Tag Archives: augmented reality

SXSW Interactive 2015 Wrap-Up


March 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm (No Comments)

Spring break has come and gone in Austin, which means that we’re recovering from another amazing SXSW Interactive festival. This year for me was a year of narrative story technologies and Community.  For the last several years I’ve been going to SXSW with my wife, Irma, and this year she had her own session.  That meant she spent a lot of time in the women in tech tracks, and we didn’t see each other as much as usual.  It’ll be interesting to read her write up, when she gets to it.

Friday – Al, Tim, BBQ, Old Friends, & 3D Printed Clothes

Friday started off with Life in the OASIS: Emulating the 1980’s in-Browser, a panel from Ready Player One author Ernest Cline (who has a new novel coming out, Armada, which I just pre-ordered), and Jason Scott, rogue librarian at the Internet Archive, talking about 80’s video games an in-browser emulators. Unfortunately due to our bus driver getting lost (transportation was a recurring pain-point at SXSW this year) I wasn’t able to make the session, but Jason, being a free-range archivist, put up the audio for all of us to enjoy.

Al GoreWhile we didn’t have time to get to the Life in the OASIS session, we had some time to burn till the session after, so Irma and I headed to Exhibit Hall 5, which is big and always has a lot of room to plop down and get your stuff sorted.  SXSW is the kind of conference where you can be just looking for a place to get your bearings and end up listening to Al Gore talk about climate change, the Pope, and his newfound optimism, which is exactly what happened.

After Al we moved up front for a presentation from perennial SXSW personality Tim Ferriss, who had a 30 minute How To Rock SXSW in 4 Hours talk, followed by QA. It’s always weird for me to see Tim at SXSW. I was on the first row of his first SXSW talk on the tiny Day Stage promoting the about to be released 4 Hour Work Week, way back in 2007.  To say our paths diverged would be an interesting understatement.  The main points of Tim’s talk were: Don’t be a jerk and treat everyone like they could make your career (because they probably can),.  He had some hangover cure suggestions (eat avocados before you go party), and reminded all the introverts to take the time to breathe.

Tim FerrissOne anecdote he told on the treating everyone well point was from one of his early CESes.  He spent most of his time in the bloggers lounge (a good place to meet people), and while everyone was trying to get the attention of Robert Scoble, he chatted up the lady checking people in.  Eventually he made a comment about Robert, and she said, “Oh, you should totally talk to him.  He’s my husband, let me give you a ring back in San Francisco and we’ll have lunch.”  So yea, you never know who people are.  I was standing in line at a session later in the conference and started talking to the lady next to me, who turned out to be the head of innovation at Intuit.

After Tim it was time for lunch, and we ended up at Ironworks BBQ. They have a $16.45 3 meat sampler plate (beef rib, sausage, and brisket), and well… a picture’s worth a thousand words…

Ironworks BBQ Plate

Our buddy Matt Sanders (formerly a Polycot, then an HPer, and now at Librato) was in town from San Francisco for the conference, and joined us to indulge in smoked meat.  We ended up eating at Ironworks at least 3 more times, which was kind of expensive, but fast and good.

After lunch Matt and I headed over to the new JW Marriott to a panel from Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen titled Ready to Wear? Body Informed 3D Printed Fashion. This session was a perfect example of what makes SXSW such a unique conference: It’s a subject that I’m curious about, but one I’d never go to a conference specifically to see.  Pauline was wearing some of her tech-enabled fashions (a shirt with solar cells embedded in it), and talked about how fashion meets technology and how often in technology we design for the static (interlocking shapes), not the organic.  She profiled two of her projects, one a sleeve that morphs based on the wearer’s movement, and the other a neck ruff that uses electrically contracting wire to ‘breathe’ while worn. The challenges she faced (48 hour print cycles, unpredictability of material behavior) and insights discovered were really interesting, and it was one of the panels I kept thinking about most over the next few days.

After this panel I wandered through the job fair for a bit, which has expanded significantly in the last year.  It was interesting to see Target and Apple looking for candidates at SXSW.

