‘Until Augmented Reality is part of the Operating System, it probably won’t be that useful for consumers’

Imagine you got someone before you who has a general interest in augmented reality. ‘Yeah, putting digital layers on top of my physical surroundings, I like that. Pretty cool, and hey, I got this fancy new smartphone.’ Which app would you recommend?

I asked the question on the Google+ Augmented Reality community page. I suggested Layar, Junaio or Wikitude. Professor Blair MacIntyre at Georgia Tech was kind enough to answer. He said that it depends on what the user wants to do – but those apps are not very generally useful. I must admit that this corresponds with my own appreciation: even though I’m a fan of the possibilities of Augmented Reality, I don’t have such a ‘wow’-feeling when I actually stare through my smartphone to find out where some restaurant is or to find some wikipedia-entry floating around. Often I get the feeling that Google Maps – especially the newest version on the iPhone 5 – is hard to beat (can we consider that as Augmented Reality?).

Anyway, here is what MacIntyre told me:

The fundamental problem with “the AR browsers” is that they impose a single User Interface on top of the data they display. So, if you want to build something that is different than just looking at some data or animated models (i.e.., virtually anything useful or interesting) you can’t easily do t with them. They are good for small things, and displaying bits of data.

Compare them to web browsers, where each site has its own look, feel and behavior. Sure, many are vanilla, but most aren’t.

That’s why we started working on Argon years ago as a research project. It’s coming along, and I expect more and more we will see AR integrated into apps and eventually Operating Systems.

Heretical hypothesis: Until AR is part of the Operating System, it probably won’t be that useful for consumers.

MacIntyre is project director of the augmented reality browser Argon, in this video he explains the ideas behind that browser:

A virtual worlds community going beyond virtual worlds?

Fleep Tuque, a major virtual worlds community expert, said on her Google+ page that AvaCon, the organizers of the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) plans to include the open-source version of Second Life, OpenSim, and other platforms, in the upcoming gatherings (which will get another name). On the AvaCon website it seems they’re looking for volunteers.

In a famous blogpost Tuque previously explained that people who care about the future of the Metaverse need to move beyond Second Life. There was no edition 2012 of the SLCC as there was disagreement between Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and AvaCon.

All of which is very interesting as the community conventions were highly creative gatherings, with keynotes from visionaries such as Philip Rosedale and Ray Kurzweil. Most of all, these conventions inspired people who are actually building new layers on top of our reality and who are part of a digital culture avant-garde.

This is how AvaCon defines its mission:

Our mission is to promote the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

But what is the Metaverse exactly? This is what Wikipedia says:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

So we talk here about the sum of all virtual worlds but also about augmented reality and even ‘the internet’, which seems to be quite a broad definition. Maybe that’s normal as the mobile revolution, ubiquitous computing, the internet of things are integrating ‘the internet’ with the ‘physical space’.

I do hope AvaCon will embrace this broad definition. (Some) people in virtual worlds not only want to export their creations into other virtual places, they also want to turn bits into atoms through 3D-printing (read about Second Life artisan Maxi Gossamer in the New World Notes).

It also makes sense to go beyond virtual worlds (which does not mean abandoning them) as we know them and not just beyond Second Life. In essence these virtual worlds create the illusion of 3D on a flat screen. But what about this? Thesis Prize Winner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design 2011 Greg Tran:

Greg believes that ”People assume we have digital 3D already but this is a fallacy. When you rotate your model on ascreen or watch a Pixar animation is actually just a digital 2d REPRESENTATION of material 3d.What people are calling 3DTV and 3D movies are just a form of shallow depth or Bas Relief, not true digital 3D. The critical/operative imperative of the digital 3D is that there is a subject moving through space. The digital 3D is in its beginning stages, but will evolve in a similar way to the digital 2D. The digital 2D began as a specialized, singular medium which was largely used for documentation purposes, but has evolved towards personalization, interactivity, fluency and distribution.”

Or what about telepresence through iPads mounted on light structures? Or about avatars combined with robotics?

