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?

AR – Openness and Interoperability

Y’see, it’s all about the SPAM.

From 5 barriers to a web that’s everywhere

Interoperability, standards and openness have been what has let the Web scale and flourish beyond the suffocating walled gardens of its early days. The same is true of telephones, railroads and countless other networked technologies. Logically then, a lack of interoperability between AR environments would be a tragedy of the same type as if the web had remained defined by the islands of AOL and Compuserve or Internet Explorer, forever. (A lack of data portability when it comes to Augmented Reality could cause substantial psychological distress!)

As they continue in the article, no-one has yet published anything representing an open platform free of legal fears but there is an obvious attempt to create a beachhead by a couple of companies and it’s going to take a while for this to settle.

I have a mixed opinion. Control will go to the user and while I tolerate adverts in the web, I wouldn’t want them in Twitter and I won’t want them in my AR lenses unless they are heavily influenced by context. At the moment I see adverts based on the content of the web pages I visit or, in the case of television, on the time and channel – which leads to a very unsatisfactory experience. I don’t care about your 1U servers or your blades. I won’t be replacing my graphics card and I’m probably never going to buy a giant plush microbe.

If I’m walking along the road using my AR browser, I don’t want to see adverts for tampons, viagra, designer watches, managed servers, custom business logos or whatever. The real world is filled with advertising already, I only want to see adverts that have chosen context.

If we move to a standard display platform, like we have with the web, will I still have control over what gets downloaded to my handset? Remember, the data deal we sign up to with our phones is very different to our home broadband. If we step outside an arbitrary border, we start racking up huge charges. Coverage is often poor and every image is going to be worth thousand and thousands of words so online advertising is going to drain our pockets and leech our patience in new and tedious ways.

I’m all for an open platform – but let me choose the filters by which I can see the augmented world.

Augmented Reality Soundbites

I’m watching this:

Video: Bruce Sterling’s Keynote – At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry from Maarten Lens-FitzGerald on Vimeo.

The keynote is something to watch I guess but on that host page scroll down for some of the soundbites.

“Is there an Augmented Reality system for building Augmented Reality systems?”
“You are going to need an industry journal”
“You are going to need an industry code of ethics”
“The majors will buy you out”

These four statements give me most pause.

Welcome to the Desert of the Unreal

A bit more about AR (pr LR: Layered Reality) to whet your appetite.

I previously speculated that things would get really interesting when Linden Labs released their AR platform or plugin.

The beauty will not, however, be in the presence of avatars in LayeredReality but in the presence of buildings. That said, being handed virtual flyers by virtual people in real streets has some interest – but only because it beats the real alternative. Handing out flyers is a shit job – something we should use software for.

This, and other examples are at GamesAlFresco’s top 10 augmented reality demos which will revolutionise video games. To a degree, I believe them.

The potential for AR is amazing and finally within our grasp.