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.

Weekly Linkfest

Another week has passed by, and it's time again for our weekly linkfest. I kept this one short by skipping some of the more redundant links I've collected along the week. Hope it makes the linkfest more readable:

This week's video comes from Ogmento. It's a spelling game that features an augmented panda to entice kids into playing. Since it would feel a bit incestuous to write a full post about it (and Ori was apparently too shy to mentioned it himself on Games Alfresco), this really charming video was relegated to the weekly linkfest, but it deserves better. Luckily, Thomas wrote about it, here.

Have a nice week!

A break from our regular schedule

Once is funny,
Twice is nice,
A third time is meh, though it made me hungry.

Some weird viral ad from Burger King New Zealand, go figure.

Robotvision is for Humans, not Terminators

Mobile augmented reality becomes a crowded space really quickly, and I'm about to give up reporting about every application that pops into the lime light.
Anyway, Robotvision is another iPhone "augmented reality browser" developed by Portland based Tim Sears. To be released in September (once iPhone OS 3.1 is out), Robotvision boasts some unique features like using Bing rather than Google for local listings (which some would say is a wise decision), and being offered as a white-label infrastructure for other application creators (though, if you are looking to create an AR application for the iPhone you may also want to consider creating a layer for Layar, or using the open source iphonearkit).

Read more details at ReadWriteWeb.

Wikitude Drive!

Just this Monday I was criticizing Mobilizy for having a very low-key release of their new Wikitude version. My main point was that a press release doesn't cut it these day, and augmented reality, being visually oriented, should be demonstrated using a video clip.
Come Friday, and Wikitude produces a new rabbit out of its head. Wikitude Drive is a natural extension to "AR browser" applications, providing on screen directions and augmented arrows you could follow to arrive to your destination. And this time, you don't have to understand my cumbersome description, since the press release was "augmented" with a Youtube clip:

I guess that it's not that useful when driving, but when it comes to walking directions, that's an application I would love to have at hand.
More details, here.

Yelp introduce Augmented Reality to the iPhone via Easter Egg

While I'm quite a skeptic whether Presslite's Metro Paris application for the iPhone has "AR capabilities" in the version available on the appstore, there's no denying Yelp's application does.
Found by Robert Scoble (I'm pretty sure it was leaked to Scoble), and brought to my awareness my ReadWriteWeb, shaking your iPhone while on Yelp's main menu three times, will open up an hidden feature named monocle. Monocle is nothing but an augmented reality view of Yelp's listing, as shown in the next video (many thanks to Tom Carpenter for finding this one):

It only works on the iPhone 3gs, but unlike Metro Paris, it's free, so don't hesitate to tr y it out. Now, I don't think that in the long run it matters whether Apple knew or not about this feature. Obviously, mobile augmented reality is here, and we are only about see more of it in the coming months. What should matter is what's next? Where will innovation come from, if everyone is using the same compass and GPS combo?
I for one think that we are in the middle of the "AR browsers" season, but the next big thing, which better suits the technology at hand (imprecise compasses), is mobile AR games. What are your thoughts?

Dear Mobilizy, You Are Doing It All Wrong

Dear Mobilizy,
Look, I'm not a PR person. I'm just an engineer like you guys; But let's be honest, that's not how you should launch a new version of Wikitude.
A press release is not a bad thing, but it pales in comparison to what Layar did just last week. I don't expect you to hold a conference, and invite Bruce Sterling to give a keynote, but there are some simple things you can do to let the world know that you are around.
  • First and foremost, augmented reality is about seeing the world in a new way, yet a press release doesn't give us any visual stimuli. I know you know how to use Youtube, so go ahead, don't be shy.
  • How come there's nothing about the new version on the front page of Wikitude.org, while there's only a small message about it on Mobilizy.com's front page (and should Wikitude.me return an error message)? You've got news, then let the world know!
  • As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for Games Alfresco, I wouldn't have known about this new release. And I'm subscribed to your RSS feed (and to many other AR related RSS feeds).
  • Oh, and there are some eager bloggers who would gladly spread the word for you, but at least this one didn't get the press release from you.
Don't think this post is just a result of some disgruntled blogger blowing off steam. You have a great product, it's a shame it doesn't get the appreciation it deserves.