One of the lessons of the latest MetaMeets conference was that it’s very worthwhile to gather people who are interested in augmented reality, mobile applications, Kinect and Kinect-style sensors, and virtual worlds (plural). I hope AvaCon will succeed in doing this on an even bigger scale and that they will embed their virtual worlds focus into a larger vision.

Read also: The Metaverse is Dead (and the discussion following the post).

Hat tip to Daniel Voyager for posting about Fleep Tuque on Google+ (did I mention I’m kind of addicted to Google+?)

Virtual communities on Google+

Getting tons of invites for communities on Google Plus. A limited selection: communities for Digital Culture (look for Ted Newcomb to get an invite), Second Life (288 members already), Second Life Arts (135 members), Opensim Virtual (‘First there was Second Life, then there was Freedom), MetaMeets (3D internet conference), Augmented Reality, 3D printing (1,307 members), Ingress (the Google alternate reality game) (7,193 members) and other Ingress-communities (for the resistance, the enlightened, for various countries…).

Google+ also offers a selection of interesting communities and of course allows you to search for specific interests: fond out more at Google+ communities.

There are discussions about whether the discussion threads should be indexed, tagged (of should we use hashtages), privacy, big corporates, but I definitely have the impression it increases the activity on Google+ and makes it far more valuable.

Apps on top of the world: another Minecraft-in-Reality

In an earlier post about MetaMeets I briefly mentioned the Dutch artist Sander Veenhof with his eye-opening and often subversive usage of augmented reality. In yet another post we referred to Minecraft Reality, an app which allows you to position constructions built in the virtual Minecraft-environment into the physical world. Sander however is more radical: he lets you create Minecraft-styled constructions immediately layered upon the physical world through an augmented reality app.

Download the “Layar” app on your smartphone, then click ‘layers’ button and search for “virtual sculpturing”. Or have a look at the virtual sculpturing page.

Follow Sander Veenhof on Twitter and also have a look at the Twitter lists he follows.

Changing the world while exiting the trough of disillusionment

I’m recovering from the second MetaMeets day, but here comes my report about the second part of this two-day conference in the beautiful ‘s Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands).

This day was hands-on: we had a workshop during which we learned to use sculptris to make a model, meshlab to clean it up, and then have it 3dprinted at fablab. My own creation was less than stellar (I even had no computer mouse so my equipment was to blame of course, not me!) but anyway, it was great fun. Chris Kautz facilitated the workshop, he has a great website packed with tutorials and resources: art-werx.com. On YouTube he has a series as crocodileEddie.

Much of the conference was about escaping from the virtual or digital world into the real world via augmented reality or 3D-printing, but we also discussed how to get the physical into the virtual, using Microsoft’s motion sensing input device Kinect.

The chair organizer of MetaMeets Jolanda Mastenbroek was thrilled to try out the Kinect – by slowly moving her body, she brought avatars in Second Life to life – they were moving in sync with her movements in the physical world. This could also work for the open source-version of Second Life, OpenSim.

For the techies, please consult this page about Kinect and Second Life. It’s an ongoing project, but imagine the possibilities for machinima, gaming and inevitably adult entertainment (always an indication whether or not a technology will succeed).

In my presentation I asked for business models. Can people earn a living in this sector of virtual worlds, augmented reality and mixed realities? Someone who combines with great success his physical artwork with virtual stuff is the French artist Patrick Moya. We watched this video about his work:

A very different style is this beautiful impression of the Second Life art installations by Artistide Despres, filmed and edited by Marx Catteneo (aka Marc Cuppens) http://www.marccuppens.nl
handheld machinima 2012:

Cuppens also showed this video about The Cube Project LEA 2012 Second Life.

The Cube Project August 2012, “Over 25 virtual artists have joined the ranks of The Cube Project, curated by Bryn Oh, to create a 20-sim exhibit in just 5 days. What’s the theme? Artists can only use two distinct virtual objects: a black cube, and a white cube.”

Bryn Oh: “We are turning away for a moment from the wonderful range of mesh or photoshopping beautiful textures to work instead on simple minimal compositions in black and white, over 20 regions. The overall idea is to create a massive harmonious environment rather than follow the standard exhibition practice of each artist having a clearly defined separate space to exhibit.”

