The Kindle Test

[This post is going to be strange at times, readers should note that I’m the author, not Ori]
According to some estimates, up till now, Amazon sold more than one million units of Kindle.

That’s one million units for a device that is not a phone, doesn’t include a camera, can’t guide you from point A to B, has a grayscale screen, and really doesn’t do much but serving as an e-book reader (don’t get me wrong, I would love to have one).

The point is, e-book readers are far less revolutionary than AR devices. Some would claim (me included) that AR devices are also more useful. Yet, it seems that no one is building a dedicated augmented reality hardware. If AR was really that hot and not a technology that is still a few years away, shouldn’t we see at least a concept AR device? After all, if over a million Kindles were sold, the FlARe would sell like cupcakes.
Yes, the HMDs coming next year can be used for augmented reality, but it seems that they primerly target other markets.

Another “AR capable” device that targets other markets is, of course, the iPhone. Instead of complaining about the iPhone’s lack of support of augmented reality, can’t AR enthusiasts take action to their own hands? Isn’t there another Noah Zerkin type of guy that instead of building an amazing glove, would build a rough hand held AR device to prove that augmented reality is not a lot of hype? Sergey Ten has written today a set of features he is looking for in the perfect AR device. If you are a resourceful guy or girl, start from there.

Consider this post as a call for action, or at least for comments. Is augmented reality going to be bigger in 2010 than e-books readers to merit its own dedicated device?

Augmented Reality Reading List for the Weekend

Once again this week was full of interesting articles about augmented reality, so much so that I don’t want to mix them with tomorrow’s linkfest. So, if you have some time to burn on your way to ISMAR, or just have some spare time this weekend, I recommend checking these out:

Shopping with AR
Another fine installment from Christine Perey for O’Reilly Radar, where she envisions a world where reality is a huge catalog. Finally, someone has put into words my vision about true AR marketing and not the gimmicks we see these days.

One day, you’re sitting in a café reading the news on your phone and you notice that the person next to you has some really nice footwear. No QR code on the neighbor’s shoes? No problem. You start up your visual search application (no, it’s not available on all handsets), act like you are trying to find something on the newsreader screen while you turn off the camera’s “snap the photo” sound, then discreetly aim and take the photo of the shoes. No one has noticed, right? You wait, you act like you’re still reading the news. Your mobile browser opens and on your screen is the exact model of shoes on your neighbor’s feet. Another click and you can check the price and availability from stores nearby.

AR Wave: Layers and Channels of Social Augmented Experiences
Tish Shute continues to advance her cause for Google Wave based augmented reality environment and then interviews Jeremy Hight about his projects, mapping and social augmentation.

We are in an age of cartographic awareness unseen in hundreds of years. When was the last time that new mapping tools were sold in chain stores and installed in most vehicles? When was the last time that also the augmentation of maps was done by millions (Google map hacks, etc)? The ubiquitous gps maps run in automobiles while people post pictures and graphic pins to denote specific places on on-line maps.

Filtering Reality
Jamais Cascio writes for the Atlantic about why augmented reality can evolve into a self imposed 1984-like scenario.

Conceivably, users could set AR spam filters to block any kind of unpalatable visual information, from political campaign signs to book covers. Parents might want to block sexual or violent images from their kids’ AR systems, and political activists and religious leaders might provide ideologically correct filters for their communities. The bad images get replaced by a red STOP, or perhaps by signs and pictures that reinforce the desired worldview.

Did I mention that the “wrong” people can get replaced too?

3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Using Augmented Reality In Marketing And Advertising
The guys at Zugara ask the hard question – is an augmented reality campaign really fit your needs.

Too often, we’ve been seeing AR executions that are AR just for the sake of using AR. Do you really need to launch a video in AR? Or a 3D asset? Too many recent AR executions are guilty of this and scream, “WHY!!!” Why are you making your consumer go through unnecessary hoops when they can just as easily view the video or 3D asset in a standard player on your website? An AR initiative should not be exempt from Best Practices online, so it’s always important to put usability before the ‘experience’.

