Weekly Linkfest

This week on the linkfest, it's trains, snails and mobile phones:
In last week's linkfest I reported about the strange event named "The World Series Of 'Tubing", where two players play card war with Youtube videos render via augmented reality. Surely, such description doesn't make the event any clearer, but luckily the guys behind it have put the following video on Youtube to explain it all:

Is it Augmented Reality?

Techcrunch reports on a new experimental augmented reality application by Japanese telecom company KDDI, named Jitsukuukan Toushi Keitai, which according to Techcrunch translates to "handset that allows real space transparency". This app shows you icons and text labels standing for landmarks visible at the direction you are pointing your phone, as detected by GPS and compass readings.
The only problem is that the application shows those icons not on top of a video input, but rather on top of a "3d radar view", as can be seen in the following video:

So is it augmented reality? After all, although we consider such applications as Layar and Wikitude as AR applications since they overlay information on top of the phone's video input, they don't really do much with it. As far as I can tell, SREngine is the only similar application that has some form of image processing within it.

I have the same dilemma with Google's Sky Map:

And there are plenty other "video-less AR applications" around. I for one, think of them as (primitive) augmented reality applications, but don't fancy them too much. They do fetch information stored on the cloud relevant to your current position, augmenting the physical world, but they curtail efforts to improve registering and identification of objects and landmarks. That's why I usually don't cover them. Would you?

Zugara's Mirror has Great Features (except one)

Los Angeles based, but Japanese named interactive marketing agency Zugara has launched a couple of days ago a new application named "The Webcam Social Shopper".
Basically, it's a magic mirror application that let's you try on different clothes. But, there's so much more to it - the user interface is engaged via motion detection, and you can take a photo of yourself with your new virtual clothes, and share it on facebook with your friend. However, one thing this application fails to do, is to show you whether any of the clothes fit, as they all stay static and don't interact with your body movements. I don't expect this application to improve the 3.57% conversion rate state in the next video.

Now, this application is only in alpha state, and a lot can change until it goes public. And admittedly, Zugara has some nice ideas on the future use cases of such application (e.g. shop together with your friends, online). Nevertheless, I think it's too early for it to become useful. Maybe when Project Natal matures, but not now.

Oh, and lest I forget, this technology is patent pending. Great.

Update: Techcrunch had a similar article about Zugara a few days ago.

Augmented Pool is very Cool

Yep, it's the silliest post title I've ever come up with. Nevertheless, this next video is really cool. It features both a robotic pool player and an augmented reality guidance system for human pool players (starting at 2:00).

It was developed by a team of researchers from Canada's Queen's university. Sadly, I couldn't find much information about the augmented reality implementation. However, here's an article about the robotic system, and I guess that once they implemented the robot, advancing to AR only required identifying the cue stick.

Credit Wars Made Easy

It was bound to happen. As augmented reality becomes more and more prevalent, it was all a matter of time till someone took credit for something he is probably not entitled for. Enter Chris Hughes best known for jailbreaking the first iPhone. Last February, at TED palmsprings, Hughes briefly showcased his work that "makes creating 'augmented reality' a cinch".

If this demo looks familiar to you, you are not alone. Ralph Hauwert, a Papervision3d developer, took offence at Hughes talk, and subsequent interview. According to Hauwert, Huges is taking credit for porting ARToolKit to flash, while he only took FLARToolKit and "followed a tutorial like this one from the FlashBlog, then gathered all his courage and energy to work with 2 opensource projects and take credit for it" (source).

Apparently, TED folks are working to fix things up. Till then, you can find more details over Hauwert's blog.

Weekly Linkfest

This week seemed to be all about Layar. The blogosphere and major tech sites were all reporting about the "first augmented reality browser" (and we had our fare share in the coverage as well). However, there were some other AR releated news this week, even though the first item on this week's linkfest is still about Layar:

Happy Father's day! If you live in the united states and forgot to get something special for your father, don't worry, you can still make him an augmented greeting card, thanks to internet developement agenct Mangrove:

Hi Dad! An Augmented Reality Father's day gift from Mangrove on Vimeo.