The Cube Project is a collaborative artwork consisting of virtual artists Bryn Oh, Cajska Carlsson, Charlotte Bartlett, Dancoyote Antonelli, Giovanna Cerise, Haveit Neox, Kicca Igaly, L1Aura Loire, London Junkers, Maya Paris, Misprint Thursday, Nessuno Myoo, Oberon Onmura, PatriciaAnne Daviau, Pol Jarvinen, Rag Randt, Rowan Derryth, Sea Mizin, Secret Rage, Solkide Auer, Remington Aries, Solo Mornington, Tony Resident, Werner Kurosawa and Xineohp Guisse.

A video impression by Marx Catteneo – handheld machinima august 2012
Music by the Artist: Logical Confusion Track: Darklight Album: Logical 3
Downloaded from tribeofnoise.com

Virtual worlds are not dead, they just smell funny, Flufee said at the opening of the conference (see previous post). It’s a quote from Frank Zappa who said Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny. The same applies for virtual worlds. They are somewhere on the agonizing slow exit of the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner cycle of hype, but they allow us to change the real world as we put layers of digital information on the physical reality. They also allow us to change the real world as they enable artists to create new art.

Read also the first part of the MetaMeets report. I also updated my wiki mindmap about this conference.

‘Virtual worlds are not dead, they only smell funny’

Allow Flufee McFluff to introduce this post about the first day of the MetaMeets conference:

You can find the mindmap on which my own presentation (slideshow) was based in the previous post. I update the mindmap in function of what I learn during this two day-conference.
Some highlights of the conference:

The artist Sander Veenhof showed us the beauty and the subversive power of augmented reality. For instance by organizing an exhibition at the MoMa without any official approval:

Veenhof often uses Layar, which is a mobile browser for augmented reality. However, these days Layar seems to focus more on activating print media with interactive experiences – which may be more interesting business-wise, but seems less revolutionary. So it’s not surprising Veenhof these days is rather fond of junaio, which boasts being ‘the most advances augmented reality browser.’

– CJ Davies and John McCaffery presented the Project Open Virtual Worlds at the University of St Andrews. CJ is currently developing a modified Second Life viewer for a tablet computer that allows avatar movement & camera control to reflect the tablet’s real world position & orientation using a combination of accelerometer, magnetometer & GPS data. I think it’s pretty exciting to combine avatars and real world in this way.

– Talking about combining the virtual and ‘the real’, Bart Veldhuizen talked about shapeways.com which is specialized in 3D-printing in various materials – so not only plastics but also metal, nylon or silver. Shapeways boasts a community of about 150,000 members. So would it be interesting for those community members to collaborate in 3D environments? That’s not self-evident as the ideal designs for 3D-printing often diverge from what is ideal in a virtual world such as Second Life. Also, the community members may also be competitors and not so keen on collaborating. There is discussion about all this, as other designers often do want to collaborate and work in ‘virtual guilds’ and virtual worlds could be interesting places for discussions, brainstorming and early prototyping.

– So, to refer to Flufee, are virtual worlds dead, now that the talk is so much about 3D-printing and augmented reality? In the discussions about virtual worlds Maria Korolov (Hypergrid Business) gave expert advice about OpenSim, which seems a good solution for education, especially for younger kids. This was also demonstrated by Nick Zwart, an award-winning pioneer in the educational use of virtual worlds (language education) who uses OpenSim.

MetaMeets! Virtuality Meets Reality

Tomorrow I’ll participate in the MetaMeets gathering in ‘s-Hertogenbosch,The Netherlands. What we’l do and talk about:

MetaMeets is a seminar/meeting about virtual worlds, augmented reality and 3D internet, this year’s topic will be The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality.

Virtual worlds and 3D internet have been developing continuously. Mobile and browser based worlds have been created. Mesh format uploads have provided huge progress in content creation through open source programs like Blender and Google Sketchup.
Machinima creation has grown and improved with special interfaces and innovations in visual possibilities, making films shot in virtual worlds a professional tool for presentation to a mainstream audience.