Saturday – Storytelling Machines, Future Crime, New Parents in Tech

Talk Photo

First thing Saturday morning was my session with Jon Lebkowsky: Machines That Tell Stories.  We had a great turnout, and there are notes from the discussion at the link. Looking over the schedule, storytelling and storytelling systems were a very hot topic.  I was talking to Deus Ex Machina (an interactive theater project) producer Robert Matney later that it felt like the story zeitgeist erupted out of nowhere, and the flood of sessions made for a very interesting conference.  The discussion was really interesting, and it was gratifying to hear that there was a lot of cross-pollination between attendees.  I even heard that people were still connecting at the airport on their way home.

SocksChris Hurd, one of my friends and the guy behind DVinfo.net, gave me a tip one time from his years working big trade shows like NAB: The best way to keep a spring in your step at a long conference is to change your socks in the middle of the day.  So after leading our session, and stopping into the 3M booth, we went back to the car, dumped our stuff, and I changed my socks.  We had a long day ahead of us, and it was definitely worth it.

Next I went to a session titled Future Crimes From the Digital Underworld by Marc Goodman. It’s always interesting to see the people who’ve given a talk a lot of times versus people who are presenting the material for the first time.  Marc’s obviously really practiced at this talk, complete with jokes, audience-call-outs, and what have you.  It’s a fun talk, but the net-net is that everything in security is terrible, and it’s just going to get worse with trillions of IoT devices.  I didn’t need Marc to tell me that.  I have Taylor Swift.

After that was Irma’s meetup: New Parents in Tech. She had an interesting turnout, with only one other woman (there was a lot of competition for the women technologist this year, with a strong moms in tech panel opposite), but a lot of dads.  Two product guys from Fisher Price showed up, too, and I had an interesting discussion with them about Baby’s Musical Hands (Clara’s first app) and iPad cases (they don’t sell many anymore, possibly due to the kid market saturating with hand-me-downs).  After a good discussion, it was on to…

Saturday/Sunday – Community

Harmontown

Community!  And Harmontown!  And Dan Harmon!

Ok, I’ll admit it. Community is my biggest takeaway from SXSW. It’s my favorite TV show, the only thing I watch obsessively.  I’ve seen every episode, most of them a half dozen times. I follow the actors (even the lesser-known ones) on twitter. Fanboy = Me.

Yahoo! Screen picked up Community last year after NBC didn’t renew it.  The switch from broadcast to streaming distribution made it perfect SXSW fodder, especially after the Harmontown documentary premiered at SXSW Film last year.  Yahoo! pulled out the big guns, though, and beyond just having Dan show up to talk about the switch, they brought the whole cast, and premiered the 1st episode of the new season a few days early for the fans.  It was epic.

Community CastWe had great seats for Harmontown, and were next to the stage when they brought out the cast and showed the season premier. When they showed the episode everybody sat down on the floor, and in one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been in the middle of, we all sang along kumbaya style to the theme song.

The episode was great, and we had a wonderful time.

The next morning, after a panel I’ll talk about in a second, was a SXSW panel with the Community cast.  Everyone was there again, and there was a great discussion about the show.  For my money, it was even more interesting than Community’s previous Paleyfest discussions, probably due to the fact that there wasn’t a real moderator, just Dan Harmon asking the cast questions.  We had front row seats for that one, too.

Community Panel

Some notes for Community fans:

  • In the QA someone mentioned Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design as their favorite (it’s my favorite too, I was the weirdo in the audience who applauded at that), and Dan told a story about how they essentially threw out the last 1/3rd of the episode (the original ending involved the teachers creating the conspiracy) while they were shooting.  The final scene didn’t get scripted until they were in the study room blocking it off. They had NBC Standards and Practices on the phone, because there’s a lot of gunplay, and they were describing it, and finally the person from Standards and Practices said ‘Is there any way you can make it about gun safety?’  And if you’ve seen the episode, that’s how the ending happened.  Lots of Community episodes come together at the last minute.
  • The speech Ben Chang gives in Analysis of Cork-Based Networking (about the character being a real person, but just being portrayed as crazier and crazier) was lifted nearly verbatim from an email Ken Jeong wrote to Dan Harmon about the character. When Ken was performing it, he teared up (those are real tears) because he was so touched.
  • Alison Brie’s contract is up this season, we’ll see if she’s back if they make a movie or Season 7.
  • In discussing the longer episodes now that they aren’t constrained by NBC commercial breaks, Joel McHale noted that The Dick Van Dyke Show episodes were 29 minutes, which made me think that there’s an interesting comparison between The Dick Van Dyke Show as Community and I Love Lucy as The Big Bang Theory.

