[Paleopsych] New Scientist: Human Pacman hits real streets

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed Jan 12 15:26:20 UTC 2005

Human Pacman hits real streets

The classic arcade game PacMan has resurfaced on the streets of
Singapore using augmented reality technology developed by
military-backed scientists at the University of Singapore.

While virtual reality immerses a user completely inside a
computer-generated environment, augmented reality combines both real and
virtual sensory information to produce a digitally-altered version of
the real world.

The original arcade game, released in 1980, involves using a joystick to
move a tiny yellow character - PacMan - around a two dimensional
mazelike grid on a video screen. Cookies are scattered throughout the
grid and PacMans aim is to munch as many as possible while avoiding
being caught by the Ghosts chasing him.

The new game, called Human PacMan, superimposes a 3D PacMan world on top
of the city's streets and architecture. Players enter the game by
donning a wearable computer, headset and goggles before choosing to play
the role of PacMan or one of the Ghosts. Players' movements are tracked
using GPS receivers and motion sensors and they are linked back to a
central computer system by wireless Local Area Network.

The rules are the same as in the original, but the new game combines
real and virtual elements. For example, the yellow cookies that PacMan
eats to earn points are generated virtually and superimposed on the
street ahead of a player via their goggles. But real sugar jars, fitted
with Bluetooth radio transceivers, are dotted around the streets for
players to collect.

Outside contact

Those inside the game can catch other characters by grabbing their
shoulder. But they can also interact with people outside the game, who
can watch their progress and send messages from computer terminals.

Adrian Cheok, who developed Human PacMan with colleagues at the National
University of Singapores Mixed Reality Lab, says the project has a
serious purpose. "Human PacMan has its roots in serious research about
humans interaction with their physical world," he writes on the
project's homepage.

The main challenge with augmented reality is integrating virtual and
real information accurately, adds Andrei State at the University of
Northern Carolina. "The computer needs to know where you are, what you
are doing and what is in the real world," he told New Scientist.
"Basically you need really good tracking."

Some of the first applications of such technology, though on a much
smaller physical scale, could be medical. Various research groups are
already working on augmented reality systems that could assist surgeons
performing complicated procedures, State says.

Military use

But augmented reality systems might also find application on the
battlefield, where information could be superimposed across visual
displays worn by soldiers, who could then also be tracked remotely by a
central command. It could further be used in engineering, where it would
enable users to see their plans implemented before construction work begins.

However, computer games that combine virtual and real elements are
already creeping into arcades. The Japanese dancing games Dance Dance
Revolution and ParaParaParadise, for instance, require players to
perform real dance moves, sensed on a dance mat, in order to gain points.

Other research groups have also produced complex augmented reality
games. A team at the University of South Australia has developed a
version of the popular computer game Doom superimposed across a player's
view of their university's campus.

But Cheok believes that his game is the most advanced yet. "Human PacMan
is pioneering a new form of gaming that anchors on physicality,
mobility, social interaction, and ubiquitous computing," he adds.

State agrees that augmented reality games have huge potential appeal. "I
can imagine that, in a game like laser tag, it could add to the
excitement and addictiveness," he says.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list