Category Archives: augmented reality

Mary Meeker points to a hands-free, zero-screen future

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Wouldn’t it be ironic if in our rush to adopt media technology, we all decided to ditch computer hardware and screens altogether?

It’s starting to happen. Several years ago Disney Research created a Touche interface that turns any surface into a digital input device. By tracking the vibrations you make when you sit on a coach, or tap on a tabletop, or even splash your hand in a bathtub, Touche would signal electronic devices to take action. Lie down on the sofa, and your living room lights would dim. No keyboard required.

We thought of that innovation recently reading Mary Meeker’s influential “2016 Internet Trends” report. Meeker, one of the top analysts in the first 1990s Internet boom, is now a consultant for the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and her annual late-spring slide show on media trends is one of the most anticipated pieces of content in the marketing industry. This year’s report had some typical, predictable findings (mobile ad spend is still out of sync with mobile share of eyeballs!), but one intriguing new section on … hands-free device inputs.

Meeker expends several of her slides on voice-recognition trends: the use of technologies such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to understand commands and respond with actions. Philips, for instance, now sells Hue “personal wireless lighting” bulbs that can be given individual names and controlled via voice, partnering with Siri on an iPhone. “Reading light, please dim” will now make your reading light dim. Home Depot sells Bluetooth wireless locks that open with a tap, no key required. Belkin offers¬†electrical outlets that turn on triggered by motion, so your coffee maker can boot up when you stroll into the kitchen each morning.

Meeker notes that this trend toward hands-free, screens-free user interfaces on electronic devices is rising fast, thanks to a few factors:

  • Voice accuracy is improving. Google’s voice systems now clear 91% accuracy in recognition of tens of thousands of words. What used to be difficult, getting a gadget to understand a voice command, is now easy.
  • Consumers are tired of the plethora of touch-screen-oriented apps. While the typical U.S. smartphone user has 37 apps on her phone, she uses only 3 of them — Facebook, the Chrome mobile web browser, and YouTube — 80% of the time.
  • Simple tasks, after all, don’t need keyboards.¬†Consumers are recognizing that voice just works better for short commands. 55% of voice searches are done while driving a car or “on the go,” with top commands including “navigate home,” “call Mom,” or “call Dad.” (Sadly, moms get twice as many calls from kids as dads, but that’s another story.)

The use of hands-free computing interfaces is rising fast; only 30% of U.S. consumers reported using voice commands with technology in 2013, while by 2015 that portion had jumped to 65%. With augmented vision devices such as Magic Leap soon replacing video displays, thanks to their ability to beam hi-def images of screens into the air like a Tony Stark Iron Man hologram, keyboards and computer monitors may become a thing of the past.

The irony of this rush to control the Internet of things via the air is some device-makers may put themselves out of business. When your couch controls your lights, and your TV screen floats in front of your augmented eyeglasses, will we need solid screens or keyboards at all?

The ghostly GPS-enabled, invisible pop-up store

This is a bit complicated and yet snap-crazy brilliant. Take one part augmented reality — the ability to overlay digital views of the world on reality, such as by using a GPS-enabled iPhone that gives you graphics on a screen based on your specific location. Add a second part pop-up store — a retail location that only exists for a brief period of time. Now, take away any bricks and mortar from the store. Result: A virtual retail ghost that doesn’t exist, but one you can visit if you point your smartphones at air at the right location at exactly the right time.

We’re not sure if this William Gibsonesque fake-reality will ever take off, but Airwalk is getting buzz for its reissued 1990s JIM shoes by building virtual pop-up stores in New York and California. Since you have to be in-the-know to find the invisible location, the buzz around this marketing is almost a secret.

SixthSense for Autism

If you wear eyeglasses, drive a car or have fillings in your teeth you are well familiar with mechanical devices extending human powers. What’s often lost in today’s hubbub about technology is that beyond phone calls, reading and typing, invention can aid humans who need extra support.

Tim Byrne is a designer at Western Washington University who has a twin brother with autism. He was inspired to build a conceptual gadget that displays audio and visual cues to help individuals with autism manage the complexities of society, with an information feed that is discernible only to themselves. Games Alfresco reports it’s part of MIT’s SixthSense technology, which uses Internet connections and projectors to fill reality with digital information overlays. If you think this isn’t the future, next time you’re puzzled about something, just try not aiding your own memory with Google.

We’ll take whatever she is wearing

Play me.

So say you’re surfing the web and see a jacket that looks cool. Could be on anyone — a Facebook friend’s photo, a model over at, a CNN photo of a prime minister. Westfield’s “fashion detector” lets you match the clothing image to any similar brands at its nearest mall location. Not enough? The app works on your iPhone, too, so you can surreptitiously snap photos of attractive lasses walking down the street to find the same short skirt for your wife. Or something like that.

Clever use of image matching and applications to drive impulse purchases. Well played, Westfield.

Via Ads of the World.

Face time

Technology has a way of surprising us with simplicity. In the 1950s we thought by 2010 humanity would be flying around in rocket cars; instead, we’ve turned telephones into tiny typewriters. (We’re still a bit disappointed, really.) Augmented reality is getting hyperbole today, but one of the best uses of overlaying the Internet on objects may just be recognizing things — like people.

Darryl Ohrt points us to Recognizr, a mobile app that lets you look up people by snapping photos of their faces. Incredibly useful for business meetings, conferences, or reminding yourself of who that dude is at your high school reunion.