Ok, so that’s Community.  It was great.  Watch it on Yahoo! Screen.

Sunday – Transmedia Storytelling, Bot Authors, & Makers

Before the morning Community panel was a session titled Worlds Without Boundaries: Books, Games, Films, with James Frey (author and media maker) and Jon Hanke (architect behind Google’s Ingress game).  It was a fascinating discussion about media that crosses boundaries.  James mentioned he was heavily inspired as a kid by the book Masquerade, which included puzzles and a treasure hunt in the real world.  In his series, Endgame, there’s a puzzle pointing to keys that unlock a chest in the Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas holding $.5, $1, and $1.5 million dollars in gold (per book, respectively).  They’re doing an app with Niantic Labs (Google), and they’re planning films.  It’s an interesting product development scheme: Have a stable of creatives come up with a world.  Sell some of the rights (film, TV), partner to do some products (games), and do others in house (books, novellas).

FloorAfter the Community panel I spent some time in the SXSW trade show.  General themes this year were lots of Japanese hardware startups (on Kickstarter, natch), lots of countries, and almost no hosting or cloud booths (save for Softlayer).  A lot more music, and a little ergonomic furniture.  Overall a less interactive-heavy trade show than years gone by.  I’m not entirely sure why that was, but there you go.  Wordpress didn’t come with their great t-shirts this year, so I guess I’ll have to actually go to the store to buy my clothes.  I did manage to pick up a new Olloclip, though, and even got to see it built in front of me.

In the afternoon I made it over to Automated Insights panel When Robots Write The News, What Will Humans Do?, moderated by James Kotecki, Automated Insights’ PR guy. This was an great discussion between Robbie Allen, the CEO of Automated Insights, and Lou Ferrara, a VP from Associated Press.  Automated Insights’ software produces AP stories in sports and stock reporting from raw data, and it was interesting to hear their discussion about what will be automated and where human value really lies.  Automated Insights thing is producing one billion pieces of content for one person each, which I think everyone can agree is where a large part of the content we consume is headed.

After the Automated Insights panel I headed over to SXSW Create, the free maker area of the conference.  While I was there I got to try out Lumo, a new interactive projector for kids that’s about to hit Indiegogo.  More on that later.

The Gaming Expo next door to Create was as crazy as ever, and really starting to outgrow the space they have for it.  The only larger space downtown is the Convention Center, though, which puts them in kind of a bind.  VR headsets were everywhere (almost always accompanied by lines of people waiting to use them), and it was good to see indie games like That Dragon, Cancer represented.

Monday – API Fails, Narrative Systems, Non-Linear Story Environments, Enchanted Objects, Home Projector Installations, & BBQ Science

The next day I tried to get into Wynn Netherland’s talk Secrets to Powerful APIs, but I was late, so Matt and I couldn’t fulfill our tweet-promise.

Instead, Matt and I went to the MedTech expo, and saw an interesting startup doing a small wireless body temp monitor for babies (slap a bandage over it, battery’s good for a month), some interesting sleep trackers (lot of quantified self folks at SXSW) and of course Withings with their smart watch whose batteries work for 8 months.

After that I headed to Technology, Story, and the Art of Performance by Elena Parker (who came to our Machines That Tell Stories session and had some of the best insights) and Michael Monello from Campfire, a division of Sapient Nitro that specializes in unique interactive experiences.

Elena and Michael’s presentation was one of the most meaty of the sessions I attended, full of helpful, hard-won insights into interactive projects.  Slides are available here, and audio is here..  They showcased three: Deja View, a project for Infinity where actors you see on screen talk to you through the phone (dynamic video branching and voice recognition), Hunted, an ARG-like that used some clever magic tricks to make users think they were being controlled, and a project for the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series, where players could call in and talk to the character Santanico Pandemonium and she would try to recruit them for her cult (branching narrative, voice recognition).