Augmented Times in Paris

Just a short tweet, to show you I'm still alive (actually, it was a tweet a few hours ago). Unfortunately, I'm not in Paris, but working hard at the moment. However, this next video presents an iPhone app that augments Paris (and looks suspiciously like acrossair applications).

It's called Métro Paris, and the augmented reality is actually a new feature for an old application (which apparently is the top non-free application on the French iTunes). More details, here.

Weekly Linkfest

Hope you didn't miss the weekly linkfest's early edition, published yesterday, covering some of the best articles, posts and talks that were published during the week. Here are some more interesting bits from around the AR ecosystems making news this week:
And finally, this week video comes from Hongik University of South Korea. It shows a project named "Will be", created in 2004 (and presented in ISMAR05), which is the augmented reality take on a story board. It's quite nice, though some of the features could have been more accessible if they were implemented via standard GUI, rather than ARUI:

A break from our regular schedule

Just to have a short laugh (or rather a smirk) here is another parody AR clip, made by Bruno Tozzini, following the footsteps of Anatoly Zenkov.

Augmented Reality Extreme from Bruno Tozzini on Vimeo.

I was actually surprised to see the final twist. Obviously this summer makes my dumber than usual.

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:

Augmented Job Board

When you look for augmented reality news and insights, Games Alfresco and Augmented Times are there for you, and so for thousands others. Judging from last week's poll, our readers come from all walks of life, but all share a passion for augmented reality. So, it's only natural that if your company or your research institute is looking to fill up an AR related position, or even if you are looking for a partner for an AR project, you will look for the right person here.
I was thinking of have a bi-weekly post consisting of open positions sent by our beloved readers. If you thinks it's a good idea, an have an open position in mind, feel free to email me at rouli.net|at|gmail.com. If on the other hand, you are a loyal reader and hate the idea (since you prefer this blog just as it is), please leave a comment.

To get things started here are some positions I've handpicked from around the web. Obviously, that's not a very long or attractive list, but with some help from you it can become useful.
  • AR integrator at Fake (UK) - Strong programming background in C, Proficient with Total Immersion SDK
  • Augmented reality expert at Harvard Technology Partners (Netherlands) - We are working on a innovative project for image analysis and processing and need knowledge of several domains in 2d analysis
  • Member of Research Staff of User Experiences at Nokia Hollywood - Nokia Research Center Hollywood (NRCH) seeks a researcher in user experiences to join their newly established research center based in Santa Monica, California. This exciting lab is carrying out a range of research activities in the areas of mobile augmented reality experiences; innovative use of sensors; new forms of user interface and interaction; tools for content creation for mobile devices and large-scale mobile internet services, systems and solutions.

Layar, Layar, Layar

If you read this post, you are probably an avid reader of this blog.
If you are an avid reader of this blog, you are probably interested in AR.
If you are interested in AR, you probably know that Layar had a fantastic day, at least PR wise:
As a matter of fact, this day was such a success for Layar, that it seems that layar.com and layar.eu are quite slugish, probably due to a surge in visitors. Is it too late for Mobilizy (Wikitude) and acrossair? (I really hope not).

Even more details, on Layar's blog.

