You’ve probably heard of “virtual reality.” That’s what you get when you put on an Oculus Rift headset and feel like you’ve entered a completely new world.
Maybe you’ve heard of “augmented reality.” That’s what you get when you put on Google Glass and it projects Google-y facts or images on the world. Or you run an app like Star Chart on your smartphone, hold it up to the sky, and it superimposes the constellations on your view of the sky.
Surely you’ve heard of real reality, the stuff that happens when you aren’t sleeping. But a few days ago, with the introduction of HP's jaw-dropping new Sprout PC, something called “blended reality” has arrived. The Sprout PC replaces a keyboard and mouse with touchscreen, scanner, and other features that let you take actual objects and easily “put” them into your PC. For instance, you can set an object on a computer pad, and it scans a 3-D image of it into your machines.
But the real magic happens when you take the Sprout PC (available next week, Nov. 10) and combine it with a 3-D printer, a device that instantly manufacturers things, as easily as printing a document.
HP also announced a new 3-D printer (expected 2016), that could be a breakthrough in 3-D printing, able to use a wider variety of materials at a lower cost than current printers. If HP’s plans for it pan out, it could put 3-D printing into the hands of every business and home. (First up, HP has a plan to put 3-D printers into places where people can share them, along the lines of a FedEx Kinko’s, as Recode’s Arik Hesseldahl describes the plan.)
Put the Sprout and 3-D printer together and you’ll be able make actual objects move in and out of your computer with a swish of your hands. For instance, you scan an object, make changes to it, hit print, and in a few minutes, you get the real life thingamabob you just dreamed up. But that could be just the first step for “blended reality,” just like a Fitbit or Pebble smartwatch is a first step in the wearable computer market.
“Blended reality” is a term used five years ago by futurist think tank Institute for the Future. The IFTF envisioned it as a sort of tech-enabled sixth sense, which will be worn or maybe even implanted into our bodies and interface with our computers. “We are literally beginning to see and feel the world through a new set of eyes and ears—things that were previously invisible become visible, and we see the familiar in a new way,” as the IFTF describes it. For instance, with blended reality glasses, you can add a “good mood” filter to keep you happy.
Here’s how the IFTF imagined blended reality back in 2009.
And if you really want to understand where all of this might be going, read Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2012 sci-fi bestseller 2312. It describes a mind-blowing world 300 years in the future based on technologies being developed today. You won’t be able to forget it.
See also: Meg Whitman Is Breaking Up HP Labs