Yahoo Exploring Virtual Reality?

An interesting new patent filing from Yahoo raises a couple of interesting questions about the future of the company. It describes a wearable computing device that could be used in many ways and the patent application provides a number of examples that sound like something out of a science fiction novel I read a year or so ago.

Patent illustration of a pair of goggles that are a wearable computing device.

Something else that’s interesting is the apple on sidearm of the virtual goggles above, which the patent filing identifies as a visual power indicator. It looks surprisingly like something you would see on the back of an Apple laptop or on the main navigation bar at Apple.com. I don’t know if that has any significance at all, or if the creator of the image was having fun with the readers of the patent filing.

The pending patent application is:

Reconfiguring Reality Using a Reality Overlay Device
Invented by Chris Kalaboukis, Stephan Douris, Marc Perry, Barry Crane
Assigned to Yahoo
US Patent Application 20100103075
Published April 29, 2010
Filed: October 24, 2008

Abstract

Virtual entities are displayed alongside real world entities in a wearable reality overlay device worn by the user. Information related to an environment proximate to the wearable device is determined.

For example, a position of the wearable device may be determined, a camera may capture an image of the environment, etc. Virtual entity image information representative of an entity desired to be virtually displayed is processed based on the determined information. An image of the entity is generated based on the processed image information as a non-transparent region of a lens of the wearable device, enabling the entity to appear to be present in the environment to the user.

The image of the entity may conceal a real world entity that would otherwise be visible to the user through the wearable device. Other real world entities may be visible to the user through the wearable device.

The patent filing goes into a great amount of detail on how such a system could be set up, and is worth exploring if you want more details.

It also includes a good number of examples on ways that this wearable virtual reality device could be used:

  • Simulations for pilot and other training
  • Having lunch with virtual historical people
  • Exploring virtual landscapes, such as the lunar surface
  • Redesigning interior living spaces (virtually)
  • Living in another era or an alternative city
  • Wii type games, with simulated environments such as stadiums, bowling alleys, boxing rings, lacrosse fields, etc.
  • Capture the flag game, with a virtual flag
  • Real life Pac-man
  • A virtual maze in an open field
  • Soccer, with a virtual ball
  • A Civil War strategy game with virtual period clothing and virtual period weapons
  • Laser tag games without the laser guns
  • A mystery game, with virtual people, avatars, cartoon characters, etc., to provide clues
  • A virtual World Of Warcraft-type overlay
  • Costume parties, with virtual costumes
  • Coaching information sent to amateur and professional sports players
  • Virtual concerts shown in a park or in your living room
  • Advertising on real world objects during games

Virtual Reality Advertising

The same kind of virtual reality device is described in a Yahoo patent filing published last year, Virtual Billboards, which describes how advertising could be displayed to someone wearing goggles like the ones show above.

The virtual billboards might also be sent automatically to handheld internet enable devices when they are within a certain distance of the objects advertised. A screen shot from that patent filing shows what the virtual billboards might look like:

Patent illustration showing a city street scene with a virtual overlay showing ads and directions.

Conclusion

The patent filing only begins to brush at the surface of possible uses for wearable computing devices like the one it describes. Imagine holding a virtual meeting in a virtual meeting room with participants from around the globe. Or choosing to see virtual advertisements after viewing a product or barcode. Or visiting a museum that has created interactive virtual presentations.

I don’t know how novel or unique this kind of augmented reality or wearable computing device might be, and I suspect that Yahoo’s invention may brush up against some opposition from others who may be working on similar devices, but what interests me about this patent is that Yahoo would be exploring this area at all.

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42 thoughts on “Yahoo Exploring Virtual Reality?”

  1. It does seem an unusual venture for Yahoo! of all companies, I am sure there must be other more technology orientated companies that are already exploiting virtual reality technologies and experimenting.

    The concept however is pretty awesome and if this would allow the possibility of holding a virtual meeting in a virtual meeting room with participants from around the globe then this kind of technology around the corner shall be something I will look forward to, heh.

  2. This is it! I was talking with a friend the other day about the future of the net. It’s going to go 3D like this. Think about how car makers out date something by going more curved, or a movie or visual piece goes more 3D, that has to be the next step. No more 2D web pages….

  3. This is kinda exciting. It’s like a whole new world if you have this one. I’m looking forward to having lunch with virtual historical people. it would be a great experience!

  4. Erm… don’t really quite know what to make of this! Have Yahoo been watching too many movies!?

  5. 3D webpages sound like a great way to sell more monitors. All new at first, then there is the replacement market for people who try to “touch” or “reach into” this new box thingy. Maybe it will go that way with 3D TV as well.

  6. Great thing, I thought only James Bond is wearing those things. Is it possbile to look into peoples minds ? Just kidding, nice future trend.

  7. This is something that I’ve thought would work for some time. Imagine being a tourist in a foreign city and wearing a VR headset like this in order to find your way to your destination. Also, assuming that the device is Wifi enabled, the application for geo-location social media (like foursquare) is virtually endless.

