trends

Augmented Reality: A Brave New World for Porn?

Q. Boyer
Every once in a while, a new technology emerges that undeniably shifts the landscape for adult entertainment, and either immediately or gradually asserts itself as something that is ignored at the peril of the adult entertainment entrepreneur. The emergence of the Internet was one such technological event, as was the advent of the DVD; and before that, the development of VHS, and the explosion of home-based porn viewing that came with it.

In recent months, new applications of a well-established technology commonly referred to as "augmented reality" have begun to gather steam, creating a stir in cutting-edge media development circles, and inspiring many forward thinking entrepreneurs to begin brainstorming potential business applications for the technology.

What is "augmented reality?" At its root, the term refers to the intermingling of the real, physical world and computer-generated visual elements that "augment" the real-world elements. A very simple (and not at all new) example would be something like the "news tickers" that run along the bottom of the screen when you are watching one of CNN's talking heads discuss the news of the day. Newer, more advanced examples of augmented reality are far more visually compelling, however, and a lot more complicated on the back-end, than is CNN's ticker.

One approach to augmented reality that is rapidly gaining traction operates in a way that closely resembles the use of "green screens" in film and video work, only in this case, it's not a color that facilitates the interaction between the real and virtual worlds, but essentially any variety of shape or form that is recognizable to the back-end script that underpins the augmented reality application in question. In this manifestation of augmented reality, the object that triggers the interaction between virtual and real imagery is called a "marker."

The marker can be any number of things, including a distinct logo or design of almost any kind. For the purposes of this hypothetical example, we'll imagine that our fictional augmented reality developer is using the famous Nike "swoosh" design as his marker.

Once the marker has been established, the developer concocts an augmented reality script that is programmed to recognize the marker in the context of real-world visual input; in this example, the visual input comes from a common webcam.

The developer's script triggers the "replacement" of the marker with predetermined, computer-generated visuals, which can be anything from an animated sequence, a 3D rendering, a static digital image — the possibilities are legion. In our example, let's say that the computer-generated image is a nude woman, rendered in 3D, lying on her side, waving at the viewer.

The final component of making our hypothetical augmented reality demo fly is a display URL that viewers can access from a PC or (potentially, at least) a mobile device equipped with a web browser.

With all the components in place, it's time for a test. The developer fires up his webcam, and opens a web browser to the display URL. After confirming that the camera is working and feeding video properly, he plops a single Nike shoe in front of the webcam, and — voila! — there, at the display URL, instead of seeing the shoe as it exists in reality, he is looking at a shoe with what appears to be a tiny naked woman lying down across it, waving at him.

The example above is admittedly simplistic, but it still reveals something of the potential for porn-related applications of augmented reality. Since the computer-generated images involved are really at the discretion of the developer (within the limitations of the infrastructure involved, obviously), you can easily imagine using augmented reality to display titillating Flash animations, quick video advertisements, or just about anything else the developer/vendor would like to employ.

There's a lot more to augmented reality than swapping out one image for another of course, and plenty of interactive elements that can be introduced, as well. Sonic input can also be incorporated, opening the possibility of a visual display that responds to voice commands.

Perhaps the most obvious market sector where augmented reality will have a major impact is video gaming, and that potential is not lost on game software developers, who are already busily programming game engines that will incorporate the real world into the digital universe, and vice versa. Other areas where widespread deployment of augmented reality is already in progress include navigation and mapping, architecture, medical science and military planning.

The extent to which augmented reality is adopted for entertainment purposes relies greatly on whether the cost of development comes down. Currently, developing augmented reality applications of any significant depth is an expensive proposition, stemming largely from labor costs. Even the simplest of augmented reality applications currently involves a substantial amount of development time, although authoring tools are improving and simplifying steadily.

Will augmented reality, in one form or another, be one of those rare technologies that changes the way we do business in the adult entertainment industry, and become an Internet-level game changer for adult merchants? That's probably a stretch — but there's no question that the technology lends itself to promotional use that could turn more than a few heads, particularly those in the American mainstream media.

The media loves to talk about unions of porn and technology, from the oft-repeated (and highly arguable) axiom that "porn drives technology" to the many socially-challenging intersections between sex and technology (teen 'sexting,' anyone?), the media regards the pairing of erotica and tech as a sort of virtual Reeses Peanut Butter Cup: two great things that go great together. So, even if augmented reality never takes the adult world by storm, the adult world likely will embrace it for the novelty factor alone, even if only to raise some eyebrows, and along the way, draw in more eyeballs.

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