from Virtual Reality to Augmented Reality

Published in 1993, Cybergeneration was a radical departure from R.Talsorian Games’ previous successful Cyberpunk line. Whereas the latter focussed on style over substance, high calibre firearms and heavily armoured Solos backed up by geeky NetRunners, CyberGeneration focussed on the kids of these embittered mercenaries and endowed them with nanotech-derived superpowers.

In Cybergeneration, the Net became actualised from Virtual Reality to Augmented Reality. Individuals would see augmented reality objects as readily as they would see real world objects – 3D objects in realspace. At the time I knew that IP addresses were ‘geotagged’ but this was long before we realised that GPS units could be embedded into superslim phones that were always net-connected.


This week we also saw Metaplace, one of the many 3D Virtual Worlds with User Generated Content, fall by the wayside. “It raised $9.4 million over two rounds of funding with that goal in mind, managing to get the buy-in from new investors Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz last October.” but they just announced their closure on Jan 1st, 2010. I think this is typical because Virtual Worlds require you to sit in front of a computer and limit your interaction through keyboard and mouse pointer. In a 3D world, the mouse pointer becomes a single fingertip by which you interact with the world. For Augmented Reality, we have to avoid the mobile phone screen becoming a keyhole by which we view the world. We have to be able to touch it and to hear it.

Earlier this week, Edo Segal, write a guest post on Techcrunch describing a cyberpunk story he wrote 16 years ago which involved augmented reality and I’d hesitate to link this with Cybergeneration (despite the identical publishing year).

Edo reckons the building blocks of an augmented reality system have to be more than we currently have, which amounts to little more than search. He sees the four main blocks as being:

  1. Realtime Web (Twitter, news flows, world events, and other information which relates to changes in the world)
  2. Published Information (sites, blogs, Wikipedia, etc.)
  3. Geolocation Data (your location and information layers related to it, including your past locations and that of your friends, as well as geo-tagged media)
  4. Social Communications (social graph updates, IMs, emails, text messages, and other forms of signal from your friends).

and he handily provides a diagram.


but he says something in the Techcrunch post which resonates:

One only needs look at a teenager today as they do their homework, watch TV, play a game, and chat while watching their Facebook stream to get a sense for humanity’s expanding affinity to consume ambient streams. Their young minds are constanty tuning and adapting to an age of hypertasking.

and I reckon that this is being unfair to some of us oldies. In March of this year, I met with Ewan McIntosh, one of the 4IP commissioners and part of the round-table chat included the admission that he watches TV with a laptop on his lap and a mobile phone on the arm of the chair beside him. This is how my household watches TV. The concept of not being connected while consuming information is alien to me. I want to look around the periphery of it, I want to dig deeper and, at the moment, technology is failing me.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Augmented Reality at the moment is a sham. It’s all search and toys. Either you’re pulling geotagged information from one of the search engines or content silos (and I include Wikipedia here) or you’re using geotags and fiduciary markers to drop toys here and there. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s not enough to be just tagging stuff and re-presenting it as your own. There has to be something novel coming out of it – even if it’s just the presentation of context.

The CyberGeneration example is a good one. Their solution, Virtuality, included the presentation of interactive tools in Virtuality – whether those be musical instruments or even keyboards and computers. We’re touching the edges of a world where hardware itself is virtualised and made into software. We’ve already seen this done in something as simple as the ‘Compass’ app on the iPhone – it’s a virtualised hardware solution projected onto a multi-purpose handheld display. At some point we’ll figure out how to internalise that display and I reckon that MIT’s Sixth Sense technology is probably one way of doing it (though I guess that having a projector on your chest is a limitation of the technology we’re currently using rather than a potential prototype)/

In early 2010, I’d like to invite some of the other players in AR-related technology in Northern Ireland, like Awakin, Filmtrip, the Design Zoo, ReDisc0very, Ulster MediaScapes and others to have a “DevDays” type event where we talk about the very possibilities of augmented reality solutions. Some of them read this blog, some don’t – but I’d like to hear of other folk in the province (and beyond) who are interested i talking and/or presenting in a BarCamp-esque situation.