  8. Hi Geoff,

    That virtual meeting would be pretty interesting. I’ve sat through a number of video conferences, and while they can be great cost and time savers, it’s not the same as being in the same room with others.

    It would be interesting for Yahoo to develop this, though I’m still puzzled about that apple on the side of the goggles.

  9. Hi Andrew,

    For some reason I was reminded of the Star Trek holodeck while reading this. Imagine accompanying Sherlock Homes while solving a mystery, or sitting in the Lunar Module with Neil Armstrong. It could be fun and educational. A great way to teach things like history, even.

  10. Hi Keith,

    Been seeing ads on TV for 3D televisions, and I’m not sure what they are actually selling – haven’t spent the time to look them up yet.

    Something like this could take us away from desktop computers almost completely.

  11. Hi Web Design Surrey,

    They may have been. Then again, it’s nice to see something like this come from a company like Yahoo that appears to be a step past what they often publish.

  12. Hi Alan,

    Good to see you. Hope everything is well.

    You had to wonder what would be next for TV after HD. 3D sounds pretty reasonable, especially with games like the Wii.

    Then again, would something like these visors take away visitors to the Web?

  13. Hi ZachKaloon,

    Thanks. I imagine the military has some things they haven’t told us about, and haven’t declassified that might make something like this look tame. It has to be cheaper to similate flight training with an approach like this then to send people up in the air.

  14. Hi Jonathan,

    The idea of a virtual tour guide, or something that could provide translations of signs automatically, or other ways of making it easier to be a tourist. That would be pretty interesting, too. I would image that a device like this would have a wireless connection, so social applications would be possible as well. It’s possible that the camera feed it uses could be shared with others, I’d guess.

  15. It’s awesome! That would be a great asset to Yahoo if it can make it possible world wide! When it available, I believe this will be one of the best next generation revolutionaries!

  16. Hi Allen,

    I guess if Yahoo was serious enough about this hardware to file a patent on it, they may be serious enough to actually develop it. I’d like to see it.

  17. Sounds and looks exactly like the ARI (Added Reality Interface) in the videogame Heavy Rain. I mean exactly, sans apple logo of course. To think, when I played the game I found it a stretch that such technology would be available in an otherwise modern setting, even in the hands of a special FBI agent. Of course, the yahoo patent doesn’t read and match DNA like the ARI, but it’s a lot closer than I would have thought we’d come in the next few years.

  18. Hi Ryan,

    I haven’t had the chance to play Heavy Rain, but it’s interesting that there are so many similarities. I don’t know if Yahoo will develop the device, but it would be interesting if they did. A Vernor Vinge novel from a couple of years ago, Rainbows End, included contact lenses that allowed you to experience virtual reality overlays like these goggles do, and it was set about 25 years from now. It also had an interesting twist on the Google book scanning project that played a major role in the storyline of the book.

  19. Hi SEO Gibraltar,

    It was a nice surprise to see this particular patent filing – it makes it look like Yahoo has their minds on something fairly innovative that’s somewhat outside the core of what they are doing now.

    It would also be surprising to see them develop something like this, but if they do we may have to look at it as possibly more than a cool gimmick, especially if the public warms to it. Given the popularity of things like the Wii, there may be something to this that would capture people’s attention.

  20. Wow. This will definitely revolutionize the world of advertising! This is simply amazing, you’re walking around town and just see where things are with your goggles!! Even if they are miles away.

    This isn’t something Yahoo usually does but good luck to them because if this goes out to the markets and if it is fairly priced i will definitely get myself a pair!

  21. Hi Rakeback,

    There are possibilities that extend beyond advertising as well. For instance, these goggles could be great educational tools as similators for different activities, as translation devices, as real time historical lessons for different locations, and more.

  22. Virtual Reality will be a part of our lives in a few years ahead. Today’s technology has the capability, its just a matter of time when this technology becomes affordable & economical for business.

  23. Hi Joy,

    We do have virtual reality already in places like Second Life, and I believe they have filed at least one patent for technology that allows someone to sense things going on around them as if they were on the Web. Wearable computers have also been around for a while as well, and I suspect that technologies like the iPhone and Google Android are becoming more and more comfortable to many people. I think I agree that goggles like the ones described here could just be part of our lives in the not too distant future.

  24. Wow. I can’t wait for this to be actually manufactured. This would essentially eliminate the need for all hallucinogenic drugs!

    And I don’t know; could the apple logo on the side belay an upcoming merger between Yahoo and Macintosh?

  25. Hi Daryn,

    Yes, there do seem to be a wide range of possible uses of this combination of real world environment with a virtual reality overlay, from recreational to educational to business related.

    I’m a little more prone to think that “apple” is more likely someone’s idea of a visual sight gag than a hint at a merger. The patent was filed back in October of 2008, so I’m guessing we would have heard more about a potential Yahoo/Apple merger if one was being considered. Having written that, I was surprised to see that logo there. :)

  26. It definitely seems like something straight out of a sci fi movie. But at the same time, if it were actually produced it would be damn cool. Thinking about the future never gets boring.

  27. Hi TechDubDoob,

    The future does offer an incredible amount of opportunities. I’d love to see something like this come out sometime soon.

