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My ramblings on the stuff that holds it all together
I attended another session of The Fantastic Tavern London (#TFTLondon) this evening hosted by Matt Bagwell and Michelle Flynn – this evening’s event was centred around ‘realities’ and specifically augmented reality.
My post on the previous TFT London is available here; as you’ll see from that post Augmented Realty was voted as a hot topic so warranted further exploration.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of Augmented Reality (AR) – watch this video, it’s essentially adding to what you see and sense in the real world with useful information, to-date most implementations are geared around providing spatial information to maps or scenes such as finding the nearest tube station or restaurant.
The evening opened with some discussion of how the current ‘thirtysomething’ generation grew up with emersion through video games, Doom was one of my favourites and whilst I’m not still a gamer I can see how the experience is immersive for a lot of people to this day.
The reality of realities is that it’s not quite there yet to enrich our daily lives, the iPhone example is cool, but it still requires a device which isn’t ‘natural’ to operate, we don’t all walk around with our iPhones outstretched infront of us…
Well, maybe some fellow London commuters do, they should really watch out where they are going otherwise they could see the reality of a totally different kind of AR (Accident and emeRgency – sorry!:))
A lot of things that in the 1980/90’s were considered futuristic still aren’t mainstream technology today, for example the Terminator’s heads-up type display but they are in some places…
Several cars manufacturers have this sort of option today (and some had it in the late 80’s) and it’s had a military application for a long time, these technologies will eventually become commoditized and thus cheap and accessible to all, much like the mobile phone has become almost ubiquitous.
Paul Dawson of EMC consulting put forward the view that there is also something missing, most current AR implementations only operate in the 4 dimensions (the 3 dimensions of physics and the dimension of time) but they don’t really address the 5 senses, and considering this is how we, as humans really experience our environments AR isn’t really contributing much in the way of real augmentation.
AR can point out linear things like a tube station entrance or a dog wearing a wig, but it can’t contextually give you information that is relevant to you; for example – There is a Marks & Spencer branch, it’s lunch time, you’re hungry and it’s queue is only 30 seconds, compared to your usual sandwich shop which has a queue of 5 mins.
Additionally current AR is very device bound; it’s not really a natural way of giving you information
Imagine an implementation in the built environment around you that listens to actual conversations and displays them in a type of tag cloud or some embedded displays that recognise your face and some attributes about you and where you are going, offering some advice on the quickest way; or maybe even the closest gym to lose some of that weight? 🙂
That’s quite an interesting proposition to me, my personal favourite example of an AR implementation is the Lego Augmented Reality Kiosk, which is available in all good Lego shops (it is said that I have an unhealthy, mildly OCD-type interest in Lego)
There is also an application available at Tesco that will allow you to take a photo of a bottle of wine and have it provide further information (more info here), this sort of application has been around for a while but this uses visual recognition, rather than traditional bar-code scanning – so imagine the wider application of this concept to the environment around you – rather than relying on traditional GPS, barcode, tagging type technology image recognition is used, which is potentially far more accurate as it’s based on what you actually see from your view point and position.
As technology develops and is miniaturised the hope is that AR displays will acheive an almost embedded form-factor, such as built into a normal pair of glasses or even a contact lens!
Johannes Kebeck from the Microsoft Bing Maps team talked about how geo-spatial information and public mapping and are being merged with crowd-sourced information, tagging and imagery to produce rich, sources for augmented reality solutions.
He also talked about how Microsoft have a preview of a commercial data catalogue for the Windows Azure Platform codenamed Dallas – where people can find, buy and sell data sources for these sort of applications, leveraging the scale of Azure for the analysis and processing of large data sets.
Several interesting use-cases were demonstrated;
A lot of this seems to be discussed in this TED session, I haven’t watched it yet; but it looks very interesting
Up until now most of these tools and technologies haven’t been easilt accessible to the typical consumer and end-user, I’ve written about Microsoft Photosynth before but it’s an example of an easy to use end-user interface into this sort of AR technology and a lot of work is going into this area.
Neogeography is a new word to me, but you can read about it at wikipedia, I like the idea.
Lastly some of the UX team from EMC Consulting’s Studio had to tiptoe around an NDA to talk at a high-level about some of the work they are doing at the moment with customers in the Augmented Reality space for industrial customers, augmenting engineers viewpoint of plant with relevant information, as well as real-time 2-way feeds of critical safety information.
