Sunday, December 12, 2010

NASCAR in the sky: will ‘augmented reality’ replace the real thing?

            By Dave Stancliff/ For the Times Standard
 I suspect cavemen raced wild dogs. There’s no way to know if  they bet their best club on a swift dog, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Man’s need for speed started somewhere.
Canines evolved into Greyhounds that streak around man-made tracks today - the product of generations of men breeding them for speed.
We like speed so much we’ve run against one another in foot races since we learned to stand upright. Modern man has resurrected ancient man’s need for speed by bringing back the Olympic Games every four years to who are the fastest man and woman in the world. Another ancient form of speed competition is horse racing. The sport is still really popular. A recent movie was made about a horse named “Secretariat” who won the fabled Triple Crown in American horse racing.
The invention of cars allowed for speeds men never dreamed were possible. The biggest sport in America today is NASCAR racing. Millions of fans gather to see their heroes steer sleek racing machines to victory.
We have speed boats, snow machines that roar over frozen landscapes, and roller-coasters that go so fast you can get a nose bleed. There are Ostrich races. My wife and I almost went to one near Solvang a month ago. People race crabs every year in Trinidad, California.

I’ve seen guys in the military bet on rapid roaches with ridiculous names like “The Torpedo,” and lose an entire month’s pay. Planes have raced for years. So have yachts and sail boats.
I thought I was aware of nearly every form of racing until I read about the soon-to-be-launched Rocket Racing League. This is not to be confused with our historic “race to space” during the Cold War. That was serious business.

This new approach to racing has real pilots who will race planes that are supposed to be rockets in a virtual sky racetrack. We can thank “augmented reality” for this video game-like, 3-D course that audiences will watch on giant Jumbotrones and computer screens.

In an interview with TechNews the league’s chief operating officer, Michael D’Angelo said, “The plan, in essence, is to take football’s yellow “first down” line - another classic example of augmented reality - pump it up on steroids, and make it so “players” and fans will be able to see it.”

Pilots will wear helmets equipped with a projector screen displaying data on a transparent safety visor across their eyes. They’ll be able to see the colored gates and boundary markers with those hi tech racer helmets developed for military use by the Israel-based defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd.

 From accounts in TechNewsDaily, this new system doesn’t have to look pretty because it’s capable of laying the “wow” factor on you. Viewers will see these colorful gates and boundaries and when pilots successfully fly through them they’ll light up screens with “a beautiful cascade of fireworks,” according to D’Angelo.
Try to imagine rockets executing aerobatic loops and rolls at 300 miles-per-hour. The pilots will fly a specially equipped Cessna 402B plane. The new Rocket Racing League feels they will be ready to become the airborn version of NASCAR or Formula 1 racing by late 2011.

I want to emphasize that these will be real races. Well, sort of. They’re designed to make you think you’re at real rocket races. I can see where this augmented reality is going,  and it’s no surprise. “Imagine a virtual billboard in the sky,” D’Angelo gushed, “you could have a thousand-foot Coke can for advertising.”

As It Stands, virtual raceways may attract some speed enthusiasts, but I wonder how they’ll stack up against all the other forms of racing in the real world? 

Online at the Times-Standard

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