    Some great examples in the patent filing as well. If you watch NFL games on TV, one piece of “virtual” reality that we see on our screens is the yellow line that shows where a team needs to go for a first down. Imagine a quarterback wearing goggles like this that show that information, and much more.

  28. Interesting; though I really don’t pay much attention to Yahoo! as in our little part of the world (South Africa) they enjoy a tiny market share and are probably consistently out-gunned by Bing.

  29. Hi Matt,

    The virtual reality type device described in this patent is one that goes fairly far outside of the “core” operations of Yahoo’s site, as it is. I don’t know if Yahoo would consider building this device, but if they do, it seems like the kind of thing that might succeed or fail independently of Yahoo’s online market share presence – somewhat like xBox being independent of Bing.

  30. Hi Bill,

    I had the opportunity to work for a Virtual Reality company in 1994/1995.

    We charged $5 / game to play whether it took 30 seconds or 10 minutes. Your movements whether standing or seated were very true to life. The games were definitely addictive and we would have to watch for people almost passing out, going into seizures or literally getting lost within the virtual world. Many times, people would break into heavy sweats or we would have to talk them back to Earth so to speak. Scary indeed!

    While our main concentration was arcade games, the hot topic was always the capabilities of VR for training surgeons on difficult procedures. Back then, the head gear was much bulkier, but looking back, the technology was pretty advanced considering where desktop computing and mobile devices were 16 years ago.

  31. Hi Greg,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with Virtual Reality technology. I wish the technology you’re talking about was available where I was living back then, but it wasn’t. I would have liked to try it out.

    There seems to be an incredible amount of things that you could potentially do with virtual reality, from using simulators to train people, to education, to playing games, and more. I don’t know if Yahoo is going to be joining in by offering the technology their patent describes to the public, but if they don’t, I imagine that someone else will.

  32. Heh, virtual reality. It’s something else isn’t it? Back when I was growing up in the 80′s and 90′s it was amazing to see the games become more and more advanced. Now we are stumbling upon virtual reality. We will see some crazy stuff before we are dead!

    What scares me is the idea of World of Warcraft type virtual reality. That can’t be healthy for anyone. The law certainly won’t protect us, so nothing will.

    Great post! Thank you

    - Jon

  33. Hi Jon,

    I was always a big pinball fan, and never really got into video games because I wanted something “real” that I could interact with. It looks like virtual reality might bring us that sense of “real” in games of the future, possibly even those WOW games.

  34. Bien si esta Tecnologia es super impresionante.
    dejame decirte que la que esta a punto de llegar
    a nuestras manos frisara tu mente,no se si todavia
    estaremos listos para esta tecnologia.

    Su nombre es: Video Futurista Integrado, O Yahoo Reality TM.

    yo tube la opurtunidad de usarlo,es algo unico es algo tu lo vas a tener
    contigo pero aun asi no lo podras creer que es real.
    suena imposible pero es Real.

  35. At the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) I already tried on a set of experimental augmented reality glasses and that was really cool already – though ugly. This one looks fashionable :) Funny thing Yahoo is jumping into this… And I’m also intrigued by the Apple-logo… Will it be possible to hook up my iPhone and fling angry birds at my collegues’ heads? I’d love that! Anyway, thanks for posting!

  36. Hi Harry

    Sounds like fun. I’d like to get my hands on a pair of goggles like this.

    We don’t know if Yahoo will move forward with this invention, but I’d like to see it. I could see goggles like this working with handheld computing devices.

  37. i’ve never thought that these things would be even in such a state… do you know if there is a video that shows live what it does?
    I saw yesterday (april fools) gmail motion and i thought that such things are nowhere near. The youtube video is here (very good job by google) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu927_ul_X0

  38. Hi Alex,

    We don’t know for certain if Yahoo has actually developed these Goggles, or even have a working prototype. It would be interesting if they did.

    The Gmail motion video was pretty interesting. Johnny Chung Lee, who was one of the key members of the team working on Kinect for Microsoft joined Google not too long ago, which may lead to some interesting developments.

  39. This is another great example of how technology can be extremely beneficial (training doctors and pilots) and completely recreational (real life Pac Man). If my reality will be augmented or altered in any way, count me in. I can always ignore the virtual billboards.

  40. Hi Jacob,

    There was some speculation on a number of tech blogs recently that Google may be coming out with some kind of “virtual realty” goggles. They might beat Yahoo to the punch here. Yahoo’s been in a lot of disarray lately, and I don’t know if we’ll see something like this come from them. But I would like to.

  41. This definately is the next step, as previously said. Websites will never be the same again. Multiplayer online gaming, fps, RPGs . Trying on clothes, shoes. Sims for real! . With kinect you could place yourself in there too. Weird times ahead but amazing. I looove technology, and hope we find a way to save our planet from destruction before it too late…
    Also, one thing I think will happen is that the quality of picture on these things in the future will become truly amazing. However it won’t last against the holosuite which will then be the next step.

    VR Rules!……. for now

    Cheers ;0)

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