Some of my major takeaways from the presentation:

  • MaxMax: Elena talked about how while in games you program for MinMax (system constantly minimizes the players chances while maximizes the games chances, by attacking the player, moving enemies toward them, etc), in interactive story experiences you want to optimize for MaxMax, where you give the users as much of a chance of progressing as you can.  They’re likely only going to experience it once (replay value not being high, except for people who want to understand how the system works), so work as hard as you can to make sure they succeed.
  • Embrace Genre: When you’re giving people a new and unfamiliar experience, ground them in tropes and genre conventions they already understand. That way they have something to hold on to.
  • 3 Act Structure: Use the standard exposition, rising action, climax story structure.  Everybody understands it, it works, if you’re re-inventing all the other wheels, don’t re-invent that one.
  • Magic!: There’s an interesting cross-over with the magic community.  They worked with a magician to design some of their interactive tricks (powered, in the end, by people sitting in a call center). Fooling the brain is what they do, and is what delights our users.
  • Don’t Branch: Traditional Choose Your Own Adventure stories use a branching structure, which leads to some short experiences and some long ones.  That’s a negative for experiences you want users to fully enjoy, so instead of branches, create a looping structure where each act breaks into sections, but they all come back at the end.  Something like this:  -=-=-=-
  • Test: When you’re testing an interactive narrative, write out only the main 80% line first, and test it on 5 people.  This will validate your assumptions about how most people will view it, and won’t waste your time creating alternate paths if your base assumptions are broken.  Once you’ve passed 5, write out the rest and test on 50 people (I think this was how it went, they should post the slides soon) to validate your overall script.  Then run a production beta test on as many people as you can to get data for all the subtle things you wouldn’t expect.

Stories Asunder PanelAfter this panel I kept with the story theme and went to the Stories Asunder: Tales for the Internet of Things panel, with Lisa Woods from the Austin Interactive Installation meetup, and her team that produced Live at the Dead Horse Drum, an iBeacon powered non-linear location-based story experience on the east side of Austin.  Also joining them was Klasien van de Zandschulp from Lava Lab, who’s created some really fascinating geo-fence/iBeacon based non-linear story experiences in the Netherlands, including one under development where inhabitants of museum paintings create a social network the user can browse (think HogwartsPaintingBook).  They had some really interesting examples, and I hope to experience some of their work soon.

Enchanted ObjectsOn the way to my next panel I walked by the SXSW bookstore, and noticed that David Rose whose book Enchanted Objects I’d done a double-take on a few days before was going to be signing it just about then.  So I bought a copy and a few minutes later David showed up, and we had a great 10 minute long conversation about projection mapped interactive art objects.  David teaches at the MIT media lab, in addition to a lot of other stuff, and his book has moved straight to the top of my to-read stack.  It sounds exactly like a subject I’ve posted about here before, and something that feels like it’s moving from Bruce Sterling design fiction to real world product very quickly.

After talking to David I headed to the Storytelling Engines for Smart Environments panel, which had Meghan Athavale (aka Meg Rabbit) from Lumo Play on it. Meg’s been doing interactive projection installations in Museums for many years, and has had the question ‘Can I get this in my house?’ posed more than a few times. Recently component prices have been dropping, so she’s designed the Lumo Interactive Projector, a projector based toy for kids, and is about to run an Indiegogo for it.  Meg’s the kind of entrepreneur you can’t help but root for.  She came to SXSW by herself, set up a booth in Create, and is trying to drum up as much excitement as she can.  I really hope her Indiegogo is a big hit.

After Storytelling Engines I headed over to the GE BBQ Research Center with Matt and Irma for some free BBQ.  It was good, but Irma didn’t care for it.  Research accomplished!

