Augmented Reality atlas

Paul Raven @ 24-09-2010

Via Flowing Data, a text-books-and-data-visualization mash-up using augmented reality:

It’s very pretty, but – as pointed out at FD – not particularly useful; the physical book ends up as a very cumbersome interface for data that would be more easily and flexibly displayed as a fully computer-native medium from the get-go. But there’s a hint of promise in there, too; an idea waiting for its “killer app”, perhaps. Which is state-of-the-art AR in a nutshell.

OsiriX: mixed reality image overlay surgery

Paul Raven @ 23-08-2010

Via Bruce Sterling, and does pretty much what it says on the tin. Video possibly unsuitable for those who don’t like being reminded of all the squishy functional bits inside of people (though no actual surgery is shown). Also unsuitable for those who don’t like soothing piano music.

Gonzo Augmented Reality

Paul Raven @ 07-07-2010

Thomas Carpenter of Games Alfresco was pretty impressed by the AR app that superimposes an oil slick on any BP logo within the frame of its image capture, and started riffing on the idea of gonzo AR – a sort of “the world as seen by [x]” idea, taking the idea of reality being defined by personal perceptions right down to the granular level of individuals.

An unofficial game of object-association could make great interactive art, political rhetoric, or dystopic reinforcing world-view; depending on its implementation.  Wouldn’t you like to point your smartphone at everyday objects and find out how your favorite artists or celebrities view the world? Seeing how YoYo Ma, or the Dalai Lama or Bruce Campbell (the guy from the Evil Dead series) view the world could be liberating. Or since our own Bruce Sterling is the Prophet of AR, one of the AR browsers could do a “Bruce Layer” and show us what kind of world he sees when he’s looking around.

Maybe if Glenn Beck was your thing, you’d have a Nazi symbol pop-up when you pointed it at an Obama sticker.  Or if you were a former Bush-hater, you could see a Stalin-esque version of the W with your smartphone.   Propaganda could be all encompassing, blotting out all but the sanctioned viewpoints.

I think we can safely assume that AR (like any other media) will get pretty ugly when mainstream politics gets a hold of it… although, going on past form, that’ll probably happen a few years after everyone else has moved on to something more novel. Back to Mr Carpenter:

And maybe that’s what a gonzo-reality could bring to AR.  Instead of a mirror reflecting all of our beliefs into an ever-increasing sine wave, we might be privy to alternate views to our own.  Maybe even trying out how someone else sees the world.


Or maybe we couldn’t handle their viewpoint.  The overstimulating rush would make our realities spin around us until we puked it back out, losing all those alternate nutrients our world views could have used to grow.

And there you have it; new technology, same old spectre of confirmation bias. Still, if AR ends up as ubiquitous and packed with stuff as the existing internet, cognitive bias will at least be a whole lot of fun.

Gestural interface: like a Wacom tablet, just without the plastic bits

Paul Raven @ 11-06-2010

Via SlashDot, here’s a project from Potsdam University in which the clever boffins have built a user interface that requires only hand gestures as input:

We present Imaginary Interfaces, screen-less devices that allow users to perform spatial interaction with empty hands and without visual feedback. Unlike projection-based solutions, such as Sixth Sense, all “feedback” takes place in the user’s imagination. Users define the origin of an imaginary space by forming an L-shaped coordinate cross with their non-dominant hand. Users then point and draw with their dominant hand in the resulting space. The interaction is tracked by a tiny camera device clipped to the user’s clothing and pointed at the user’s hands.

A bit rough and ready, sure, but it’s early days. Bolt this onto AR (they both need similar face-mounted hardware, so convergence is pretty inevitable), and stuff gets weird real quick. Cities full of people wandering around, seemingly talking to themselves and waving their hands in gnomic gestures… it’d look like a city of mad magicians.

Or, y’know, like Burning Man or Glastonbury at 5am on a Saturday. 🙂

We can misremember it for you wholesale: historically layered Londons, and the past as palimpsest

Paul Raven @ 28-05-2010

Via Bruce Sterling, one of the more obvious augmented reality applications, done elegantly: historical archive images overlaid onto the real (present/baseline?) world. The older I get, the more I become fascinated with history; if someone did up layers like this for the whole country, I’d probably never switch it off. [image ganked from TechVert; please contact for takedown if required]

London Museum archive photo augmented reality app

Give it a couple of years (or maybe less), we’ll be doing the same with archive video. Another few years, generative CGI that is practically indistinguishable from archive video. Alternate history as real-time immersive gaming experience… think of the 80-hours-a-week WoW player, and it’s easy to assume that some people will pretty much live in AR environments full time. A subsection of those people will make their entire living in that space, geographically contigious with baseline reality but offset (or derailed completely) from historical temporal flow. Whose laws will they obey? Who will they pay taxes to? What will their game goals be? Imagine a Victorian London ARG that’s something like The Sims – your goal is, basically, to survive your chosen socioeconomic mileue for as long as possible without dropping out… or dying in the attempt.

Related bonus link: MeFi points out an experiment into the mutability of memory as manipulated by doctored ‘historical’ images and media artefacts. Apparently not a very rigorous experiment, but nonetheless, the implication is that it’s alarmingly easy to convince us that a fabricated event actually occured. This is, hopefully, a temporary problem. It’s going to take us a little while to evolve the sort of high-sensitivity bullshit filters that an impossible-to-police internet demands, and ubiquitous AR will raise the bar another few notches; I suspect we’ll get there eventually. But unless technological progress hits a brick wall fairly soon, I suspect we’ll never fully catch up. This is a little like what evolutionary science calls an “arms race”, I think… though we’re now in an arms race with the cultural and technological output of our own species.

Thinking about it again, I guess we always have been… I’m sure I’m reinventing the wheel here (and if you can point me toward more thinking alonmg these lines, please pipe up in the comments), but the enormity of this revelatory idea has pretty much scuppered my chances of concentrating on anything else for the rest of the day.

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