Objet d’AR

From Art History

(noun) – French for “object of art.” An objet d’art is something small and decorative – such as a miniature painting, or porcelain statuette, or the hand-print your 4-year-old child made in wet plaster and decorated with glitter when it had dried – that has artistic value. At least, to you, its owner. (In other words: somebody is going to have to dust that little dust-catching objet, and that person will likely be you. Make sure it’s something you value!)

At the moment there’s broadly two types of AR (Augmented Reality) out there.

  1. Search
  2. Objet d’AR

Search is simply the overlay of data on an AR display. This data commonly comes from retailer indexes, wikipedia, public transport timetables and other sources of data which can be geo-located. These mechanisms commonly use GPS units in smart phones to provide key data. This is an incredibly quickly growing area with multiple competing applications for the same services – whether that’s the London Tube or access to geo-located search data provided by Google or Microsoft Bing.

Objet d’AR is my pet name for most of the fiducial marker-based projects which are appearing all over the web and also in print. We’ve seen them all over Youtube, on the front of Empire magazine, and even in marketing promotions for toys and movies. The Objet d’AR tends to have very little utliity but presents a lot of opportunities for amusement.

So, have you seen any examples of Augmented Reality that extends beyond Search and Objet d’AR?

Obama and the Peace Prize

From the BBC:

US President Barack Obama is due to collect his Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Norway’s capital, Oslo. The prize was awarded to Mr Obama in October for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”.

There was a mixed reaction when Mr Obama was named as the winner of the prize for 2009.
Many said it was inappropriate that it could go to the commander-in-chief of a country involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think that we have to take the historical perspective here. I don’t care if Obama showed effective leadership or a show of strength of purpose for the American people. I can only describe what Obama meant to me when he was elected – speaking as a yokel in a piss-ant country on the north-western edge of Europe. Obama means hope.

For hope alone I believe that Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ian Percy:

We judge others by actions[,] we judge ourselves by intentions.

and that’s so dangerously wrong. We should always do exactly the reverse.

From the Harvard Law Record:

“Deeds are to be judged by their intentions”: this is an Arabic proverb that reflects an ancient adage that intentions are just as powerful as deeds, and that notwithstanding the fact that not all good intentions lead to fruition they are still worth recognition.

That’s my opinion of course. Do you think that Obama deserves to be picking up the Nobel Peace Prize? How did you feel when he was elected? Do you feel different now?

Project 49

The real boost I’ve received this year towards getting some time on the water was on the 1st August which some may recall as being my wedding anniversary. My wife bought me a pair of sailing sunglasses and a hefty book on sailing.

I’ve read through most of the book but find myself now wanting to put some of it into practise. In the absence of time on the water, however, I’ve started to buy a couple of sailing magazines every month and also started contributing to their online forums. My contributions there have won me a Helly Hansen hat and also given me an idea for a cool app – the basics of which are on the Code4Pizza site.

So – what is Project 49?

Project 49 is simply a description and a journal of everything I’m going to do over the next 12 years (until I’m 49) to get myself sea-worthy and get my own boat. Ideally I will get a smaller weekender to practise with at some point and make a few friends who want to spend time afloat. The culmination, the finale of Project 49 is stepping off the pontoons here or in Belfast and disappearing around the world under sail.

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

e-Synergy Committees and Panels openings

e-Synergy runs “NISPO”

The Northern Ireland Spin Out Initiatives support start up businesses in Northern Ireland. A venture capital fund, the Invest Growth Fund (IGF) focuses on seed and early stage businesses with high growth potential and the Invest Growth Proof of Concept Fund (IGPoC) provides funding to very early, non-university projects.

e-Synergy are seeking applications for their Committee and Panel for both the Invest Growth Fund and the Proof of Concept Fund. They’re looking for entrepreneurial individuals with impressive track records of success and sound judgement. Neither position is salaried.


