Tag Archives: augmented-reality

Feel it in your fingers, feel it in your toes: haptic flooring

Via Chairman Bruce, here’s an interior design concept for those of you who find carpets or exposed boards a little pedestrian (arf!) – augmented reality floor tiles. SRSLY.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada have developed floor tiles that can simulate the look, sound and feel of snow, grass or pebbles underfoot. Such a tool could perhaps be used for augmented reality applications, tele-presence, training, rehabilitation or even as virtual foot controllers.

The modular “haptic” floor tiling system is made up of a deformable plate suspended on a platform. Between the plate and platform are sensors that detect forces from the user’s foot. And the plate can give off vibrations that mimic the feeling of stepping on different materials. A top-down projection and speakers add visual and audio feedback.

A long-distant precursor of an essential component for the the StarTrek holodeck, perhaps?

Cleaning up for Street View

Google Street View camera arrayThe city of Windsor in Ontario, Canada has apparently requested Google reshoot some of its Street View footage in order to remove a murder scene (complete with Do Not Cross police tape barriers and bloody bandages) from the public record, prompting Mike Masnick of TechDirt to wonder

[… whether] towns and cities are going to start to “prepare” for Google Street View cars coming through and make sure that everyone is on their best behavior

Seems pretty likely, doesn’t it? [image by sfmine79]

The threat of being seen without one’s “make-up” on has always been around. For instance, I can still remember the way every school I ever attended spent a week gussying the place up and drilling the students in advance of the government inspectors, which was probably one of my earliest cognitive dissonance awakenings – what was the point of inspections if they only occurred after a metaphorical wash’n’brush-up? Why not just, y’know, improve things generally rather than making a last-minute effort once a year*?

This feeds into the idealistic notion that ubiquitous transparency is a good thing, I suppose: if every city (or school, or whatever) knew it could be inspected (or Street View’d) at any time without warning, then perhaps they’d be more likely to fix problems at the root cause instead of sweeping the problems under the rug before the visitors arrive.

Of course, that’s a massive oversimplification of a very complex issue, but the Windsor story is a harbinger of institutional panics yet to come; much as technology could enable nation-states to turn themselves into panopticons, the spotlight can also be pointed in the other direction. The next few decades will be all about the struggle between individuals and corporate or geo-political entities to filter and control their realities as presented to the rest of the world… which is why I’m fairly convinced that augmented reality will be the multi-planar battlefield of manifold and fractal ideological struggles between citizens, states and corporations.

[ * The answer is very obvious now, of course, with the benefit of experience (and the cynicism toward institutions and bureaucracy that it engenders), but for a naive and nerdy seven year old, it was a baffling condundrum. Pity my poor parents attempting to explain these moral grey areas and fundamental societal flaws to a child with no better an instinctive or empathetic grasp of human nature than the Borg… ]

Augmented Reality tattooing

Keen to get some serious ink, but not so keen on spending hours under the needle? Not to mention fielding the reactions of your family, friends and colleagues? Well, good news – draw a basic QR barcode on your arm with black marker, and everyone will see it covered with whatever fierce and gnarly tattoo designs you specify. Provided they’re looking at it with the right filters and layers activated in their AR headset, of course…

Obviously very crude and basic at the moment, but the potential for complete appearance changes is easily extrapolated… and there’s the advantages of non-permanence to consider, too. Tattoos and the more adventurous forms of elective surgery have a tendency to hamper one’s progress in mainstream life (if there can be said to be any such thing any more)… this way, you can show your colours to them who’ll appreciate (or respect, or fear) them without having to watch the corner-store cashier flinch for the emergency button every time you go in for a bottle of milk.

Actually, once you start thinking about it, you realise that appearance will become almost as mutable and fluid as identity itself, once AR becomes as ubiquitous as phone handsets already are. The terminal corrosion of objective reality continues apace…

Augmented reality fiction

augmented reality headset conceptHere’s another option to add to the list of new avenues for fiction writers worried about the possible demise of the novel – augmented reality fiction, as (quite literally) dreamed by Web2.0 maven Tim O’Reilly [via @globalculture; image by The Lightworks]:

Last night I dreamed that one of my authors (no name or face that I can recall – one of the phantasms created by the half-waking imagination) had sold me rights to a novel he’d written, and was eager for me to publish it as an ebook. It turned out that the “ebook” we were developing was actually a movie that took place in an augmented reality overlay projected directly onto the mind’s eye, mixing what the author had imagined with what the viewer was actually seeing and experiencing at the time. Every version of the movie was different, because the story had to be overlaid on what the viewer was encountering in the real world. At one point in the dream, Eric Schmidt of Google was particularly excited because a sailing scene in the story warned him about a hidden reef that his boat had to avoid.

I don’t often share dreams on this blog (at least not sleeping dreams), but this one seemed worth putting out there, because I do think that augmented reality could be an important component of a new kind of storytelling, making today’s 3D entertainments as dated as silent films.

[I guess you have to move in pretty rarefied circles to have Google’s CEO appear in your dreams…either that, or have the sort of extreme tech fetish that warrants medical attention.]