AR Reading List for the Weekend

Once again, it was another very prolific week for augmented reality, with a plethora of interesting posts and articles. For those of you who didn’t had a time to read them during the week and waited for the weekend to catch-up (like I did), here’s a short list of articles that may entertain you for the next hour. Don’t worry, the regular linkfest will be here tomorrow, with some more AR fun.

Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens

This was an extremely popular article this week, though, to tell you the truth, it has little to do with augmented reality, and more to do with the challenges facing engineers when creating electronic lenses embedded within contact lenses. However, if you want to peek to the far future, it’s an interesting read.

a contact lens with simple built-in electronics is already within reach; in fact, my students and I are already producing such devices in small numbers in my laboratory at the University of Washington, in Seattle [see sidebar, “A Twinkle in the Eye”]. These lenses don’t give us the vision of an eagle or the benefit of running subtitles on our surroundings yet. But we have built a lens with one LED, which we’ve powered wirelessly with RF. What we’ve done so far barely hints at what will soon be possible with this technology.

Games, Goggles, and Going Hollywood…How AR is Changing the Entertainment Landscape
Tish Shute’s interview with Ogmento’s Brian Selzer. Since Selzer is coming from the entertainment side of things, he is able to give a fresh perspective on where AR should go next, and he discusses how Ogmento is working to fulfill this vision.

I am big on the notion of “Games and Goals.” I believe that games have the power to motivate people in a very powerful way. By challenging ourselves while playing a game we can climb mountains. Augmented Reality is the perfect platform to bring gaming into the real world. By mixing the virtual world with the physical world, this added layer of perception provides a very powerful experience for something like a role-playing game.

Thinking about design strategies for ‘magic lens’ AR
Gene Becker is a silicon valley veteran that has worked in the past for HP on an AR project named Cooltown. Lately he has written a couple of interesting posts concerning augmented reality, and in this one he discusses the challenges of designing a good and effective AR application for a mobile phone.

The idea of a magic lens is visually intuitive and emotionally evocative, and there is understandable excitement surrounding the rollout of commercial AR applications. These apps are really cool looking, and they invoke familiar visual tropes from video games, sci-fi movies, and comics. We know what Terminator vision is, we’re experienced with flight sim HUDs, and we know how a speech balloon works. These are common, everyday forms of magical design fiction that we take for granted in popular culture.

And that’s going to be the biggest challenge for this kind of mobile augmented reality; we already know what a magic lens does, and our expectations are set impossibly high.

Proposal: Augmented Reality Scale
Thomas Carpenter of “The Future Digital Life” propose in this article a metric that enables us to compare AR applications and measure the intensity in which they augment our reality. Although a similar idea was brought up a few months ago by the guys at SPRXMobile (creators of Layar), Carpenter’s take is easier to understand and implement.

The RIM scale will be composed of two axis: Perceived Reality (PR) and Reality Recognition (RR). I chose two axis because AR exists through the mixing of reality and the virtual. First I’ll explain the two axis, then the interaction between them.

The Perceived Reality axis shows us how the graphics are indistinguishable from reality (on a scale from one to ten).

The Reality Recognition axis explains how completely computers understand the world (on a scale of one to ten).

Lumus from the Humus Land: the Future of Augmented Reality Displays
Ori Inbar interviews Zvi Lapidot, the CEO of Lumus, an Israeli company set to provide not-as-dorky looking glasses that can display digital video overlaid on top of reality. I actually tried one of their prototypes a couple of months ago and felt quite like a dork, but I guess they look cooler than those of main competitor Vuzix.

Ori: That’s impressive. And how did you enable AR tracking?
Zvi: By collaborating with AR specialists and Chinese partners we integrated a web camera and a compass (with 3DOF) into the prototype; and connected it to a phone with GPS. AR algorithms analyzed the video from the camera and overlaid graphics while tracking the real world. Several units of the prototype were even so

And finally, although technically this interview was held last week, I haven’t found about it till yesterday. Here is Robert Rice preaching his sermon, and discussing many other interesting AR subjects with John C. Havens on BlogTalkRadio, though you may want to wait till your Monday’s commute to listen to it, as it’s quite long.