Download As A PDF (152K)

For my part, I’ve asked for the forms but I’d be interested in being on the Assessment Panel for the Proof of Concept fund. It’s core to my desires of helping to generate a dynamic knowledge-based digital economy in Northern Ireland – a desire which is both separate but complementary to my day job as Facilitator for the Digital Circle.

The Digital Economy Bill

The Petition:

This petition has been set up in response to the Government’s proposal to cut off internet access to those who are caught illegally downloading copyrighted files. We think this has one fundamental flaw, as illegal filesharers will simply hack into other peoples WiFi networks to do their dirty work. This will result in innocent people being disconnected from the internet. What’s more, such a punishment should be dealt with in the proper way, in a court of law. This guilty until proven innocent approach violates basic human rights.

Sign the Petition

It’s a simple question:

Does this Bill support the little guy?

If it does, then by all means, it should be supported. If it does not, then it is unsuitable and should be returned.

The little guy is the small business creating content or software. Nothing I have read in the Digital Economy Bill protects or assists the small business content creator. Everything I have read goes into protecting the interests of large content aggregation companies.

The current regime, of which this Bill will enhance and extend, proscribes “unlimited” fines and jail terms for filesharing. These fines do not go to the copyright owners but instead go to further prop up an industry which is finding itself undermined by the copyright owners and creators themselves. Small businesses are currently giving their content away in order to be noticed – this Bill is not concerned with small businesses, it is not concerned with enterprise.

One thing is definite however – this Bill has empassioned professionals within the industry to speak out against the Bill in its current form – most visibly Stephen Fry but also Mark Harding, Intellectual Property Director for KPMG and a plethora of other names, big and small.

Personally I think the focus on policing rather than enterprise is utterly abhorrent, the measures rushed and ultimately damaging to the UK economy. I also refute the concept that small businesses are truly suffering ‘because of filesharing’ and more than ‘home taping’ hurt them in the 70s.

We break UK copyright law every time we rip a CD to our computers and then again when we transfer to our iPods. Our copyright laws are woefully out of date and this grants sweeping powers for copyright infringement whether the individual concerned us aware of the infringement or not. Who is to say that you have permission to copy the text here for any purposes? But your computer has already cached my content which is, technically, a breach of my copyright. And if my web site started to play copyrighted music? You are now guilty of that as well.

I am not defending anyone’s right to steal anyone else’s copyright whether that is music, software, video or text. Nor am I saying that this is an area to be ignored in law. The fact remains that with access to a global market and digital duplication being pristine, the cost of reproduction of content is being driven towards zero. This means that a proportionally higher amount of the revenue for digital content should be available to the content creator. This currently is not happening and this Bill does nothing to redress this.

I am, however, saying that this Bill, in it’s current form, is not the correct solution. The provisions are ill-thought-out, the resolutions rushed.

Ten Apps I Want…

Ten Apps that I’d like to see on the iPhone. I’m also suggesting names for these. To be honest, I’d like to pull together a team to build them but that seems to be a lot more difficult than I’d hoped. If anyone wants to call me and work with me to pull together funding, then you know where to get me.

  1. MeetFreak/TrendSeek
    Helps people find each other by abusing Twitter trends and trying to suck Location Data in there. This is a lot easier now that Twitter is supporting GeoTags. So, let us see a map of trends? People are talking about #RED, where are they talking about it? Let us see every tweet with the Trend on a map that we can see. Then you’re more likely to be able to congregate with people
  2. Multitool
    Uses the five tabs along the bottom to give you a view of
    1) IMAP account
    2) Web Browser
    3) Twitter
    4) Mapper
    5) Converter/Calculator
    Redirects all http:// and mailto: seen inside the app, to the app and not outside so doesn’t launch Safari or Mail. A lot of this is kinda redundant when we have decent clients for much of this inside Safari. But some offline caching is a big deal for those of us who tend not to be inside the city centres where you can get decent 3G.
  3. Screen shot 2009-12-01 at 11.32.12

