Sara de Freitas doesn't play around. As director of research at the Serious Games Institute (SGI) in Coventry, England, she's a driving force behind the serious games movement, which leverages gaming tech and techniques for non-entertainment purposes, such as education, defense, and health care. And with the rise of augmented reality and social networking, her work—which includes at least 100 reports tackling subjects such as behavioral intelligence for virtual creatures—is more relevant than ever. "In the future, there will be a much more seamless experience when you move between virtual and physical spaces" says de Freitas, who also chairs the U.K. Lab Group, connecting serious-games R&D teams with potential financiers. Here's a look at two of her most provocative current projects:
Imagine learning about ancient Rome—in ancient Rome. Thanks to de Freitas's virtual-modeling research, it may happen sooner than you think. "We've been experimenting with holographic interfaces and augmented reality," she says, adding that early tests indicate it could be a more effective way to absorb information. As for the virtual-world teachers? "They'll be a convergence between chatbots and A.I. humans," de Freitas explains. "We're still trying to make them behave in a believable way."
Building on ideas put forth by Intel, IBM and (to a lesser degree) Mattel, de Freitas and SGI are researching a hands-free gaming interface that runs on...brainpower. "It allows you to interface much more seriously within game and virtual world," she says, adding that it could have huge implications for defense training and education. Already, early forms of the tech are being used at NeuroSky and Emotiv, where the EPOC headset gives users the ability to control specially designed computer apps with their mind and facial expressions.