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Helmets and Funky Glasses?

Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Monday, 13 December 2010

Your Phone Could Be the Key to Making AR Real


I can't afford to have an independent programmer monitoring me. Do you have any idea how many outside systems I've gone into?” – Master Control Program, Tron (1982), Walt Disney

Engineers must have fantastic imaginations because in their early stages, most technologies are pretty ugly…wires going every which way, oversized circuit boards, cases the size of breadboxes and beyond.

Software is probably the same but heck, it’s a bunch of ones and zeros, so who can tell?  Especially with a new technology, called augmented reality (AR), that merges what's real with computer-generated graphics

To us, AR has been an engineering project in the works for years...always almost ready to productize and dress up for “normal” folks.  So we were only mildly interested in seeing what was new in AR at the recent 6Sight conference.

Most of the time, when you see a “personal” AR system, it’s some dude with a big backpack and a funky pair of glasses (and you think 3D glasses look bad?).

On the Road – Getting AR compact enough for people to use in the real world has been a work in progress for academics and engineers.  The technology has been stabilized but still requires a backpack system and special glasses to enable its use by individuals, but apps are changing the way most people view, use AR tags.

We realize game technology and gamers have led the way for getting lots of neat stuff into mainstream use, but AR?

Real Virtual
For gawd sake, they live in the virtual world!!

The folks at Georgia Institute of Technology have made some pretty good strides in mobile gaming.  Qualcomm, Nvidia and a few others may have something to do with that.
There’s a whole new breed of games now that include AR technology.  Strapping on their headsets, helmets, whatever, gamers get all kinds of “outside” assistance.
You know directions, distances, arsenal status, stuff designed to help players immerse themselves in the game.
But at the recent 6Sight conference, we were more interested in interactive media and how it would impact/be used by real people.

BAM!! Early in the presentation we realized that AR is not only real but something you see, expect.

1st, Ten – Sports broadcasters have been using AR technology for years to make the viewing more interesting, more fun, easier to follow.  Such enrichment will soon be commonplace on content viewed on your smartphone.

Yes we knew the lines that suddenly appeared on the football field weren’t real, just as the signs around the stands that changed constantly weren’t really there.

If you think about it, AR is pretty heavily used in sports coverage – baseball, soccer, swimming, skiing, golf, skating.

Stats appear on the screen. Ads change on billboards, the field, everywhere.

So that’s AR technology…used, helpful, “almost” natural.

That’s the way all technology should be…simply there and normal.

Oh sure, just like 3D it can be poorly done, intrusive, gimmicky; but done with a goal, it serves a purpose.

Buckets of Bucks
Like everything today, there’s a high development cost that can affect how quickly/economically it can be deployed in everyday applications.

We believe some of the best applications for AR will be in interactive learning and interruptive information because it’s just plain difficult to keep a kid focused on one subject for very long with so many outside/online influences.

Some preliminary and very creative work is being done in the digital signage arena where entertainment and education are being blended.

Museums, art studios, zoos, aquariums, planetariums and similar public venues are using interactive screens to give visitors expanded information on what they are viewing to enrich the experience.

Point of View – Informational, educational and entertainment digital signage solutions such as this interactive BrightSign digital signage installation at the Monterey Aquarium, are being installed in venues of all types from hospitality, healthcare, retail, museums, aquariums and zoos.

What we find most intriguing is the blending of real world environs that people seldom get to experience, like life under the sea or our solar system, with information that enriches the learning experience.

Imagine getting up close and personal with some of the most interesting and illusive items and ideas in our world.

Almost as good as being there!

The technology is also getting a big boost into our everyday lives from marketing and advertising.

Try Before You Buy – Online and in-store AR solutions allow consumers to get a first-hand view of products before they buy.  The solution has also been increasingly used by designers in finishing rooms for clients as well as enabling people to see what homes would look like with their furniture in them--even when they are hundreds of miles away.