  4. Verifriend, Reputato
    This is an online reputation profiler. Yes, it’s going to be a popularity contest but essentially it all depends on trust. Adding your rating to someone is not something to be done lightly. In some ways it needs to be a trust engine – and it can be as simple as giving a trust rating to a new friend based on the trust ratings that others have provided. There needs to be some sort of anonymity (maybe like the reviews process on iTunes you only get a rating when a certain number of reviews have been processed) but unlike FaceBook it should provide that extra level of security.
  5. Screen shot 2009-12-01 at 11.30.26

  6. Director
    Allows me to text directions to someone who asks me on the street. In plain text. Or Bluetooth them. Or even just email them. Or something. Or magic them straight into their brain. Any of these things would be fine. Just so I don’t have to try to explain the directions to someone.
    This one was so good, someone asked me to take it down. 🙂 Suffice to say it was AR related.
  8. Tweet16
    Twitter lists are all very well but they don’t solve th problem I have. I follow about 1000 people but there’s probably less than 150 or so (that magic Dunbar number) whom I regularly interact with. There’s probably only 10% of those whom I really want to pay attention to. I’d like a Twitter client that shows me my timeline, my mentions, my DMs and finally, my Tweet16 – 16 people from whom I see all of their public messages rather than not seeing the ones who are at people I don’t follow.
  9. Plannity
    So, I fill in all of this information into my calendar and that includes times and dates and, most crucially, locations of my meetings. Why hasn’t there been a social app that runs via Exchange/Outlook, on iPhone, iCal and other formats which takes this location information, munges it up with my social network and allows me to see when I can grab lunch with friends or when I’m in the same town as someone I like. I think that Tripit is meant to do this and today I read about Plancast which promises to do something about this. But this is a hot topic, guys. Location is the big thing for 2009/2010.
  10. Echelon (or TwitterBug)
    I mentioned this a week ago – a cool idea for Twitter and other social networks which again uses location. So – get this – all of your messages are geotagged, or if not now, a lot of them will be. So, Echelon ‘listens’ in for anything said in an area rather than things said about trends or by your friends. The default set is seeing tweets which are in your immediate area – the killer part though is being able to drop a ‘bug’ (for bug, read ‘pin’) on a map and be able to sample the Tweets going through that area and the surrounding radius. So, in effect, you’ve dropped a Twitter Bug somewhere and you’re able to listen in. The Freemium version could monitor one location, the PayFor version could monitor several. ( ECHELON is a name used in global media and in popular culture to describe a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states to the UK-USA Security Agreement (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States)
  11. photo

  12. The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception
    Perfect for the Sandbagger or Spook among us, this is a recently published book derived from an official manual. As most of them are small pictorial sessions, they’re ripe for viewing on the iPhone, turning the iPhone into the ultimate tradecraft manual. You can see clips from the book on Gizmodo. So scan it, make it searchable so you can quickly flick through and find the perfect tradecraft for the perfect moment.
  13. Pollenator
    For public debates, a simple push notification which opens the app and gives you a simple couple of choices accompanied with text, audio or video. Push one, it’s recorded (with time, place, ID, IMEI and whatever other data you have collected and after a certain amount of time, the poll times out. Poll answers should be “Yes”, “No” or “Whatever”. If you choose to ignore or “Whatever” it, then you’re counted as an abstention. I’d love to see this app running and see visualisations of what it could bring in terms of demographics, location and other meta data. I sat with Stuart and Phil (and with PJ on the end of a Skype call) one evening and we mocked up some stuff for this based on Stuarts idea of “Pirates versus Ninjas”. But the actual implementation could have led to entirely other applications.
  14. Polls widget from Google Wave
    Polls widget from Google Wave

I’d love to see all of these on my iPhone. Id love to talk more about these apps to people who are interested. I’d love even more to be involved in the group/company/whatever that was going to make some of these.

Please comment if they inspired you or if you’re working on something similar.