Augmented Fear of Heights

Those crazy kids at Georgia Tech. In the last couple of days, we have seen augmented reality used to make you laugh, amazed and uncomfortable, so naturally someone, somehow had to make you scared. That's where Georgia Tech comes into the picture -

... we are interested in how to create systems where the user loses the sense of mediation, and begins to respond to being immersed in a blended physical/virtual as if it was a single “world.”

Our approach to exploring AR and Presence has been to develop an AR presence questionnaire in parallel with a physiological presence experiment analogous to the UNC VR “pit” experiment, which leverages a strong physiological reaction (fear of heights) to measure presence.

The experiment asked the participants to preform certain tasks around that pit, while their heart rate, galvanic skin response and skin temperature were measured. By doing so, the researchers hoped to develope a quantitative measurement of how immersive was the AR experience. Sadly, they don't report on their results yet, but you can tell from the video that some participants were shaken by the event.
Next time, they'll confront volunteers with an approaching virtual train and have paramedics on stand-by.

More details here.

Wildlife's Fate is in your Hands

Wow, this is quite a busy week, full of augmented reality goodies. This next application comes to us from WWF China, and I almost missed it.

Using the freely available application for S60 cellular phones, you can place a teddy bear in the "real" (urban) world, and watch it getting injured in many unpleasant way. Apart from hitting walls, falling down stairs and getting hit by cars, you can manually torture it by flicking your finger.
That should encourage you to protect wildlife's natural habitats, but I'm not that sure the application serves its purpose. On the bright side, it's a campaign that uses AR in an innovative way, and doesn't follow the path of previous novelty-AR ad campaigns. It was conceived by BBH China and implemented by Qdero.

Link, via Sergey Ten Twitter feed, sorta.

Feel Unease with the Cloud Mirror

Eric Gradman dropped me a note about an art installation he presented two weeks ago at an event named Mindshare:

The Cloud Mirror from eric gradman on Vimeo.

So says Eric:
Live video captured by a camera and is re-projected on the wall behind the camera, functioning like a “magic mirror.” But the CLOUD MIRROR software alters the images on the way to the screen. It runs an algorithm that tracks faces from frame to frame and also examines each frame for 2D barcodes printed on attendee badges. By pairing each face with a badge, and each badge id with a database row, the CLOUD MIRROR can identify by name whoever is standing in front of the installation.

It's very similar to this Squidder's video, but adds more ways to embarrass yourself and others. More (mostly technical) details can be found here, but in a nutshell it's based on ARToolKitPlus, OpenCV for face recognition, and lots of python.

(Remember, you can too drop me a note about any AR related news by sending a mail to ~a~t~

Augmented Magic Trick

I'm unusually late covering this, and if you are a true augmented reality fan, you have probably seen it already (it was covered by Tom, Jan and even Make and Instructables had a piece about it). But for the sake of completeness, and since it's a really cool use of AR and I've got some behind the scenes pictures, I feel obliged to have a post about it as well.
Marco Tempest is a Swiss born American magician, and since I've never seen any of his shows (but now I will try my best to do so), I have to quote Wikipedia that says he "is best known as a magician/performance artist who combines video, computer graphics and other technology of the moment with the ideas and technology of magic". A great example is this next clip that he sent some of us AR bloggers a few days ago:

Augmented Reality Magic 1.0 from Marco Tempest on Vimeo.

I don't know what's more impressive here, the magic trick or the brilliant yet non-obtrusive use of technology. According to Tempest (if you can believe a magician :), it's all done in real time, sounds, graphics and voice over, and no post processing is involved. He used "ARToolkitPlus, OpenCV, OpenFrameworks, MacCam and some magic" to make it run on a Mac Book Pro. He was generous enough to share some behind the scenes pictures, and here's how the flying sixes were done (click for a larger image):

Innovative concepts like this one, really give me hope that AR will not stay in its current novelty, "Me Too" stage. Good work Marco!

