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From Japan comes the virtual copy repair man

Virtual reality is alive and kicking in Japan, where Canon squiggles its way to "mixed reality" and gadgetry aims to reinvent the drum.

Eyeing the virtual printer. Michael Kanellos/CNET

CHIBA, Japan--Canon wants to take you into a virtual world so you can learn how to change toner cartridges better.

The headgear you see in the photo, along with the cube with the squiggles, is part of a "Mixed Reality Technology" prototype coined by Canon, which showed it off over the weekend during a special future-tech exhibit at Ceatec, the large Japanese trade show here.

It's called mixed reality because virtual and real-world images are mixed into one frame. When you put the goggles on and stare at the cube, you don't see squiggles. Instead, you see a virtual 3D image of a copier. You also see your own hands move around the virtual world. You can lift the lid of a printer or copier, flip switches, etc. It was actually kind of cool.

Bang the drum slowly. Michael Kanellos/CNET

Virtual reality was one of the more prominent themes in the future-tech exhibition. The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology also showed off a virtual device it concocted with the Phantom haptic tech from Sensable Technologies of Woburn, Mass., that combines virtual visual, sound and touch stimuli. Basically, you put on the virtual-reality glasses and see a drum and set of bells. Strike it with a mallet and you hear the appropriate virtual sounds over the headset. The top of the drum also "feels" rubbery, while the side is hard. Sensable did the visual and feel parts, while NICT did the sound part.

That second picture, with the guy sitting in front of what looks like a projector, is the Sensable-NICT project. You can see the virtual image above his head.

Waseda University, meanwhile, showed off something called Interactive View, which lets you manipulate and move virtual objects.