Have a good father's day, and a great week!

IBM Serves an Augmented Reality Wimbledon

While SPRXMobile enables you to experience an augmented version of the Netherlands (and the whole world in the the future), IBM has more modest goals in mind. Available from next Monday on the Android store, IBM's Seer Android Beta will add some AR magic to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Using it, visitors can find facilities on ground (locating the nearest restrooms), but more impressively, they can "point the phone at a tennis court, find out the court number and also who's playing and more crucially, who's winning".

As with Layar, IBM Seer Android Beta lets you choose between different layers of metadata (and it seems that unlike Layar, one can choose to see more than one layer at a time). Moreover, the not specialized name of this app (i.e. not calling it "IBM Augmented Wimbledon") suggests that IBM may have more deep interest in augmented reality location based services. Days will tell if my hunch here is correct.

More details can be found here.
(via PicturePhoning.com)

Transform to Optimus Prime

Remember the days when new films were promoted using alternative reality games? Well, it's got old fast, and this summer there's a new technology in town. In the last month or so we already covered the following movie promotions:
Now, Transformers 2 is joining the party (do you need to be a sequel to get your own AR campaign?). Users can go to WeAreAutobots.com and try out an activex application that uses face detection in order to place a virtual Optimus Prime mask onto your face. You can also print a black and white marker in order to play with a virtual Bumblebee at the palm of your hand.

It was developed by creative marketing agency Picture Production Company using the technology provided by Total Immersion (and that's why it's not a simple flash based application). Decepticon leader Megatron refused to comment.

(via /Film)

Layar is Out

Surely, you have already read about it at Gizmodo, at ReadWriteWeb, or at any other of the millions of websites which reported the news today. However, if you are avid readers of this blog, you already knew about Layar, "the first augmented reality browser" for at least two weeks (see link for further details).

So luckily, all that is left for me to do, is (1) embed this new video demoing Layar:

(2) Quote from the press release:
Mobile innovation company SPRXmobile launches Layar, the worlds first mobile Augmented Reality browser, which displays real time digital information on top of reality (of) in the camera screen of the mobile phone. While looking through the phone's camera lens, a user can see houses for sale, popular bars and shops, jobs, healthcare providers and ATMs.
The premier launch is for the Dutch market. ... Layar will be launched per country with local content partners in order to guarantee relevent results for the end user. SPRXmobile is planning further roll-outs, together with local partners, in Germany, the UK and the United States this year. SPRXmobile will continue with regular releases of new layers after each local launch. The Layar application will be available via the Android Market. Other handsets and operating systems are in development with a prime focus on the iPhone 3G S.

(3) Tell you that it will be available tomorrow on the Android Store
(4) And once again wish good luck to Maarten, Raimo and friends from SPRXMobile.

Brazilian IKEA uses Augmented Reality to Increase Sales

Last month, this student's project, using AR to advertise IKEA, got me excited. Now, Brazilian furniture retailer Tok&Stok is letting consumers arrange rooms and place furniture using augmented reality. To do so, clients can use AR kiosks placed in stores, as seen in the video below, or try a web-cam based application online.

I guess, augmented reality is only used as a gimmick here, since you could arrange the same furniture using a simple 3d application (after all, it doesn't virtually place the furniture in your room, like the IKEA campaign did). However, the video claims that sells are higher thanks to this application, so who am I to argue.

Weekly Linkfest

Well, we've got a dwindled bag of links today, after some very busy weeks:
If I've missed any linkfest worthy news-bit, feel free to comment.

This week's video clip comes to us from Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht in the Netherlands, where students created a simcity like augmented reality game. If I read the google translation of this page correctly, the goal of the game is to show the benefits of working together and selling local agricultural products in a store along the highway.