I very much doubt that O’Reilly’s the first to think of AR fiction, but having someone that influential kicking the idea around in public can only be a good thing; the dead-tree book may have a finite lifespan ahead of it, but storytelling will probably last as long as humanity itself, in one form or another.

O’Reilly continues with an anecdote about an intriguing format for theatre he once experienced, which (more so than the AR fiction idea alone) threw all sorts of interesting switches in my head:

Many years ago, I saw a play in LA called Tamara, a story set in the mansion where WWI hero and author Gabrielle D’Annunzio was held under house arrest by Mussolini. A fascinating experiment in theater, Tamara took place in many different rooms of the house. As an audience member, whenever a scene ended, you had an opportunity to follow the character of your choice to another room. No audience member could see the entire play. My wife and I went with her parents (who were back for the third or fourth time, seeing parts of the play they’d missed on previous visits), and afterwards, we all compared notes for hours about what we’d seen, and what we’d missed.

Now that’s an interesting idea… not to mention a neat way of making history a more immersive and interesting experience. Someone needs to start pitching that structure to the museums-and-stately-homes sector… *reaches for rolodex*

Of course, the layered nature of augmented reality means that there’s all sorts of potential for weird and unforeseen overlaps and mash-ups – it’s easy to think of ways to add a game component to that immersive theatre idea, for example. But there’s nothing that says you have to get permission to mesh your game with another layer. Let’s say that someone makes an AR guide to Victorian-era London, for instance; it’d be pretty easy for someone to independently develop an extra layer that threaded in a Sherlock Holmes-esque game element to the proceedings. But just think of the IP headaches that sort of mash-up is going to produce – if you develop a game on top of a free-to-view ad-supported AR layer, should you have to pay the creators of that layer? Or should the extra traffic you’re sending to it be considered payment enough? That sound you hear is the hands of a thousand lawyers rubbing together in glee…

And let’s not forget that all games can and will be gamed – for instance, you’ve probably heard of FourSquare by now (if not signed up already), but that casual geolocational contest is easily fiddled, as demonstrated by one Jim “KrazyDad” Bumgardner [via @qwghlm]. Games that are played upon games, realities that are recursively layered upon realities… things are going to get a whole lot more meta in the not-to-distant future.

Re-skinning the city – the dark side of augmented reality

As augmented reality becomes the latest tech buzz-phrase to excite the more mainstream media outlets, it’s interesting to watch people coming to similar conclusions by very different routes.

For instance, here’s nigh-legendary grumpy Brit television critic Charlie Brooker riffing on the not-so-egalitarian potential of augmented reality technologies:

Years ago, I had an idea for a futuristic pair of goggles that visually transformed homeless people into lovable animated cartoon characters. Instead of being confronted by the conscience-pricking sight of an abandoned heroin addict shivering themselves to sleep in a shop doorway, the rich city-dweller wearing the goggles would see Daffy Duck snoozing dreamily in a hammock. London would be transformed into something out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

What’s more, the goggles could be adapted to suit whichever level of poverty you wanted to ignore: by simply twisting a dial, you could replace not just the homeless but anyone who receives benefits, or wears cheap clothes, or has a regional accent, or watches ITV, and so on, right up the scale until it had obliterated all but the most grandiose royals.

At the time this seemed like a sick, far-off fantasy. By 2013, it’ll be just another customisable application you can download to your iBlinkers for 49p, alongside one that turns your friends into supermodels and your enemies into dormice.

Beneath the snark, Brooker is pointing out that we already have a tendency to filter reality so that we only see the bits we want to – confirmation bias at work, in other words. Once the hardware is cheap and powerful enough to achieve iPhone-ish levels of market penetration, software that works in the way he’s describing above is not just possible but plausible. And as nice as it is to think that you’d not be tempted yourself, I suspect we all would be to some degree… try inverting the class dynamic of Brooker’s prediction, for instance. [image by gwdexter]

So, reality filters are inevitable… but experience dictates that where commerce, culture and technology meet up, things rarely remain in stasis. Enter new Futurismic columnist Tim Maly, who opines that the perpetually escalating arms race between spammers and filter-builders may be the one thing that fends off the hyper-Balkanised culture that so terrifies commentators like Brooker:

The trajectory assumed is of increasingly powerful and impregnable filters. If that trajectory holds, then one expects an increasingly balkanized culture, full of isolated groups that think they have nothing in common. But there’s a second set of actors in play, the ones being filtered out.

As the first group works harder to filter out unwanted messages, the second works harder to break through. We see it in the arms race around advertising. We see it in politicians struggling to find new ways of reaching their audience. We see it in Google’s need to constantly change and update their pagerank algorithms as black hat SEOs learn to game the system.

So long as the arms race continues, the filters will get better without becoming perfect. And in those cracks, reality (or at least an alternate viewpoint) can intrude. Insofar as we believe that people can’t know in advance what is best for them or what information they should receive, we should celebrate inefficiencies in filters.

In every successfully delivered spam message, there is a ray of hope.

Spam as a ray of hope… who knew? There’ll be more from Tim in his first proper column tomorrow, by the way. 🙂