareness of the physical self is lost amid a total, often artificial environment (“Immersion [virtual reality],” n.d.). This experience is also referred to as virtual reality.

Users can immerse themselves through computer-generated digital images and worlds. These virtual worlds are synchronous, persistent networks of people, represented by avatars and facilitated by computers. They are increasingly important to adults and children alike, and can influence how they buy, work, and learn (Bell, 2008).

The growth and development of virtual worlds are continually evolving as new technologies and platforms are created and researchers find innovative ways to integrate their capabilities for enhanced visual images and experiences. Some immersion technologies gaining traction among users include 3D, virtual systems, and augmented reality.

3D Technology

3D technology can be traced as far back as 1838, when Sir Charles Wheatstone first described a phenomenon called stereopsis, or the process of overlapping two identical images to create a three-dimensional effect for the human eyes (Sniderman, 2011). Today, 3D technology is being deployed in the movie, video, and TV industries in creative ways.

3D TV has especially gained some interest in recent years among viewers. Two images are presented on the screen that show objects from slightly different angles, and when viewers use special glasses for viewing the screen, the images combine, offering an illusion of depth (Katzmaier, 2010). Many companies are still refining the technology behind 3D TV, and the cost is still high for the average consumer. Some barriers to widespread adoption of 3D TV include whether viewers will actually don the glasses required for viewing on a regular basis, and the expense associated with the shutter glass for 3D viewing (“Who Needs It?”, 2008). Other challenges include the availability of 3D cameras and entertainment-industry technicians with stereoscopic production skills, and the overall costs of 3D filmmaking, which are about three times higher than recording and broadcasting in HD (Wood, 2010).

Source: Motion Picture Association of America, “Theatrical Market Statistics 2009,” retrieved from http://www.mpaa.org/Resources/091af5d6-faf7–4f58–9a8e-405466c1c5e5.pdf

With improvement in the technology, however, sales of 3D TVs are expected to rise dramatically. Displaybank, a consumer-display market research group, reported in mid-2010 that 6.2 million sets would be sold globally that year, or 3% of all TVs, and predicted a market share of 31%, or 83 million sets, by 2014 (Displaybank, 2010).

Streaming Internet videos online is another venue where 3D technology is being actively researched by high-tech companies. The idea is to offer 3D movies to be played on devices that are already equipped with 3D viewing technology, such as video game consoles. Many companies, such as Samsung, already offer a TV app to view trailers for 3D movies (Katzmaier, 2010).

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