Augmented Comedy

When I get sick of all that marker-based novelty augmented-reality, I protest and complain. But it seems that when Anatoly Zenkov had the same feelings, he created the first (?) comedic clip about AR, entitled "Me Too":

Me too (doing some AR stuff)! from Anatoly Zenkov on Vimeo.

Weekly Linkfest

Here are some other AR news from around the web:
  • Enter the mind of Ronald Chevalier, an experience that promotes this film.
  • Georgia Tech's has a new infomercial for their mixed reality design class.
  • Study finds that when it comes to in-car navigation, augmented reality is better than 3D egocentric view aids (such as plain old GPS devices). Who could have guessed?
  • Geocaching using augmented reality is such a neat idea, I'm surprised no one before Jacob at Trimagination thought about it.
  • Looking for an AR primer? Rusty Henderson has one covering the basics (with many videos), and Tom Carpenter has some more details.
The quote of the week comes from Robert Rice's twitter feed:
My team has figured out how to build most of Rainbows End. Just matter of time and funding now... /evil scientist cackle/
I guess that if they really achieved that feat, funding will not be a problem.

And finally, the weekly video comes from GeoVector (which I previouslly covered here). It's a concept video from 1995 and contains some interesting ideas. It just shows that even if you think that you have a novel idea, someone has thought about it before. Jump to 4:51 for a really cool augmented frogger:

Living Sasquatch - First Boffswana Ad

Link Snacks, manufacturer of Jack Link's Beef Jerkey has adopted Bigfoot for their "feed your wild side" campaign. Like so many campaigns these days, this one also uses (novelty) augmented reality for that additional magical touch. It's actually quite sophisticated, allowing you to compose a short animation for Bigfoot to carry out (using 35 pre-created animations), as can be seen in the following video:

Living Sasquatch - Papervision - Augmented Reality from Boffswana on Vimeo.

It's a pity you can't automatically upload your animation to Youtube, and have to first download them to your computer, hurting the "virality" of this campaign. It's been alive for a few days now, and still no one uploaded his animation to Youtube. Another possible improvement could have been using Jack Link's Beef Jerkey bags as some kind of special markers, opening up some secret movements for Bigfoot.
Anyway, you can play with it yourself and see other's videos at the campaign's site. This marks the first commercial use of Boffswana's Releas3D technology.

Now, who will be the first to upload an erotic video featuring Bigfoot taking a page from Spore?

link (via ARTweets)

ARiS in Book Format

Geisha Tokyo Entertainment's ARiS, the augmented reality maid featured in the clip above that Ori covered here, is on her way to become the first virtual AR celebrity. No only does she appear in primetime tv, she now got her own book deal.
The new "official guide book", is 64 pages of ARiS goodness. It features ARiS's secret till now biography, tips and tricks, her development process and an interview with her voice actor. Apparently, also included are some markers for ARiS's living room and shower so after buying the book she will no longer need to live on your desk. You can see a video of her new rooms at the book's site.

Alas, you can order the book only if you live in Japan. It will be available starting from early June. Via CScout Japan, where you can find some more details and pictures.

Nokia and USC to Jointly Work on AR

Here's a bit of news that hopefully will get this week going. Nokia Research Holywood (my dream workplace) and the University of Southern California have announced today that they will jointly collaborate under a research framework focused on advance user experience. What's "advanced user experience"? For starters, it's augmented reality -

AR is a key technology in enabling advanced mobile user applications. In this initial project, USC and Nokia will focus on new vision-based AR tracking and content recognition techniques, adapted for use on mobile platforms.

Nokia always had a knack for mobile augmented reality, starting from the MARA project. Only last month we've reported about Nokia's "Point and Find" application. Let's see how this collaboration plays out - one thing for sure, I suddenly wish I were a student at USC.