MetaMeets has chosen this year to shine a light on this versatile digital canvas by taking its participants interactively into the Art of Creation. The programme will begin with a few lectures on the current state of virtual worlds and their new developments. Subsequently, we will have workshops exploring methods of accomplishing each of the key steps in 3D creation. The workshops will range from creating a virtual world on your own server, creating 3D content, creating (motion) pictures of it, and even printing 3D objects as real world 3D models.

We also will have an interactive roundtable discussion based on the movie The Singularity is Near that is released this summer for download and availible on dvd.

This is a mindmap I prepared. My subject is about the virtual which escapes into the real. Or how maybe Second Life is catering for a niche group of people, but the ethos of virtual worlds is spreading fast in what we once called the ‘real world’.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Apps on top of the real world

This seems to be pretty cool, but as you’ll see in the ‘read more’ section, it’s much more than just ‘cool’:

And here is how it works:

It’s build by Stockholm-based 13thlab.com and it’s an app available on iOS.

Using advanced computer vision, Minecraft Reality maps and tracks the world around you using the camera, and allows you to place Minecraft worlds in reality, and even save them in a specific location for others to look at.

Minecraft Reality is built on our PointCloud SDK. For more information, and examples of what people are placing, visit http://minecraftreality.com.

Just like the Google ARG Ingress, this is yet another example of the crumbling walls between the digital world and the world formerly known as the real world.

The guys of 13thLab claim: “We think the camera will replace the GPS as the most important sensor to interpret and make sense of the world around you.”

Hat tip for Bruce Sterling on Beyond the Beyond for posting about this.

Read also:
– If the world were your platform, what apps would you build, by Janko Roettgers at GigaOM. He asks the fascinating question: “If your apps aren’t just running on a phone or a tablet anymore, but essentially on top of the real world — what kind of apps do you build?”
– The World Is Not Enough: Google and the Future of Augmented Reality by Alexis C. Madrigal at theAtlantic.
-Minecraft creations meet the real world through augmented reality iOS app by David Meyer on GigaOM.

Microsoft has its own Project Glass

“Microsoft has it’s own Project Glass cooking in the R&D labs.

It’s an augmented reality glasses/heads-up display, that should supply you with various bits of trivia while you are watching a live event, e.g. baseball game. ”

The information is based on a patent application, so don’t expect a Microsoft Glass for Christmas. 
via Diigo http://www.unwiredview.com/2012/11/22/microsoft-has-its-own-project-glass-augmented-reality-glasseswearable-computer-combo/

patent drawings for microsoft glass

Nicholas Carlson at BusinessInsider explains the differences between Microsoft Glass and Google Glass. It seems that Google Glass will be more like a tiny screen somewhere in your vision while the Microsoft project is about overlaying digital information on the physical environment. However, the Microsoft project seems to be more about events – where the user is more or less staying on the same spot, while Google Glass is also about the users moving around, sky diving etc.

Purists would say the Google is not working on augmented reality (if the information about Google Glass) is correct as it does not really is overlaying digital information. In my opinion, if you look at it from a slightly different angle, in both cases we’re (at least in some applications) annotating the physical world.

Let Google hack your mind!

Alternate Reality Games (ARG)! conspiracies! Augmented Reality! Mind hacking! Soon all this on your Android (now in closed beta) – and I guess less soon also on iOS. Meet Ingress, Google’s ARG. It reminds me of Shadow Cities, but then again I could not yet try out Ingress. It seems to be more interesting in this sense that it integrates the digital game layer more into the physical reality – however without actually using physical objects. Also visit the companion website Niantic Project. Cannot wait to experience these things wearing Google glasses… (and of course, while pretending to be a game, Google will eventually hack your mind):

Read also:
– Google Launches Ingress, a Worldwide Mobile Alternate Reality Game by Liz Gannes on AllThingsD
– Inside Ingress, Google’s new augmented reality game by Casey Newton on C|Net
Niantic Project Wiki
Read even more:
– Are ARGs Dead? A Closer Look at a Common Refrain by Adrian Hon on ARGNet
– Niantic Labs Bears More Fruit: Location-Based Massively Multiplayer Game Ingress Hits Google Play by Darrell Etherington at TechCrunch. Notice that the term ‘alternate reality’ is not being used here, but instead ‘location-based multiplayer gaming’.