Looking for a Modern Day Chaplin

As long as we define media as “the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data” (Wikipedia), we might as well consider augmented reality as a medium. And not just any medium, but a mass medium, if our hopes and predictions come true.
I find it interesting to look at the development of past mass media in order to gain a historic perspective on augmented reality. Following is the first post in a series of three doing such a comparison. Since it’s far from my typical posts, I’ll decide whether to post the other two depending on how well this one is received. Please comment and let me know what you think!

Content, not Technology is the best way forward
Augmented reality is in its “Lumière stage”. At the turn of the twentieth century, a new technological spectacle was enchanting people from all around the western world. The moving pictures, or films were all the rage in Europe and the US, showing short scenes from everyday life. Early movie goers got excited seeing a 50 seconds long film portraying a train arriving at a station.

The animated photographs are small marvels. …All is incredibly real. What a power of illusion! …The streetcars, the carriages are moving towards the audience. A carriage was galloping in our direction. One of my neighbors was so much captivated that she sprung to her feet… and waited until the car disappeared before she sat down again. (source)

The similarities to augmented reality are obvious, and I don’t think that it’s just a coincidence that Total Immersion (which is French, like the Lumière brothers), chose to show an augmented train on their site’s front page. When people are first exposed to augmented reality, most are impressed, as evident from the numerous videos on Youtube showing folks trying GE’s AR application.
But novelty wears off, and in the case of the film industry it wasn’t a new technology that rekindle the fire, it was content. Talking films only became popular in the late 1920’s, and films in color came 10 years later. Yet, some early film makers have successfully created black and white, silent masterpieces. As a matter of fact, when Chaplin started to work on Modern Times, which some consider to be his greatest creation, he imagined it as a talkie, but soon decided to make it silent (with some sound effects), because he found it better suits the story’s atmosphere.
Now, I know there are some major differences between the realm of cinema and the realm of augmented reality, and the world itself changed in a significant way in the last 100 years. Yet, there are some striking similarities, and though no one will run away from an augmented train these days, many are still excited about the novelty of this new medium. And maybe, just maybe, when the time comes and people will get bored sticking markers in front of their web cameras (and this time will come soon enough), an artist, not an engineer, a modern Charlie Chaplin, will rise and create exciting content for us to explore.

Augmented Reality Reading List for the Weekend

Wow, it was quite a week for augmented reality, with some very interesting articles, blog posts and video lectures. It was such a prolific week, I’ve decided to split the weekly linkfest into two parts. Today I’m going to cover the best of the best of AR around the web, while I’m dedicating tomorrow to more mundane (but still interesting!), AR news items that I didn’t have the time to write about during the week.

Inside Out: Interaction Design for Augmented Reality
Joe Lamantia of UX matters presents a very interesting overview of augmented reality from the point of view of a user interface designer. He goes through four interaction design patterns (“Head up display”, “Tricorder”, “Holochess”, and “X-Ray vision”), and brings forward some missing patterns, that are great opportunities for AR designers and creators.

To reach its potential and avoid dismissal as a novelty technology, augmented reality needs new interaction patterns and experience concepts that address the weaknesses and gaps of this limited set of existing patterns. Only in the early stages of its evolution, augmented reality has the opportunity to refine and expand its range of interaction patterns without disrupting familiar models or incurring substantial costs.

Everything Everywhere
Tish Shute presents Thomas Wrobel’s Proposal for an Open Augmented Reality Network, based mostly on the Internet Relay Chat protocol and existing IRC servers. Wrobel goes through the advantages and disadvantages of using IRC as the basis for truly open AR network, and compares chat channels to AR layers.

People could join channels of information to view or contribute. Families could leave messages to each other scribbled in mid-air on private channels. Strangers can watch AR games being played between people in parks. People going into a restaurant could see the comments from recent guests hovering by the menu items.
None of this would have to be called up specially, if they are on the right channel when it was broadcast, they will see it.