Have a nice week!

Magic Mirrors

When it comes to using augmented reality for marketing purposes, nothing beats those magic mirror applications. After all, trying on a product, even virtually, goes a long way towards selling it (and surely it's better than those novelty AR gimmicks).
Previously I've covered Fraunhofer's magic mirror that lets you try on new shirts, and just last week we reported about virtually trying on diamond rings. Today I'm going to cover to exciting companies working in this field, Fittingox and Seac02.
One of the first and still most famous commercial applications of this kind was Ray-Ban's virtual mirror that enabled web surfers to check out how would they look with different sunglasses. The company behind the technology, FittingBox, has recently licensed the technology to British online glasses retailer Glasses Direct. Taming face detection algorithms, FittingBox can place a pair of glasses on you with an admirable accuracy. And it doesn't end with Ray-Ban and Glasses Direct. Vogue Eyewear also uses that technology and FittingBox is the owner of YouAreTheModel.com, where you can try on many other brands. Here's a short video showcasing the technology:

While FittingBox is somewhat a niche company specializing in virtual eyeglasses, Seac02 develops many AR applications (and I really need to cover some of them, sometime). Their Eligo engine simplifies the creation of magic mirrors application at point of sales. Seen here is HairArt, an application developed by Seac02 Asian distributor Hanoul Neotech, that lets the user try on wigs. Yes, we have seen such applications before, but it's always good to see another one:

Hair Augmented Reality from Seac02 srl on Vimeo.

Another application of this technology is this next magic mirror that lets you try on and even choose some tailor made shoes. This one still needs a marker to work out, but according to Seac02 they will be releasing a version in July that waives this requirement and detects your feet automatically.

Eligo, a virtual product experience from Seac02 srl on Vimeo.

(Glasses Direct via Not Just Reality)

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):

AR, no Programming Knowledge Needed

Do you want to play with AR, but too afraid you don't have the required programming knowledge needed? Now you have two applications to play with from the comfort of your own home.

First is Metaio Unifeye Design. Available freely in an (almost fully featured) demo version, this tool is far from being a toy. You can create elaborate scenarios of marker based and marker-less image based augmented reality without writing a single line of code. You can test your creations with your web-camera or using a prerecorded video clip of a marker. There's even a tool for creating new markers.

However, such flexibility does come with a price. I had a hard time working with the user interface beyond the basic functions, and I'm quite sure I only scratched the surface of what's possible with this tool. That's why I had this application installed for about a month now, but I was hesitant about writing anything about it.
Metaio claims that video tutorials are coming shortly, and I think they are very much needed (and I'm a programmer in my spare time :).
In more somber news, you can't use your own 3d models, or export your scenarios as a stand alone application. You probably have to pay for those features.

Now, if Metaio Unifeye Design was a bit too complex for you, the next application is truly augmented reality for beginners. It's called Atomic, and it wraps ARToolKit to give you the basic functionality of augmenting markers with VRML 3d objects when you examine them using your webcam. The application source is available to download as well, so eager programmers may add more features to it in the future. Another advantage of this tool is that it allows you to import and use your own models. However, don't expect to amaze any AR veteran using it.

Once again:
Unifeye Design
Atomic (Atomic via Rising Wisely)
Happy Augmenting!

Weekly Linkfest

Before going on with our scheduled linkfest, I would like to pose a question to my readers. Am I updating too much, or not enough? How many augmented reality related posts would you like to read per week? Your opinion is important to me, so please comment away on this topic.

Now, without further ado, here's this week's linkfest.
This week's quote comes from the Augmented Reality Blog:
if you put a marker on something inadequate (for example an oily food box) and fail to produce both a nice game logic and fancy design, augmented reality becomes totally obsolete. Driven by nothing. And because I am driven by augmented reality I don´t want immersive “campaigns” to be as attractive as a modem.
This augmented reality video comes from Berio Molina Quiroga thesis project for the Computer Graphic Design Masters at Rochester Institute of Technology. It's called Augmented Sound, but I fancy the drawing process much better than the auditory results. You can find more information over here.

