Tuesday, April 2, 2019

2020 Approaches - Augmented Unreality and Entertainment

Recent events in the technology industry remind us that research and development are progressing at an ever accelerating rate. Specifically, the recent SPIE Advanced Lithography conference in San Francisco, ASML joined the eBeam Initiative and SXSW (the South by South West show in Austin, TX). The examples I mention here illustrate the progression of new technologies being deployed, sometimes in advance of our expectations. More critical observers might complain that the newest technologies have yet to be deployed. While we wait anxiously for new high tech toys, we might also take notice of the social trends shaping our society. We’ve seen examples of how human culture and lifestyle change when infused with smart phones and instant access to almost everything. Our language is becoming more technical and our culture is evolving.

Today’s technology/social curve is such that we ask if culture emulates technology or does technology emulate our culture? The question has become familiar cliche. Watching TV one evening my smart phone spoke spontaneously. It was the Google gal who quipped, “I didn’t get that. Did you say something?” I laughed aloud when I realized the Google gal (my name for her) had been listening all along and was responding to a key word she heard on the TV. After a brief laugh of amusement I turned her listening mode off and changed settings to require a keyboard awakening. Tweaking hardware has become more complex. Computer graphics overlaid on real time video screens now appear as heads up displays in our cars and on our smart phones. Such applications are limited only by our imagination and have been marketed as “augmented reality.”

Augmented Unreality

If we examine current trends we begin to see augmented unreality. Special effects and graphic overlays can now seamlessly enhance computer generated unreality and make us question our sensory perceptions. The motion picture “Avatar” is a great example. 

For many years I’ve been a fan of Asian pop music. Several weeks ago I discovered a collection of music videos produced by the Japanese pop group “Perfume”.  A three girl group, Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A-Chan are very popular in Japan and are known for their techno-pop music genre. In sampling their video collection I discovered their live 2015 SXSW stage performance of “Story” which I’ve termed augmented unreality.  As the show opens the stage and audience are overlaid with a three dimensional projection which convincingly displaces the immediate surroundings. Accompanied by a high tech sound track the unique effects were unexpected and rewarded with howls of approval by the audience. A 3D change in visual perspective was achieved by rotating the overlay and clever use of layered projection screens on the stage. Studying the video several times it appears that at least two layers of the screen panels are fabricated from optically switched glass such that alternate states of transparency and translucence are used to create a dynamically altered visual display. The technique is used to maximum effect as Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A-Chan maneuver among the panels changing their positioning and perspective on the fly. As if to tease the audience the visually obscured girls suddenly emerge from behind the panels as if to say “Yes, we’re really here.” The crowd roared again. I blinked my eyes several times to confirm my perception and found myself laughing in amazement at the illusion. Perfume’s performance is awesome and beyond verbal description. See for yourself on YouTube. Perfume’s “Story”

In March of 2018, Japanese television network NHK featured another live performance by Perfume. The title for this event is billed as “Reframe, Fusion, Perfume x Technology.” In actually it’s an elaborately repackaged version of “Story.” As an abstract performance it’s difficult to describe but is a must see. It artistically emulates a life/story portrayal in high tech fashion. The final segment “Interlude” exudes technology and seems to embody the physics of optics, memory, metrology and electron beams. Watch the video and decide for yourself. I found my self amazed at the visuals. Perfume has the assistance of skilled technologists required to produce their imaginatively sophisticated videos. We must pay tribute to their off stage effects team. Great Stuff! I highly recommend you view the music video “Reframe, Fusion, Perfume x Technology” but set aside thirty minutes for viewing as you’ll likely re-run segments of interest. See Perfume’s “Reframe, Fusion, Perfume x Technology” video here:

A closing thought prompted by Perfume. Years ago I became interested in stained glass art. I bought some colorful glass pieces and made a few items for practice, one of them a small blue pyramid. For years I kept it on my dresser top as a decorative item. A few days ago I ran across another timely music video by Perfume, "Tokyo Girl.” It reminded me of the small glass pyramid I had made. The video opens with Tokyo Tower in the foreground which becomes dwarfed by a high rise computer crafted spire created for the video. Now, where's that pyramid I made? Watch and enjoy.
It's inspiring to see technologists advancing the state of the art (and artists) such that inspiration and emulation create new vistas in entertainment.  2020 Should prove interesting.

Get real everyone.  Spring time approaches!

Best regards to all,
Thomas D. Jay

Semiconductor Industry Consultant
Thomas D. Jay YouTube Channel

Thomas D. Jay is a member of SPIE and IEEE.

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References and acknowledgements:

[1] Perfume Music Video SXSW "Story" YouTube

[2] Perfume Music Video
“Reframe, Fusion, Perfume x Technology” YouTube

[3] Perfume Music Video "Tokyo Girl" YouTube