Good quality immersion for the end-user is considered a key to making people feel empowered by the AR tools, rather than merely using them as a tool, to achieve this you need a good quality experience and they have coined the phrase High-Fidelity 3D, particularly for applications like military or surgical practice where for the end-user to get the most benefit it has to seem real; there is obviously a lot that has been pioneered in the video game industry in this space.
They have built some interesting PoC systems, notably around smart-metering for the home, with a flexible UI that allows the end-user to dive in and out of the represented house and appliances and customise it to represent their house.
For me one of the most interesting parts of this session was that with immersive/AR type applications there are a lot more end-user factors to consider like ergonomics, RSI and complementing learnt muscle-memory type skills.
Most AR applications will require one of more multi-touch type input devices, the traditional keyboard and mouse are well known quantities but new devices are less field-proven, there are also health & safety implications – you need to ensure the solution doesn’t encourage people to take risks or put them in danger.
For many people vehicle control skills (like a car steering wheel and pedals) are well learnt (muscle-memory) type skills so adopting something radically different makes it hard for people to switch between and slows adoption.
Almost playing back to the behavioural architecture concepts of the previous TFT evening – the team discussed the concept of built-in rewards, or status levels within industrial type AR applications to make it a more engaging experience for the end-user and encourage adoption – I could imagine how an example displaying a user’s skill level operating equipment (n00b, speed-demon, Fork-lift Ninja etc.) helps to encourage development and keep people operating within allowable parameters (speed limits for example).
This may sound a bit airy-fairy (for want of a better term) but consider this, 1993’s 15 year old playing Doom is now 32 and as time passes the percentage of people brought up with this sort of gaming experience and expectation grows. Today’s upcoming generation is already fully immersed in social media – maybe it’s not such an alien concept for the professional world of the near future after all.
I’d like to thank Matt and Michelle for an interesting evening, and a bit of a break from the norm of my day-job and this blog – if you’re interested in this sort of thing – the next event is on 19th August (location TBC) and is likely to be a full day called “The Lock Inn” – keep an eye on Matt and Michelle’s blogs for more details, I also appear to have been volunteered by a colleague to speak about clouds or something at the event, so look out for that 🙂
I also had a go on an iPad (not yet released here in the UK) thoughts – very nice screen and UI (as you’d expect) but it was a lot heavier than I was expecting, I only had it for a couple of minutes but it wasn’t very comfortable.
Best quote of the evening: “Let the sausages flow…” Matt Bagwell, Creative Director, EMC Consulting 🙂
Bit of a diversion from the norm this evening, I attended an event called “The Fantastic Tavern” – which is a community focused series of events on a variety of creative and social-media type topics, as I normally live on the infrastructure side of bringing such concepts to life I thought it would be good to get a better feel for what’s coming and some of the thought behind it, oh yes and there was an offer of free beer and sausages…. how could I resist? 🙂
This evening’s topic was “2010 Trends – what’s hot and what’s not” and is set as a series of short 5 minute presentations by people in the creative industry – similar to the lightning talk format used at Cloudcamp. they made innovative use of a cool wall (Top Gear fans will know what I’m talking about :)) to rate the trends as hot or not through some alcohol fuelled volume based popularity measurement techniques (a.k.a shouting).
The evening was hosted by Michelle Flynn (Communities manager at EMC Consulting) and well compered by Matt Bagwell (Creative Director at EMC Consulting) these are my thoughts on the most interesting of the talks;
Augmented Reality – this is a really interesting technology to me, and he explained some the use-cases and examples of applications already available to find things like free WiFi or the nearest tube station in a visual manner – very clever stuff, I personally think this is a going to be big this year and next with the array of uber-smart phones like the iPhone and Android equipped devices with built in GPS/compass etc.
This video is a demo from one of the app makers..
Realtime – twitter, and other social networking sites have meant that information is out there very quickly for public consumption you can express your opinion brutally and loudly – this can have a big impact on brand image – poor service @your local Starbucks?, it’s all out there for people to search and read – instantly.
This can be risky – flippant, off-the-cuff remarks can have repercussions and it’s all to easy to broadcast something ill-thought out in the blink of an eye and regret it later.