Weekly Linkfest and Site News

Hey all, today I'm happy to bring you some exciting news. Ori from Games Alfresco and yours truly have decided to join forces in hopes of creating a central hub for all augmented reality fans and professionals. At first, I'll publish some of my posts both over here and on Games Alfresco, starting from today's linkfest (due to some technical problems, it may take some time for this first post to appear in Games Alfresco). Please leave a comment and tell us what you think about this collaboration!
And now for some other AR news from around the web -
Finally, the following video was doing the rounds this last week -

It's iVisit's SeeScan, an application under development for Windows Mobile that intends to help the visually impaired, but could have other uses for AR (a bit more information here).


You knew it was coming.
Spanish designer Diego Gopen (linkedin page) has done what I'm surprised no one has done before. He recently registered the domain, promising to provide a service that would change the world of advertisement. You guessed it folks - he's gonna use augmented reality to do so.

ARvertising is the new shiny star of the non conventional marketing. It came from the mix between AR (Augmented Reality) + advertising.

This is not advertising.
But ARvertising.

What´s coming out if we mix "Magic Realism" artistic genre, a door-to-door sales man, a mirror and the very top technology?
We have the answer. And its much more impressive that what you imagine...

Technology wise, he seems to use the plain old FLARToolKit, but since the site still lacks any substantial details, this is only an educated guess due to how he tagged the videos he uploaded to Youtube:

As you may tell, I'm a bit pissed off. First, this is another instance of novelty AR, bringing augmented reality closer to being a fad that will be tossed away by the general public the next season. Then, I'm also angry at myself, for not registering that domain myself. Surely I could have made a few bucks ...

Augmented Reality Tricks

How are you going to spend the coming summer? David Cochard, a french student currently doing his MSC studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, spent his last summer developing augmented reality solutions in Japan.
As an intern at Chiba Institute of Technology, he was tasked to couple together ARToolKit with OpenHaptics (a tool kit that enables adding haptic feedback to 3d renditions), and seized the chance to add a physics engine (Newton Game Dynamics) and OpenGL to the bunch. This enabled him to do some fancy renderings, like the cool mirror reflection of virtual objects below.

Subsequently, I momentarily wandered from haptics in order to solve problems I had already noticed during my previous augmented reality projects. Although OpenGL’s depth buffer7 does a great job, this is still not straightforward to accurately estimate an augmented object’ s location in the real environment (especially the position in depth). That’s the reason why I worked on object textures, shadows and reflections which, unconsciously or not, help the user to accurately analyze a 3D configuration.

Two weeks ago he published his results as a series of clips on Youtube, the clip above is only one out of six. You can see them all here, and read his written report, containing much more detail over here.

iPhone + RFIDs = Coolness

Here's some close range augmented reality for you -

iPhone RFID: object-based media from timo on Vimeo.

Some clever guys from Oslo School of Architecture and Design are behind this prototype, a simple media player that play clips according to the ID of object it senses. Of course, enhancing mobile phones with RFID readers is not a new concept, and Nokia is very active in this area, but as many things do, it looks sexier on the iPhone.

Overall the demo points towards opportunities around the distribution of media through physical objects, it is an example of general ideas around an ‘internet of things’ or ‘spimes’ applied to the world of media. What opportunities would the distribution of RFID-embedded products open up in terms of media, gaming, services and marketing? What does this mean for the future of products?

More details here (via Engadget)

Local Search is a Crowded Space

When one first thinks about augmented reality, she doesn't necessarily thinks about looking at black and white markers through a web camera. Augmented reality should augment our reality, and a natural useis having a mobile city guide; Point your AR device at a building, a monument, a shop or a restaurant, and get instant information about it.
A decent implementation only requires a GPS and a digital compass (no tricky image recognition a la SREngine). Moreover, the payoffs from advertisements in this type of search ("local search"), can be as large as those from web search, so no wonder there are many players in that space. We all know about Mobilizy's Wikitude and Tonchidot's Sekai Camera, but there are so many more -


One of the veteran players in this area, based in San-Fransisco, but focused on the Japanese market, GeoVector has numerous location based applications. The video below shows a mesh of some of their ideas, which look a little bit less impressive in reality. An application not mentioned below is Navimon, a game where players point their cellphones at shops or buildings (guided by clues the game provides) in hopes of locating cute alien monsters. In a nutshell, it's the cutesy version of Ghostwire. More info is provided in the following CNN article.