The apples don’t exist

This bit works on several levels. First, it’s a dramatic ad pointing out New York City residents waste 270,000 pounds of food each day while others go hungry. Second, it was shot on an iPhone (backstory here). Which third, means that soon special effects will be as simple as the Lego brickfilms now being made by your 9-year-old. Which, of course, fourth, means the visual representation of reality will soon be so hard to judge that we won’t know what is real and what is not. But fifth, our view of reality has always been artificial — money itself is an elaborate fiction of ones and zeros on computer systems — so why not view the world as we want?

Speaking of heaven

We beat up on augmented reality a few posts back, so let’s be fair and think where a visual internet could go when unhinged from flat screens. No, not holding magazines up to computer cams, but instead, a world in the future where you wear glasses and see a newer reality with appendages you want. Tiny computers would project images onto your lens, overlaying perfectly with the real world behind like the magic yellow line on NFL football fields. The first step would be adding information about contacts or products; nimbuses of stats about colleagues, halos of data surrounding each soup can in the aisle to aid your navigation through life.

Of course we would take it further, tweaking our perception of reality for greater self-pleasure just as we now tint the world blue or orange with designer sunglasses. If you’re into goth, you could make the world look like a vampire flick. If you’re into self-image, you gaze down and see a fitter you, trimmed and tucked. No one would have to buy fashionable clothes any more, because we would see everyone else in the fashions that we, the visual receivers, want.

This isn’t fantasy; we already alter our audio reality with iPod earbuds, piping in fictitious sounds that set dream moods that don’t exist. So why not adjust the eye vision, too? Say with virtual rings around the Earth — like the view from Paris at 1:01 in this clip.

Via MTLB and Nerdcore. Inspired by @tsand, who reminded us that augmented reality is just a baby with a long ways to go.

This Esquire download should take only 5 minutes

Picking on the new Esquire augmented reality cover is a bit too easy. Sure, we could laugh at the idea that consumers will carry the physical magazine over to their home office, boot up the computer, spend five minutes downloading software, and then hold the magazine cover up to the web cam to get an enhanced experience. Of course it’s crap, a 2009 rendition of the 1990s’ :CueCat barcode reader that Forbes and Wired tried to get you to use at the tail end of the last internet bubble. Remember that? You plugged a device into your computer, which took about five minutes, and then held the magazine up to the device to get an enhanced experience …

The :CueCat bombed, of course. Wikipedia rattles off the disaster: PC World called it one of “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time”; Jeff Salkowski of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “you have to wonder about a business plan based on the notion that people want to interact with a soda can.” By 2005, a liquidator web site tried to unload 2 million of the ugly plastic devices for 30 cents each.

So here we go again; a national magazine asking people to jump through hoops to connect a print vehicle with a web communication. Why are we repeating history, the mistake of interactivity for interactivity’s sake? Magazines, like books, have their place in life, and no one wants to hold one channel (Esquire) up to another (a computer) to get an enhanced experience. The augmented-reality chore is like walking into a restaurant and having the waiter give you a burger sans bun, and then inviting you back to the kitchen to help the cook finish the ensemble.

It’s not a facelift, it’s a positioning strategy

Esquire is not led by dummies. They know they are asking too much, that augmented reality is a fad that will too pass, and that most users will never see the super-web-cam result. (Someone said risque women posing as elves are involved, but that’s just hearsay.) Esquire’s editors also realize print is under pressure — the once uberhot Maxim magazine recently shuttered its print edition in the UK, and Esquire’s total ad pages booked are down 24% year over year — and anything they can do to differentiate themselves in the marketplace helps. So Esquire is rolling out a series of physical gimmicks (such as the recent E-Ink cover), all good for PR, which generates buzz among readers, which gets advertisers to consider pushing media budgets Esquire’s way.

Sure, we don’t want to hold magazine covers up to web cams any more than we want to build hamburgers at a restaurant. But Megan Fox can only go so far. Esquire, all we can say is well played — you’re resonating with a stupid technological gimmick that makes us view you differently in your competitive set. No, we won’t head for the web cam … but we may just sign up for a subscription.

New film of the Hudson plane landing: Virtual history

We hate to replay Wired but this is worth seeing. (Forward the video above to 1:21 to get the real kick.) Kas Osterbuhr, an engineer at K3 Resources, has built an incredible virtual recording of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 taking off, being hit by geese and then splashing into the Hudson, complete with actual voiceover from air-traffic control. Osterbuhr is a specialist in data visualization and points us to a future when real events could be replayed from any angle, thanks to the GPS and other devices tracking the location of everything. No matter if cameras weren’t present to record it; a little data augmentation, and you can watch history anyway.

Wired has details here, and Osterbuhr has additional views here.

iPhone subways: Augmented reality gets real

Augmented reality is one of the themes of William Gibson’s recent book Spook Country, in which high-tech renegades overlay ghostly images on real-world locations to create “locative art,” visible via special glasses. You know, like the dead body of a famous writer floating in the street, showing the scene from the moment he died.

The idea of the internet overlaying reality is becoming concrete. Now an iPhone 3GS app by Acrossair, above, points you to the nearest subway station, with ghostly arrows telling you which way and how far to walk. The technology that makes this work is all logical — a combination of the phone’s video screen, GPS locator, and accelerometer — but the result seems magic.

Coolhunter Tom Ajello has a detailed profile of other augmented-reality mobile applications here.

Via Brandflakes.