Some people have used this as a great marketing hook, there was an example of a person in SF who sells Creme Brulee from a cart in the street; he has built up a massive almost cult-following by only announcing his location via twitter when we sets up, if this were “just a guy with a shop” would he have such a loyal and keen, repeat customer base? – he obviously makes creme brulee 🙂 but he has a marketing “hook”.
Behavioural Architecture this is a field of thinking being championed by Dan Lockton at Brunel university and I found it quite interesting, it’s about designing sites or services to make people want to use them, through some subtle social psychology; there was a good example of rewarding positive/healthy behaviour (like the piano stairs below) or features in facebook like the ‘like’ button and suggestions of things to do to engage further with your fb friends like completing profiles.
Playfulness – it sounds obvious but making something fun to use, encourages people use it, there was an example of Chore Wars which is an online game where you can gain a reward (points/stars/etc.) for completing chores – ideal for kids, make it a game, it’s less like work.
There was also a great example of a bottle bank turned into an arcade game
we need some of these where I live! 🙂
Truth – playing to the points of the realtime session and the concepts of citizen reporting, as an organisation it’s so easy to be caught out if you are not being truthful, you can be so visible online that any person can point out if you are being inconsistent and that can carry heavy damage. the realtime world also means we (the consumer) can be very intolerant where things don’t go our way, what customer service slights we may have previously just forgotten about and moved on from are now broadcast in CAPS and shouty !!!! to anyone that cares to listen, and more importantly it’s all there, on-record.
Transparency is becoming increasingly important and from my perspective movements like the blog with integrity programme are this in action; reputation is everything, and there was a poignant example of Tiger Wood’s recent fall from grace and the resulting fall-out
The 30-second TV ad is dead – argued the position that ad’s that are distributed online are much more likely to reach their target audience and get better engagement than the traditional linear 30-second TV advert.
I can see the logic to this, online ad’s can be made interactive and non-linear with click through and the ability to send to friends/share as this screen capture from YouTube illustrates
There was an example video shown of an interactive advert (with some naked people and strategic blue buttons that I couldn’t find online…:)) and a Toshiba advert that appears totally irrelevant to the product they were selling but got a lot of traffic.
Whilst it wasn’t explicitly mentioned this sort of model also has a much better way of measuring return on investment, you can very quickly get feedback on how well your ad is doing, click through rates, conversions to sales etc. – this is almost impossible with traditional linear TV advertising (although some of this is coming to more advanced IP-enabled STB’s)
Social Retail/Commerce – this was particularly interesting and one I have already been a consumer of; sites like Amazon make algorithmic recommendations to you, based on what you have viewed, social networks add a second dimension – social theory says that “people generally like people that like what they like” (try saying that after a few free beers !:)) recommendations from people in your “network” carry a lot of weight, and this is definitely something I have seen in the music space already.
Ratings and recommendations are also a key decision influencer, I always check out the reviews on Amazon, because they are from people (well, mostly from real people anyway).
Companies like yub.com and mflow take this a step further and offer to pay a commission on purchases that you recommend to your network (or are discovered through your network) – much like the Amazon affiliate system that I have used in the past on this blog, but extended into your social network.
His little friend Last up was Michael from Microsoft talking about the ways developments in mobile devices like pico projectors can be used to add an extra level of presence to social networking, using an example of your facebook friend being projected on a wall during a chat session from a mobile device, rather than just a normal small screen.
I had to feel for him as this is a highly visual topic but the promised internet access wasn’t available so he had to ad-lib it, but did very well.
Microsoft have some interesting demonstrations on this in Project Natal
and there was the SixthSense demonstration shown as part of the TED talks which is very cool – maybe a little bit of Minority Report in action
In the end the result was that Playfulness/Fun was voted the hottest trend for 2010, personally I disagree – I think it’s going to be social retail/commerce and augmented reality as they both have a strong potential for quick and easy monetization, with the SixthSense stuff coming to fruition around 2013/14 – no doubt I’ll be wrong, but it’s very cool.
Realtime is also a hot-topic now, but that’s so 2009 🙂
All in it was a fun evening, it’s quite refreshing that the presentations were entertaining and a lot less staid than the usual technical stuff I attend (we techies have a fair bit to learn about audience engagement during presentations), there was a liberal garnish of swearing too, which further goes to prove the truthfulness/honesty trend for 2010; if something is crap – tell it like it is and people will trust you 🙂
Next London event is likely to be in April, with an event scheduled in New York in early Feb, I highly recommend it!