GeoVector applications work on specific phone models. As far as I know, no version of those applications is present for the Android G1 or for Nokia's compass enabled devices. Last year, John Ellenby, GeoVector's CEO was interviewed, and had the following to say:
Thanks to GeoVector, users in Japan are now pointing their mobile phones at restaurants and getting reviews. Soon they will be pointing at billboards and going directly to the advertiser’s mobile site for shopping, and pointing at a movie poster to buy a ticket. Our system allows images, videos and sounds to be downloaded. Users can not just read about a point of interest, they have rich media experiences. (source)

Intelligent Spatial Technologies
Portland based Intelligent Spatial Technologies (iST) is developing its iPointer application for the last couple of years. Very similar to GeoVector's concept, the iPointer lets you point at a specific location and get information about it. Unlike GeoVector, iPointer is developed for Windows mobile and Java phones, so you will not have to own a state of the art, available in Japan only, phone in order to use it.

The video above is already two years old. Two weeks ago, in CTIA Wireless 2009, Chris Frank, the founder and CEO of iST, claimed that the iPointer is coming to North America within the next 12 months. The obvious question is what taking them so long. A suspecting mind may think that the iPointer is nothing more than a vaporware, but several reporters have already seen it in action, and apparently there is a working demo for the University of Maine. Let's hope they are taking their time to perfect it.

Many of us have heard about the Enkin project. It exploded last year on the internet but since then disappeared. Max Braun and Rafael Spring developed Enkin for last year's the Android Developer Challenge, providing users with a tool to find out information about what they are looking at through an Android enabled phone camera (at the time, the G1 was not announced).

As you can see, Enkin was quite similar to Wikitude, but while Wikitude was one of the winners in the challenge, Enkin failed to pass the first stage. A persistent rumor says that Google was so impressed with Enkin, that it bought it right away. In their last blog post, almost a year ago, Braun and Spring wrote:
We have been contacted by Google separately and they, too, are excited about our project.
So at this point in time there are a number of possibilities for the project's future, which we are currently exploring. At the same time, we are working on realizing our previous and recent ideas.
There is more to come!
However, as rumors go, this one seems to be wrong. At least officially, the two guys behind Enkin are not Google employees. However, they do continue to work on that project. Spring is still active in Android developers forums, and when I tried to contact them, they gave the laconic reply:
thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, we can't give out any details about the status of the project at the moment.

If you want to make sure not to miss any future announcements, please keep an eye on the blog.

The three products above are really exciting, but we are now in a waiting game. Which of the three companies will be the first to launch their product in a western market? And, when they finally do that, would they be able to compete with Wikitude's growing popularity and Sekai Camera's buzz?

Weekly Linkfest

That was quite a week, and we have plenty of augmented reality related links from all over the web:
  • The next hardware version of the iPhone comes with a digital compass, or so the rumor goes, which, I suspect, will give a major push to augmented reality applications.
  • "Introduction to augmented reality", this video teaches the basics of programming with FLARToolKit
  • "Assassin's Creed 2", which is a game by Ubisoft to be released next winter, uses augmented reality in its promotional site. Pointing specific markers at your web-cam, unlocks secret content about the game. If you are interested, you can read the full story here (which I didn't), or you can just see how it looks like in the following Youtube clip. For another usage of AR as a locking mechanism, look at the video below.
  • Yet another company using AR for its promotional campaign is Doritos. It's a month old, and I've missed it when it was fresh. Nothing more than novelty AR.
  • Hotolag is a french service that let you leave a message to your friends, exposed when they present a marker at their web-cam. We saw a better service, similar to this one, last valentine. (via
  • Replace your head with an "Hello Kitty" character, I know you want to. This is a bit more sophisticated than your usual marker based AR, as the character is chosen according to the marker you hold in your hands (and not placed near your head itself). (via development memo for ourselves)

And since it's Easter, two videos this time -
This smart fellow used FLARToolKit to create a combination lock:

And Ori pointed to the next clip from 2004 (if I recall correctly), preceding int13's April fool's hoax by a couple of years, and doing that feat for real.