History of Mobile Augmented Reality
Daniel Wagner of Graz University of Technology is one of the leading researchers of mobile augmented reality. In this article he brings us a detailed time line going through the evolution of mobile AR from the late sixties to our days. You should read it to gain some historic perspective, and see how many of the ideas developed today in the industry have their roots in the academy as far as fifteen years ago.

Philippe Kahn invents the camera phone, a mobile phone which is able to capture still photographs. Back in 1997, Kahn used his invention to share a picture of his newborn daughter with more than 2000 relatives and friends, spread around the world. Today more than half of all mobile phones in use are camera phones.

To Ride The AR Hype or Avoid It?
Zugara’s Jack Benoff warns against the trough of disillusionment that usually comes after the peak of inflated expectation in the hype cycle model, and share some advice on how AR developers should handle it. Along the way he determines that most people will be disappointed with Layar once they’ll try it, so be sure to read Raimo van der Klein (Layar’s CEO) response in the comments. More on this topic from Zugara – Calm Down, Augmented Reality For Your Mobile Phone Won’t Be As Useful As Promised.

If I wanted to, I could find someone to create a 3D model and put on a marker for less than $500. No AR developer is going to survive, in the long run, if they provide a product that can be reproduced by an offshore company, for a fraction of the price. This will soon include GPS/Compass based AR, as an open source toolkit is already available. … [companies] focusing most of their efforts on getting short term, viral publicity won’t have a viable product when the novelty of Augmented Reality wears off in a few months.

At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry
Bruce Sterling’s keynote address at the Layar event held at the beginning of this week. After a short introduction in which he shares his love to AR, Sterling presents the main issues and challenges AR developers are going to face in the coming few years. Security problems, cheesiness, the AR community of Kuala Lumpur, and nazi layers – you will find it all in this thought provoking talk:

Weekly Linkfest

This week wasn’t defined by cool videos and nice looking demos, but on the bright side, there were a couple of interesting articles and interviews that will surely tickle your mind:

This week’s video is a silly augmented reality tribute to Michael Jackson (please don’t get offended if you are MJ fans, I don’t say he was silly, I just don’t think highly of this tribute). You can try it yourself over here.

Blair MacIntyre on UgoTrade

Tish Shute continues with her enlightening series of interviews on UgoTrade. After previously interviewing Ori Inbar and Robert Rice, Blair MacIntyre was a natural choice.
MacIntyre discusses his work at Georgia Tech (which I briefly wrote about here), and shares his perspective on future directions for mobile augmented reality.

A lot of folks think it will be tourist applications where there’s models of times square and models of central park and models of Notre Dame and the big square around that area in paris and along the river and so on, or the models of Italian and Greek history sites – the virtual Rome. As those things start happening and people start building onto the edges, and when Microsoft Photosynth and similar technologies become more pervasive you can start building the models of the world in a semi-automated way from photographs and more structured, intentional drive-by’s and so on. So I think it’ll just sort of happen. And as long there’s a way to have the equivalent of Mosaic for AR, the original open source web browser, that allows you to aggregate all these things. It’s not going to be a Wikitude. It’s not going to be this thing that lets you get a certain kind of data from a specific source, rather it’s the browser that allows you to link through into these data sources.

Read it all over here (and check some of the interesting links featured in the interview).
Curiously enough, a video of one of the games mentioned in the article, “Art of Defense“, was uploaded to Youtube today. It’s an interesting research in how people interact when playing a collaborative AR game (see Bragfish for a similar research with a competitive game):

Robert Rice at Mobile Monday Amsterdam

This passing Monday, Amsterdam hosted a Mobile Monday event, which ended with a talk by Robert Rice.
To tell you the truth, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get any information about whatever super secret product is under development in Neogence. On the other hand, we got a nicely presented introduction to augmented reality and Rice’s take on the subject.

Here you can find the slides, while here you can find some clarifications from Rice himself.