Augmenting sound. Space 1 Bath. Video 2 from berio on Vimeo.

Have a nice week!

Imitation is the best form of flattery

This game for Google Android reminds me of something, but I just can put my finger on it.

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.

Gamaray's AR Explorer is Online

Since one augmented reality framework per week is not enough, here comes another one for Google's Android. While other Android AR applications provide information about landmarks seen through your mobile's camera, Gamaray's AR Explorer shows virtual 3d objects not seen with the naked eye. Obviously, the technology is in its infancy, and it's quite a bold move on Gamaray's part to release its application in such an early stage:

Right now, Gamaray is focusing on utilizing their framework for building multiplayer games, the first one being a tank combat game. Founder Clayton Lilly, admits that "For a while we thought of creating a more general purpose AR platform, but I'm concerned that Google may already be developing a first person AR viewer for KML data and 3D models". I for one root for the smaller companies in this new ecosystem, so good luck guys!


InVizimals - AR Game for the PSP

Yet another quick post, just before I go to (my real) work. Sony is developing its own AR game for a camera enhanced PSP, named InVizimals. A combination of GhostWire and int13's Kweekies, players have to hunt around their houses for monsters, and later can set the monsters to fight each other. I really like how they combine the player's real world actions (casting a shadow, shaking the PSP, etc.) in the gameplay.

Here's the teaser:

and here's an in game view:

Via GameSetWatch.

PTAM + AR on an iPhone 3G

Usually I try to avoid having a post consisting of just a Youtube clip. But I'm too tired for a full blown post, and I'll compensate you over the weekend. I promise.
So here's Oxford University's Georg Klein, running a port of the PTAM algorithm on the iPhone. It's shiny!

Layar is Online

Layar is a new augmented reality Android framework that comes from SPRXMobile. SPRXMobile, which previously brought us the ATM finder and this excellent post about the AR hype cycle, have kicked it up a notch with a full blown AR platform.
SPRXMobile don't provide many details quite yet (they save it to Mobile 2.0), but here's what was made public on their site:
  • It will be available for download on the Android Market before the first of July. However, at launch, the service itself will only be available in the Netherlands (one more reason to visit!)
  • Points of interest are shown on top of the video input using graphical symbols, their interpretation (the text describing them) is shown out of band, on the bottom of the screen.
  • You will be able to choose between different content layers. Companies will be able to create their own layers (e.g. a layer whose points of interest are Starbucks).
  • "Currently several companies have already signed up for Layar and will publish their own content in their branded layer soon."
My educated guess is that they are using the compass+gps combo to identify points of interest. First, it works only on Android devices since "they are the only devices with a compass". Then, "We have a little indicator showing you the accuracy of the location positioning", which could be avoided using computer vision. If that's the case, the main difference between them and Wikitude is having many content layers (which also justify their "first mobile browser" slogan).

Whatever is the case, seeing SPRXMobile previous projects, I'm sure this one will be a tight application with a lot of promise. Good luck guys! (Raimo, Maarten, feel free to comment).


Update: Maarten of SPRXMobile replies -
We sooooooooooo excited. And there is even more. We will be launching with at least one layar which is globally relevant, so you can visit Holland to use it but also do it at home in the US8-)

If there are any major brands out there reading this and wishing to get their location information in a layer on this browser let me know: “maarten atsign sprxmobile.com”. Starbucks would be a great layar…

When Augmented Reality Fails

Here's a cute French short film bringing us another vision of augmented reality. Don't worry about the French at the few first seconds (saying that in the near future we are always connected through "cerebral chips" and "retina screens"), the visuals are self explanatory.

Though this clip is online for more than a year, I've just found about it via Life 2.0, and I think it deserves its own post.