Weekly Linkfest

Last week I published a poll, asking how do you define yourself - are you an engineer, an artist or maybe an Entrepreneur? As of writing this post, 75 readers have answered the poll, 34 of them (45%) identified themselves as engineers. I thought there would be more artists among you (15%), and was surprised by the percent of entrepreneurs (15%). The poll is still open, so you can still cast a vote.
Moving on to the weekly linkfest (it gets bigger every week!) -
  • Metaio blitzed the airwaves with two podcasts - Noora Guldemond (head of sales and marketing) interviews here and Peter Meier, Metaio's CTO is giving an interview here. Sadly, I haven't found the time last week to hear them, but I plan to do so in the next few days.
  • And it was a good week for SPRXMobile (Layar) as well. Aparently, Layar comes preinstalled on Samsung's new Android phone, they were featured on The Financial Times, and things are only going to get better, since they are holding their first Layar event.
  • TweetWorld is Gamaray's attempt to have an augmented tweeter application, joinning the ranks of Layar and TwittAround.
  • The BBC - Mobile phones get cyborg vision: "Not only could this form of rich, intuitive and easy to grasp data be the next killer app for the mobile, some see it changing our world view forever."
  • ReadWriteWeb - Augmented Reality: A Human Interface for Ambient Intelligence: "Augmented reality (or AR) is fast becoming as ubiquitous a term as Web 2.0. The field is getting noisier by the day, and AR as a field of research now has to co-exist with its status as an industry buzzword"
  • A short introduction to programming AR applications for the Android OS.
  • Is this the first augmented shirt on Threadless?
  • CrashCorp demos a rudimentry AR application for the iPhone.
  • YDreams and Zugara join the AR consortium (can I join too?)
  • And Zugara (covered previously here) also launched what must be the second augmented reality game on Facebook (since last week Total Immersion had the first), CannonBallz (video). Just four years ago, we would have called this kind of games "Eye Toy" like, but today we have new buzzwords. Still, it is a well produced game.
Our weekly video is of a game created by Circ.us, to promote Chris Angel's new show, "The five lives of Chris Angel". Since it's a puzzle game, and this summer turned me into a brain-dead blogger, I haven't tried it myself to give an educated review. You, on other hand, can play it here, or just watch the embedded video below:

Criss Angel Augmented Reality Game from Circ.us on Vimeo.

As always, have a nice week!

Two More AR Browsers to Join the Party

Are you a Wikitude or Layar supporter? Maybe Sekai Camera fan? The battle for supremacy at the augmented reality browsers market is getting more complicated by the minute, with two new contenders joining the fight.
First, acrossair which brought us the Tube Finder, is now showing off a very slick "general purpose" AR browser for the iPhone 3GS:

Next, GraffitiGeo, a fresh new startup that wants to create a Digg like service for real places is working on an AR version of their application, also for the iPhone:

(more details about GraffitiGeo here).

So, now we are at five AR browsers. Anyone wants to bet how many browsers there will be by this time next year? (my guess - only three serious contenders, and one of them will be owned by Google).

Whatchoo Augmentin' 'bout, Willis?

Obviously the end of the world came, and no one told me. The signs are all here:
1. Canadian based New York Fries is celebrating 25 years of selling, well, fries.
2. To commemorate the occasion, they looked for an eighties icon.
3. They chose Gary Coleman.
4. And made an augmented reality application, on Facebook, were you shake Gary Coleman by shaking a marker, making him drop his fries, and tell you your fortune.

You can try it yourself, here, and find more details at AdFreak, while I'm looking for the nearest nuclear shelter*.

* Yeah, I'm mean, no point commenting about it. I don't have anything against Mr. Coleman, my sarcasm is targeted solely at the novelty AR application.

Pseudo AR Games FTW!

A short post to keep you warm while I'm working on a longer series of posts I hope you all find interesting. Anyway, just two days ago I wrote about Acrossair new shooting game, Virus Killer 360:

And I also mentioned iPhone ARKit, an interesting open source project to facilitate augmented reality development for the iPhone. What happens when you merge the two together? this -

It was created by a Japaneses developer going by the nickname mswar, by forking the iPhone ARKit source code and adding OpenGL and GPS geo-positioning. I don't call it augmented reality, because it has nothing to do with our reality, but I do think it has a potential to supply some moments of fun.
More details here (in Japanese).