Tuesday – AR/VR, Moonshots, New Assets, Space Cleaners, & Happy Bruce

Mixed Reality HabitatsTuesday morning I hit the Mixed Reality Habitats: The New Wired Frontier panel presented by IEEE. My biggest ‘wow’ takeaway, aside from the fact that nobody seems to know what Microsoft’s up to with Hololens or those Magic Leap guys (light fields?) with their headset, was from Todd Richmond, Director at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, who said his group felt that most people would be wearing headsets (Google Glass-like or Hololens AR like, or Oculus Rift VR like) 8 hours a day for work in 5-10 years.  When someone says something like that, I think it’s time to take notice.  Consider the headsets of today as the original iPhone.  Think about how far we’ve come in the 6 years since that was released.

After that I watched Astro Teller speak about Moonshots at Google [x]. His main point was that they always strive to fail quickly and get real-life feedback as fast as possible.  He talked about a bunch of wild projects they’re working on like delivery drones, internet by high-altitude self-driving balloons, kite-based wind power, the self-driving car, and others.  With each he emphasized how failure early lead to faster learning.

I hit a session entitled How to Rob a Bank: Vulnerabilities of New Money, with some fairly impressive speakers. Their main point seemed to be that your personal information is an emerging asset class that you should be concerned about.  That just like your dollars in a bank, your purchase history and address and Facebook posts have value, and we don’t really know how to protect that yet.

On our way back through the trade show Irma and I ran into Astroscale, a company from Singapore started by some Japanese ex-finance guys (follow me, here).  They’ve hired engineering resources to design a satellite that will de-orbit space debris.  Imagine that your $150 million dollar satellite is going to be impacted by a bit of out-of-control space junk.  You pay these guys $10 million, and then go find that space junk, attach their micro-satellite to it, and de-orbit it before it can crash into you.  And they’re running a promotional time capsule project with Pocari Sweat and National Geographic to collect well wishes from kids and send them via a SpaceX launch to the moon.  So yea, 30 years after Reagan’s Star Wars and Brilliant Pebbles, and here’s what we’ve got.  I’m surprised it isn’t on Kickstarter.

The end of SXSW is always Bruce Sterling’s talk, and this year was no different.  Bruce was kind of happy this year, and was almost channeling Temple Grandin in appearance, but happy Bruce isn’t always most interesting Bruce.  If you’d like to give his talk a listen, it’s up on SoundCloud.  Hopefully next year he’ll have some tales from Casa Jasmina to share.

So that was it, SXSW Interactive 2015.  5 days of old friends, new friends, stories, the future, BBQ, and space junk.  I can’t wait to see you next year!

Magical Objects: The Future of Craft


September 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm (One Comment)

Marken PhotographOf the thousands of pictures I’ve taken since I got into photography, there are only a few on display in my house.  Only one of them is what you might call professionally framed.  It’s that one, to the right.  It was taken in Marken, Netherlands, on the Wandelroute Rond Marken Over de Dijk.  Not exactly here, but close by, on a little path at the edge of an island next to the ocean.  The thing is, it isn’t a photograph.  It looks like a photograph, but it’s actually a panorama, digitally spliced together from half a dozen shots.  It’s a photograph, re-interpreted by software.  And it could be the first step on the road to something new.

Ode to a Camera Gathering Dust

A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Kirk Tuck talking about the recent drop in camera sales, and the general decline of photography as a hobby.  Kirk’s assertion was that when a lot of us got into photography, gear made a big difference.  There was the high end to yearn for, but with the right skill and tricks you could make up for it.  There were good sized communities online where you could share photos with other people in the same spot, and you were all getting a little better.  It was something you could take pride in.  Now all the gear is great.  Your cell phone camera is great.  It’s hard to stand-out.  Everyone has read the same tutorials, everyone can do HDR and panoramas.  They can even do them in-camera with one button.  And as photography goes, so goes video.

Dust Bunny 3D PrintsFor a while I thought that 3d printing and the maker movement might be a little like photography.  There’s plenty of gear to collect, and it can make a big difference in the final product, but skill and technique and creativity still count for a lot.  Now I’m leaning towards 3d printing and the maker movement really being a rediscovery of the physical after the birth of the age of software.  Before personal computers ate the world you could still find plenty of folks who knew about gear ratios and metallurgy and who’d put together crystal radios when they were kids.  I grew up in the 80s, and I don’t know anything about either of those things, but I was diagnosing IRQ conflicts before I liked girls.  So the maker movement is kind of new, and photography is kind of past the curve, so what’s new-new?  What’s going to eat our time and interest and energy and fill our walls and display shelves next?  What are we going to collect and tinker with and obsess over?

