Augmented Reality is Already Here and Has Been for a Long Time

After finishing up my exams, I managed to get my 1970 Volkswagen Beetle out for a number of drives with the family while enjoying what’s left of summer.  I really like driving my Beetle.  It is a true analog experience.  vwbugThe cable throttle is linear and responds to my inputs as I would expect.  The clutch is also moved by cable and gives excellent feedback as to when it is about to engage.   The lack of electric power steering (or any power steering for that matter) gives good feedback to the road conditions.  The brake pedal requires a high amount of force, but braking is linear in response.

Lately there has been much talk of augmented and virtual reality regarding how it is going to change the way we live.  But I have some news for you: it is already here and it is frequently used in our cars.  For example,  since 2012 the Volkswagen GTI utilizes something called the Soundaktor (no – I’m not making that up! –!).  The Soundaktor produces artificial engine noises to ‘enhance’ the driving experience.  Volkswagen isn’t only company using electronics to create artificial sound; numerous other car manufactures use the car’s entertainment unit.

Nearly all new cars today (in North America) utilize throttle by wire: a sensor in the throttle pedal communicates with a computer which turns the throttle plate.  This allows manufactures to program how they want the accelerator to respond, and it’s the reason you’ll find some cars you drive are very sensitive on the throttle response and others more relaxed.   Electronic stability control is required by law ( since 2012.  In these systems microprocessors change the response of the throttle and braking system (or our human inputs) to try to maintain control of the vehicle if it senses wheel slippage or other out of control movements.  There are numerous other examples of computers used to alter or influence the actual response of a system – regardless of human input.

If your Soundaktor is always pumping in simulated sound into your car, how do you know what your car really should sound like?  What happens if you end up in a situation where the programmed routine isn’t sufficient for the situation you find yourself in?  This constant surge forward to digitize our analog world unfortunately warps our sense of who we are, what we are capable of, and warps the physical world that we live in.

Technology that augments reality and helps us do things better is not always a bad thing and allows us to do things we couldn’t do on our own; however operating in a true analog world is also a skill that is very important to develop, maintain, and is a fundamental part of who we are.  This is why it is so important for kids to have play time outside.

It’s why I have a manual lathe, manual mill, and 1940s shaper in the garage, and why I really like driving my Volkswagen Beetle.  I guess it is my play time outside.

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