The fashion industry has been using AR in both online and print ads.

Using your computer, webcam and the app, people can “try on” clothes, see if they like the look and can order it knowing they’re going to be pleased when they receive the goods.

That means fewer “surprises,” fewer returns.

The fashion folks have also begun adding AR symbols in their print ads.  Holding them up to the webcam takes you to videos, pictures, interactive games to strengthen the social relationship with the consumer/user.

Adidas did something similar with their training shoes by priniting an AR symbol inside the shoe tongue.

Hold the symbol to the webcam and the owner can take part in exclusive interactive games on the company’s website.

Social AR Marketing
It won’t save the planet and isn’t a cure for the common cold, but it’s smart social marketing!

Done properly, it could rekindle the demand for print media, print advertising.

Done poorly or as a gimmick, it’ll be like those old shirts and blouses in your closet…OMG!!

O.K.,  so the webcam is “a little” awkward; but since AR uses Flash (like 98% of the websites), it couldn’t be implemented using an iPhone (something about Steve not liking Adobe).

Of course a little product called Skyfire changed that for those folks lucky enough to download it before the demand brought the servers to their knees and it had to be pulled.

Don’t worry, even though Flash is totally worthless the app will be available again as soon as they can add a few more servers.

But that’s a moot point because there are a growing number of smartphone – iPhone and Android – apps available to meld AR effects into your real online world.

Just the Right Place – The growing use of geotags, detail sourcing and online reviews make it fast and easy for smartphone users to check out entertainment, accommodations and events in almost any city to ensure he/she will get what they want.   Similar online/on phone solutions enable you to review retailers, products, services before you make your purchase

There are a growing number of apps that rate places of entertainment, restaurants you can simply check out by tapping information to your phone.

Kevin Flynn noted, “Now for some real user power.”

Apps are available to help you find your car in a parking lot, find WiFi hotspots, use your phone GPS to not only find your way from point A to point B but to even check information about locations along the way.

As Dr. Gibbs said, “User requests are what computers are for!

Sure, there are a ton of really dumb smartphone AR apps; but with geotagging and our increasingly open communications becoming more pervasive, it will be easy to visit the outlets that have the specific product you want in the size/color/price you want.

Military aircraft have made significant strides by projecting all of the plane’s and surrounding information on the pilot’s screen to give him or her an edge.

That’s all well and good, but somehow moving that technology to my car seems a little overwhelming.

Before it was against the law, we tried dialing our cellphone while driving…freakin’ impossible to do it (especially the way we drive).  Texting would have been out of the question.

Driver’s Aid
We know the auto industry is working with AR technology to provide better information to the driver and it will undoubtedly become an option, then standard, in a few years.

On-the-Go, In the Know – In the not too distant future, drivers will be able to scan their windshield to obtain all of the information they want/need just like today’s military pilots.  The difference is, the most dangerous part of any flight is the drive to/from home.  All of the added information available to us may put more than a few of us in information overload.

Dr. Gibbs pointed out the danger when he commented, “Computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop.”

At last year’s TED conference – – MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interface Group showed one of the best real-life applications we’ve seen (the video of the demo is on the TED site).

It includes a lanyard camera, mirrors and colored finger caps that will project information onto a surface in front of you.

Imagine using it to pull information off the iNet, from geotags and other sources when you’re considering a purchase.  All of the information – ingredients, price, customer reviews, everything – is right in front of you.

Now that’s an intelligent buying decision!

Coupled with all of the information available to you and about you and the products/locations around you on the iNet, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that soon you’ll want to take your camera and your phone with you constantly.

Think of it.  

No more awkward moments when you try to remember the name of the person you just bumped into…you’ll be able to know everything about him/her.

You’ll be able to walk around a new town or area like a native getting the answers even before you think of the question.

There’s a lot of practical and impractical potential for AR.

Kevin Flynn was right, “Like the man says, there are no problems, only solutions.”

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