Beautiful, New Things

It’s been said that we’re all in the attention game now.  Attention is currency.  In an indirectly monetized world it’s what people have to give.  When you create something, you’re vying for that bit of attention.  Given that, I think we’re looking at the birth of a new kind of craft, and a new kind of object.

Let’s call them magical objects: Objects that use software and computation to break or make irrelevant their inherent limitations, for the purpose of entertaining or informing.  They’re objects that use software to amplify their Attention Quotient.  (AQ, is that a thing? It should be.)

First, I’d like you to look at a video that hit a few days ago, Box.  It’s what happens when you combine a bunch of creative folks, some big robot arms, projectors, cameras, and a whole bunch of software.

That’s pretty awesome, right?  Not really practical for your house, but pretty.  Let’s find something smaller, something more intimate.  Maybe something more tactile.  Something like… a sandbox…

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.  It’s a sandbox that reacts to your input.  The software and the projectors and the cameras make the sandbox more than just a sand table with some water on it, the whole thing becomes an application platform, with sand and touch as it’s interface.  The object becomes magical.  When you look at a sandbox, you know what it can do.  When you look at an augmented sandbox, you don’t know what it does.  You have to play with it.  You have to explore.  It has a high attention quotient.

These kind of objects are going to proliferate like crazy in the next few years.  We’re already starting to see hints of it in iOS 7’s Parallax wallpaper.  The only reason that parallax wallpaper exists is to make your iDevice more magical.  It serves no other purpose than to use software (head distance, accelerometer movement tracking) to overcome the limitations of hardware (2d display), for the purpose of delighting the user (magic).

Kids These Days

So as we think about the future, let’s step back for a second, and think about the children.  At the Austin Personal Cloud meetup a few weeks ago I had a realization that everyone in the room was probably over the age of 30, and there were plenty over the age of 50.  We have to be really careful about prognosticating and planning the future, because the world that we see isn’t the world that those in their teens and 20’s see.  They have different reference points, and they’re inspired by different things.  I’ve written before about Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball as training for future engineers.  But it occurs to me that when it comes to magical objects, we only need to look at the name to tell us where the inspiration for the next generation will spring.

Luna LovegoodPart of the thing that makes Harry Potter’s world wonderful is that things are more than they appear.  A car isn’t just a car, a hat isn’t just a hat, and a map isn’t just a map.  For all the plot-driving magical objects in Harry Potter like the Time Turner, there are plenty of wandering portraits, chocolate frog trading cards, and miscellaneous baubles.  They amp up the attention quotient of the world.  Maybe they’re the reason we don’t see Harry and Hermione checking Facebook all day, or maybe they just have awful coverage at Hogwarts.

My daughter’s about to turn 2, and her newest discovery is that if she holds a cup to her ear, it kind of sounds like the ocean.  After I showed her that, she held the cup to her ear for a good 20 minutes.  I hold the cup up to my ear, and I hear science.  She holds the cup to her ear, and she hears magic.  Her eyes are wide, and she says, “Ocean!” over and over.

We can make these magical objects now, and we have a generation that would love more meaningful interaction from physical things.  We just need to start assembling the bits and deciding on a few simple standards so we can create ecosystems of art.  We don’t have magic, but we have something that’s nearly as good.  We have software…

That’s a documentary about Processing.  You don’t need to watch the whole thing, but it’s pretty, and interesting. Processing is a programming language for visual arts.  Usually those interesting visual things live on a screen, or through a projector in space or on a building.  They rarely live in your house.  But they could, and they could be really cool.

Wherein We Sketch Out the Future

I think that by combining the artistic software movement, emergent behavior fields like procedural game world generation, and a little bit of hardware hacker know-how, we can create a new type of thing.  A magical, home object.  Let’s look at one…

Back of an Envelope SketchSo this is a thing.  Literally a back-of-an-envelope sketch.  It’s a bowl, or a box, with an arm extending over it.  In the bowl is sand, or perhaps something more pure-white but still eco-friendly and non-toxic.  At the end of the arm is a little pod, it has two cameras in it, for stereoscopic 3D, and a pico projector.  Maybe there’s even another projector pointing up out of it.  Under the bowl is the descendant of a Raspberry Pi, or a Beaglebone Black, or something like it.  It lives on a side table or end table in your house.

