Stumbled across one of the most stunning augmented reality environments on a bustling market street in Seoul this evening. It's called Royal Grand Prix Derby Racing (On Air). Inside it's darkened, quiet and smoky room, are row and row of illuminated consoles quietly and occupied by contemplative men huddled over large displays chock-a-block with data, concentrating on the task at hand â€” handicapping. It's a fully immersive handicappers sports book! These guys are betting on an entirely virtual horse race. Up on the large, bright wall-to-wall display is a remarkably compelling computer generated experience of being at the track. The point-of-view is that of a TV camera capturing all the action, from paddock views and running commentary, to the horses being trotted up to the starting gate and, of course, the racing action.
I was slack-jawed. What a brilliant execution. When you're in the room, it's like being in a Vegas sports book or perhaps a more well-groomed O.T.B. parlor.
Evidently, according to my middling guide book betting on horse racing is gaining in popularity. There's a Seoul Equestrian Park and a Jeju Race Track. There are betting limits of between 100 – 1,000,000 Won â€” about 10 cents to 1,000 US dollars. Until the late 1990s strictly controlled gambling in the country was limited only to non-Koreans, except for those who worked in the casinos. Even still, tehre is only one casino that permits entrance to Koreans. Presently there are about 13 hotel-casinos in the country for the recreation of foreigners.
In the Milgrim and Kishino's canonical taxonomy of mixed reality displays, there is explicated a â€œ'virtuality continuum' which connects completely real environments to completely virtual ones.â€? Where would Royal Derby Racing (On Air) fit in such a continuum? It's more than a display; it's almost an â€œexperienceâ€? coupled with a reasonably well constructed â€œenvironmentâ€? before it's any particular sort of display technique. And if I decided it was more of an augmented reality, I wouldn't say such because it uses a display that overlays computer-generated material on the real world. It is a kind of overlay, but not the simple instrumental variety. More of an augmentation of what is possible to experience, rather than tossing some numbers and glyphs up on a pair of VR glasses.
Why do I blog this? Because it's a really compelling instance of immersive VR that actually â€œworksâ€?, meaning that it technical operates but also is, evidently, commercially viable. It sustains itself without NSF grants or arts grants. And it's occupied by people who aren't themselves occupied with technical minutiae, but with a desire to actually engage the experience as it was designed to be experienced. It's beyond the tendency of research-lab-VR-wonks to make stuff that's pure concept and is only cool so long as it's a little bit better than the previous thing but still beyond the legibility of an audience much wider than the seventeen researchers interested in spending many $100,000 on whacky tech.