Behind the Scenes of Best Buy's AR Campaign

Yesterday I mentioned Best Buy's AR campaign in the weekly linkfest. The campaign itself is not that exciting, just your typical marker based advertisement. Here's the obligatory video of some guys on Youtube playing around with it:

However, this time around we get to peek behind the scenes of the campaign thanks to Advertising Age, which held an interview with Spencer Knisely, director-brand identity, print and design at Best Buy. It turns out that while the print ad pushing the site had a circulation of about 43 million people, only 6500 of them have tried the AR application on its first day. Surprisingly, that's double the number Best Buy have predicted.

Ad Age: Can you tell what the real business result -- or conversion -- of this was?

Mr. Knisely: We don't know that yet. We saw comparatively high click-through -- 12% -- to other pages: the Twelpforce page, the Next Class computing page or to the dot-com site for the Toshiba computer itself. But aggregated, a 12% click-through on an experience like that is fairly decent.

More here.

Weekly Linkfest

Another week passed by, and I was especially lazy this week. Sorry, but apart from those augmented strippers from Monday, nothing excited me enough (or annoyed me enough) to write a post about. Which means, we have an extra long linkfest today.

However before we start, I would like to learn a thing or two about our dedicated readers. The next poll asks you to define yourself, and you may select more than one answer. Are you more the creative kind of person, or a problem solver? Please vote, and I'll post the results on next week's linkfest:

And now, for the links:

The quote of the week comes from Tish Shute's interview with Robert Rice:

This is part of the problem right now though…no one seems to be thinking about the bigger picture much. All of the effort is either on making the next cool ad campaign for a car or a movie, or creating a tool to tell you where the nearest thingamajig is, but in a really cool fashion on a mobile device.

No one is talking much about filtering data, privilege systems, standards, third party tools, interoperability, and so on. There is also little conversation about where hardware is going. Right now everyone is developing software based on what hardware is available. This needs to change where hardware is being developed to take advantage of new software coming out (this happened in the PC industry a while back and growth accelerated dramatically).

And finally, the next video is of GeoBeagle, an application for Android that adds an augmented reality twist to geo-caching (which is an idea I first encountered here). Interestingly, it uses Wikitude's API, showing off some of the power of that platform.

Have a nice week!

AR Strippers, Oh My!

Well, you knew this day will come sooner or later. As any other media before it, porn was destined to reach augmented reality. But I bet you could never guess that the first semi-erotic application will be created to promote a movie.
Apparently, Gamer's last attempt at augmented reality advertisement didn't bring the masses, so they launched this site. All for the better I guess.

The application lets you select between four exotic dancers, and about five dances for each dancer. I would have written about it earlier, but being a thorough journalist as I am, I had to test all the available options.
[via akihabaranews.com]

Weekly Linkfest

Here are just some of the things that happened this week in the realm of Augmented Reality, which I didn't have the time to write a whole post about. It's going to be a long post, you may want to prepare a snack before you go ahead.
This week's video comes from Metaio, which launched an ambitious initiative named "metaio World". There haven't given much information about it, but here's a short quote -
You can view, create, upload, modify, navigate, share, rate or play games with real 3D content anywhere in the real world. Add your 3D and post interactive elements, your favourite photos, twitter messages or anything you can imagine.
An ambitious project deserves an ambitious video, but can they deliver?

Have a nice week!

Augmented Reality Won't Make your App Cooler

Augmented Traffic Views is a pretty cool app that links your Android phone to Toronto's traffic cameras to help you make better decisions for your daily commute. Alas, I don't understand what the augmented reality part contributes to the application.
As a matter of fact, it seems to only hurt usability. Would you rather physically turn around yourself every time you want to see the video input coming from some traffic camera, or would you prefer a scrollable list of cameras and their locations? I would go with the second option. Moreover, you can't really use it in AR mode while driving, unless I'm mistaken and you can do u-turns in the middle of the road in Canada.

Once again, it's a useful application, and they have done a right choice giving it text to speech capabilities, but having an augmented reality interface seems to me contrived. True, AR has a natural appeal when it comes to house listing, as can be seen by the end of the video, but then again, house listing is not really about traffic views. I hope the guys behind this app (who are you?) will reconsider their use-cases before releasing it to the Android's app store.