This magical device runs programs.  The programs use the sand (or whatever you put under the arm) as an interface.  It can recognize other objects, maybe little shovels or pointers or what have you.  Maybe simple programs are like our virtual sandbox above.  Maybe it’s like a bonsai, but instead of a virtual tree, it runs a simulation of an ecological ecosystem.  Dig out your valleys and pile up your mountains, and see trees grow, animals roam the steppes, birds fly…  Maybe you can even run a game on that, like Populous, but instead of looking into the screen you can walk around it and touch it.  You can watch your little minions wander around the landscape.  Maybe you can talk to it.  Maybe it’s like the asteroid that hits Bender in Futurama’s Godfella’s episode, like Black and White but designed for the long-haul.  Maybe when I’m not running my civilization on it, it plays selections from a feed of cool Processing visualizations across my ceiling.

Back to the Beginning

I’m sure there will be all kinds of form factors for these magical objects.  They’ll come in pocket-sized compacts, or ceiling projectors, or robotically controlled room projectors (imagine a bunch of tiny Disney-esque mice that live in your house, but are only projected onto the walls and floorboards, not actually chewing through them).  Or maybe it’s like my photo of Marken, in a frame on the wall, except that it’s based off a video clip, or some software analyzes the scene and says, “Hey, this is grass, let’s make it wave a little, and these are clouds, so they should float by, and this is a sailboat, so it should drift back and forth.”  And maybe, if you lean in really close, you can hear the ocean.

Adventure Time as Inspiration for Future Engineers


January 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm (One Comment)
It's a truck.  I think.

My sister-in-law.  She’s holding a truck. I think.

My sister-in-law is 8 years old, and loves Adventure Time.  We spend a fair amount of time hanging out, which means I’ve seen a fair amount of Adventure Time, too.  I spend a lot of time thinking about future technologies: companion software bots, augmented reality, enveloping story universes.  A few months ago it struck me that Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball are really effective at teaching the fundamentals of what life will be like in the future, assuming AR and bot trends continue like they have.  I’m sure it’s inadvertent, but by mashing up the media from their youth with current technology and idioms, the creators have produced really compelling content that predicts the future.

Augmented Reality, specifically additive AR where you wear glasses that display images laid over the real world, is looking like the next innovation frontier after the cell phone.  (There isn’t much innovation going on in the cell phone space that isn’t incrementally smaller, lighter, faster, or is really a cloud software innovation.)  You have a set of glasses wirelessly connected to the internet that have cameras and some intelligent software that detects objects or interprets landscape positions and can then project images into your eyeballs appropriately.  Mix that with some cloud based software bot friends, and you get a view that might look something like this:

gumball

Speaking of software bot friends, Adventure Time does a great job of showing what a personal bot might be like.  Finn’s a human, the relatable entity in the story, but his best friend Jake is a talking dog who can stretch to nearly any shape (easy in AR) and knows all kinds of esoteric information about the strange world Finn finds himself in.  Like, I don’t know, he has access to the Internet or something.  The entire world is magical and gamified in a cell shaded way.  You need exercise, why doesn’t Jake (your cloud based software buddy) take you on an adventure to the world of the Tree People (walk to the park), where you can show off your awesome adventuring skills (climb the monkeybars).

adventure_time

By defining an aesthetic for what cool things look like and what fun experiences are, the creators of these shows are guiding what our future will actually look like.  The kids watching these shows who grow up to design and build technology will be more likely to make this AR future, because it speaks to what originally inspired them, and the rest will fundamentally understand it, because the inspiration was part of their experience.