Tim O'Reilly on Recognition, RFID and Web 3.0

Here's an interesting interview held this February with Tim O'Reilly, the man behind O'Reilly Media, who is most associated with the Web 2.0 movement.

Jump ahead to 17:50, where he briefly speaks on his vision for the web in the coming years. For O'Reilly, augmented reality is the natural next step from web 2.0, while semantic web is a dead-end. Here are some (not-precise) excerpts:

RFID is an evolutionary dead-end ... semantic web or RFID is things "wearing name-tags", and web 2.0 is learning to recognize things ... We're getting to that kind of augmented reality, where our computers will have senses that are as good as ours or better ... they are going to recognize faces, they are going to recognize objects, they gonna have immediate recall. If you ask me "what's the UI in five years", it's a pair of glasses ... I'm gonna have some kind of little heads up display because I'm gonna look at something, I'm gonna walk around at a meeting and it will go "that's Joe, you met him three years ago".

What Revolution Will Come Out of this Recession?

I stole the next graph from Michael Tamblyn's very interesting talk "6 Projects That Could Change Publishing for the Better". You can find his slides here, and see a recording of his talk here.

The black line is US (?) unemployment rates since 1960. The colored columns mark recessions in that period, the last column marks our current recession. As you can see, each recession, apart from the one in the early 70's, gave birth to a new social/technological revolution. Of course, this graph is biased (as Tamblyn himself mentions). It doesn't cover technological revolutions during periods of growth, and it doesn't mention failures. Keeping this in mind, let's assume for a minute that some paradigm change will come out of this recession, will it be augmented reality?
Obviously, it's rather difficult to judge right now. Let's take a look at another graph created by Google Trends, comparing AR with other "futuristic technologies":

We can see that when comparing search volumes, AR has a slow increase in recent years, while other technologies have quite a decrease in volumes. In the last couple of months, AR is even on the brink of bypassing VR. As for news mentions, only nanotechnology is considerably more popular than AR. Seems very optimistic, till you compare AR with other, more current technologies (some would say, more current buzz words):

AR increase in search volumes seems puny relative to the dramatic increase in searches of "cloud computing". The same goes with news references. Yet, I'm still optimistic. AR is still in its infancy. AR is at a stage where cloud computing was two years ago. Most people still think of it as a cool novelty and don't get the many possibilities it creates. Let's check back in two years and look at the graphs once more. If augmented reality can show the same growth as "cloud computing" did, it could really be the revolution that came out of this recession.

Stop Using AR to Sell CARS

Advertisers learned a new trick and they are over using it. If last year was the year of viral marketing, featuring unbelievable videos on Youtube, this year seams to be the year of augmented marketing. Leading the way (to over exposure) is the car industry. Here's a list of previous attempts to "excite us":
And now (April 2009), BMW Z4:

And you can even share your creations on Facebook. That's just ... great.
(Ori wrote on the same topic a month ago)


SREngine in English

Sein Kanemura, the man behind one of the most intriguing AR projects out there, SREngine, has written a short introduction in English about his endeavors. Though most of the details are still a secret (and the rest are in Japanese), as you can see in the following video, SREngine shows a lot of promise.
Unlike previous similar AR projects (see Mobilizy's Wikitude and Tonchidot's Sekai Camera), SREngine uses image recognition to identify locations and items, which gives it the edge when it comes to working on the compass-less iPhone.

Some interesting points from Kanemura's post:
  • SREngine is a server/client application. The client does some of the image processing, the server is responsible for image matching.
  • "SREngine is able to distinguish scenes by using original image processing techniques." - Judging from Kanemura's academic past, I'm guessing some form of neural nets are involved.
  • Weak Points: "SREngine can recognize static scene only. Even shaded object is discriminated by the engine. Simple scenes cannot be recognized, such as a solid white wall."
I find it quite amazing that a single programmer can do all this on his own. Go ahead and visit his (mostly Japanese) blog, for more pictures and videos.

