Turning Fiction Into (Augmented) Reality

The sixth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation's fifth season introduced an augmented reality (AR) game that nearly took over the entire Enterprise crew. It was a deceptively simple game that used a person's emotional state to enter red disks into blue funnels. In the TNG episode (aptly titled "The Game), when a player successfully gets a disk into a tunnel, they're rewarded with a pleasurable signal, increasing the game's addictiveness.

Anyone interested in trying the game for themselves can now do so, as it has been almost perfectly recreated using Microsoft's Hololens AR headset and a biometric sensor. The only difference is that it doesn't reward players by sending a pleasing signal to the brain, save for the satisfaction you may feel after managing to get a disk into one of the funnels.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Robert Burke brought the TNG game to life last year, noting on his website that "Star Trek has a history of envisioning technologies that eventually become real. Often faster and more addictive than anyone expects!"

Visualizing Stress

Burke used Hololens because it provides the same AR field of view demonstrated on Star Trek, but since it has no biometric scanning capabilities, he also used the Pip biosensor from Galvanic. The Pip is a handheld device that can measure one's fluctuating stress levels through their fingertips. Pip "accurately captures these changes and through biofeedback, allows you to visualize them."

When used in the game, stress is shown by the aforementioned red disk entering — or being rejected by — the blue funnels. The Pip isn't required to play the game, though, as you can also use voice commands to move the disks to the funnels.

Burke's game isn't the first time we've seen science fiction become reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) was once thought to only be a sci-fi concept, but now we have Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Smartphones are another sign of sci-fi made real and are essentially a real-world counterpart to Star Trek's Tricorder (though, it could be argued that our smartphones are much more stylish and feature-rich).

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