Elder Augmented Reality


November 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm (No Comments)

There’s an older gentleman who works at the Lowes near my house. He’s a fixture of the place. If you saw him walking down the street you’d either say “There goes a mountain man,” or “That guy looks like he should work at a home improvement store.” He’s a floor customer service representative, and seems as comfortable in lumber as he does in plumbing or lawn and garden. He isn’t pushy, always has an interested, kind look in his eyes. You’ll often see him explaining a pipe fitting or how to install a ceiling fan to a young couple, their eyes narrowed, their brows furrowed, nodding, furiously taking mental notes. Unfortunately, they can’t put him in their cart and take him home.

While most tasks, like installing a ceiling fan or wiring a dimmer switch, aren’t fundamentally complex, until you understand the principles they can seem arcane and risky. Lots of subject areas are like this: Computers, carpentry, construction, decorating, training your pet, arranging flowers, tracking your business expenses, creating a household budget, replacing your car’s battery, gardening, clearing a drain, hemming a skirt, the list goes on and on.

Many of these skills are taught to us by our parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Some of us are lucky enough to had this introduction to a wide range of skills, or are able to call one of these experienced elders to come over when we stumble onto one we haven’t dealt with before. The less lucky of us may not have had as much time with our elders, may not have that sort of relationship with them or may not be able to call on them due to distance or passing.

I think that we have a general human need for elder advice and guidance, and I think augmented reality is going to herald a paradigm shift in serving that need.

There are a lot of people reaching retirement age around the world. A lot of them are facing the end of their planned careers whether they like to or not. They often aren’t suited to the uncertainties of the new economy, and the businesses they work for want them to step aside so younger people can take their place. Many, or even most, of them can’t afford to stop working, though, so they often end up at low paying menial jobs because they don’t have a modern skill set. They have deep knowledge and experience in a field, and they have experience explaining their field, since they often trained the generation of workers after theirs.

On the other end, there are millions of us who haven’t tackled these problems before, but will scoop up the latest gadget, are living at a very high speed, and are in love with customized, personalized, authentic experiences. We make friends with the taco truck guy, we fret about the viability of his business, and shake our heads sadly if he closes down. We want the world to work how it feels it should. Experience plus careful workmanship should equal success.

Imagine if there was a marketplace of subject matter experts. Retired or semi-retired plumbers, gardeners, electricians, mechanics, decorators, seamstresses, florists, stylists, bakers, teachers, cooks. The list could be as long as your arm. Each one of them has an iPad or a big TV and a remote (maybe both). They list their expertise and a price for their time. Maybe they fill out a profile of their work experience, ala LinkedIn.

You’re sitting at home. Suddenly the sink drain clogs, or the air conditioner stops blowing cold air, or your wife starts dropping hints about a souffle for her birthday, or your kid wants to take homemade bread to school, or you need to install a ceiling fan.

You put on your Google Glasses (or iGlasses or whatever other brand of see-through AR may exist in a year and a half), and place a quick order. You might have gotten an hour or two as a gift, maybe when you spent $500 at the home improvement store. You use a super-streamlined job-posting interface, probably speaking to it to describe your problem (lets call it a souffle), and in a few moments you have a handful of candidates who are online and available.

You hit the order button and a retired baker in some other state gets a bing-bong on their iPad. They sit down, review your profile, decide you’re a decent sort, and hit accept. You instantly see their face in the corner of your Google Glasses, and they can see what you’re seeing from the Glasses camera. They introduce themselves, you describe your problem, and you go to work together to solve it. They watch you as you work, use their iPad to draw diagrams over your vision, NFL commentator style, or shift the camera around and demonstrate with their hands.

 

Once the souffle’s in the oven, they recommend some pairings based on their experience, which you’ll get in a voice-transcribed recording of the interaction dropped in your email. You thank them, and say goodnight. You bookmark them for future reference, and leave some feedback.

It’s a win-win, you get access to subject matter experts and a real, authentic experience. They get to pass on their knowledge, and get paid for it. The technology only enhances an interaction that is already possible, but inconvenient.

Imagine if something like this was part of everyday life. You could gift your kids with a dozen hours when they go to college. You could pick up the basics of a new skill every month, entirely project based, no Dummies books collecting dust, just human interaction.

This seems like one of those no brainers. You mix Skype or Facetime, oDesk, retirees and the growth of home based businesses with the enabling technology of augmented reality, and this pops out. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.