Breast Augmentation

(sorry for the pun). This site is using FLARToolKit, to let you have some fun with your body. I don't understand Japanese, so I can only bring you the pictures, and let you decide what it's all about:



Actually, it's probably another April Fools joke (see a better one, here). When you try it out (which I didn't, of course), you get an arrow pointing to your face, and some insulting text in Japanese directed at you. Though I guess there's a real market for such a product (I can think of some spam letters that can use this technique to let you see how you would look like after lengthening a specific body part).
(via this blog that I still don't know its name)

Weekly Linkfest

Some other augmented reality news from around the web:
And one video to brighten your Sunday, a cool amateur AR modeling tool using ARToolKit:

Augmented Reality Modelling Tool from melka on Vimeo.
Have a nice week!

Now Alcatel-Lucent Augments Movie Posters

Not two days have passed since Nokia has released (a beta version of) their augmented reality application "Point and Find", and Alcatel-Lucent has a come-back. "Point and Find" enables the user to scan movie posters in order to get reviews and local-screening times, and requires only the installation of a single application. Alcatel-Lucent's solution doesn't even need an installation, and looks great:

I've finally dug-up some information about how Alcatel-Lucent "Enhanced Reality" solutions (which we previously discussed here and here) work - the secret is video calls. When a user "scans" an image (in the above case, a movie-poster) she actually video-calls Alcatel-Lucent and transmits her camera input to its servers. Alcatel-Lucent's servers try to match the incoming image to known "augmented" images, and sends back information, a ringtone, or in the case above a video stream back to the user.
Obviously, this technique requires a very fast network connection (especially for a "textured effect" as seen in the embedded clip), and may be difficult to scale. However, at least in lab conditions, it looks wonderful.

Promis: Surgery Training through Augmented Reality

A few days ago I spotted this article on ScienceDaily, describing the use of augmented reality for training surgeons at laparoscopies. Sanne Botden, a researcher from Delft University of Technology adapted Haptica's ProMIS simulator for that cause:

Box trainers provide realistic ‘haptic feedback’ (the sensation and resistance of actual tissue) but do not provide an objective assessment of skills. VR simulators do give an objective assessment but lack the realistic haptic feedback.

Augmented Reality is a new form of simulation, in which physical realism is combined with VR. Realistic haptic feedback is provided by the fact that the surgeon practises using real materials and instruments, and objective assessment is also possible because the position of the instruments can be determined. (source)

Unfortunately, it's hard to tell from the press release what exactly did Botden change in the ProMIS simulator. Browsing through ProMIS's site, it seems that it was previously designed to use AR as a method for training for surgeries, even laparoscopies. See for example the following video (some virtual blood is involved), where the simulator guides the trainee through the procedure. Nevertheless, ProMIS seems like a very cool device, and I can only wonder what are type of precisions involved tasks can be learned using AR.

Augmented April Fools Day

SPOILER ALERT - do not read on, if you don't want to spoil yourself the surprise, though this is one is a pretty obvious hoax.

int13 brings us the best augmented reality related hoax ever*!

More here

* And probably the first one ever, as well.

Nokia "Point and Find" is Out

Nokia's venture into augmented reality has taken another baby-step forward today. Nokia has been working for the last few months on a service/application named "Point and Find".
The service was released today in beta version (for US and UK residents only), allowing users to scan movie-posters using their mobile-phones, in order to see local listings, reviews and trailers. By scanning a barcode, one can get product information from online sources, and Nokia promises that more features are coming.
Here's a video of "Point of Find" from September:

Of course, there's nothing that "Point and Find" can do, that Snaptell or GetFugu can't do on the iPhone. Though not technologically novel, Nokia actively seeks to form collaborations with other companies, improving the range of items recognizable using this service, which may give it the lead over smaller players.