Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Future: Oculus Ritf meets Minority Report Gloves meets the Prometheus flying (3d mapping) robot

What I'm about to do in this post is copulate three different technologies that open up many opportunities that I envision. Brace yourself, relax and get ready to open your mind into the matrix.

Virtual Realities | Autonomous 3D Mapping | Gesture Tracking

If you think you know about enough about these three technologies, skip down below to where ...

Virtual Realities. If you are interesting at all in emerging technologies, then you should know about the Oculus Rift by now. They had a successful kickstarter campaign, reaching their goal of $250,000 in the first day and ending with a lump sum of nearly ten times that, $2.4 million! I speak very highly of the Oculus Rift, and when I explain it to others, I introduce it by saying "When Steve Jobs said he worried about the next big thing that would be coming out of a garage, the Oculus is a perfect example."

What is the Oculus Rift? A fully immersive virtual reality headset, targeted towards gamers. The user would put on the headset, and their head movements would control the vision in the game. This allows players to feel like they are the character from game, by sharing the first persons perspective.

The display covers 97% of the users field of view (FOV), thats a whole lot more than what the typical pair of prescription eye glasses cover. While the FOV is great and all, it wouldn't be helpful if there was latency with the movements. This is where the Oculus differs from all the other consumer headsets, by using accelerometers and gyroscopes with close to no latency, it convices the users mind they are truly in another (virtual) world. It is so good that after using the Rift for a few minutes, it takes time to adjust to our normal reality.

The next technology I wanted to introduce is 3D mapping. This might not be new for some of you, either way, the way I envision it being used is hopefully somewhat thought provoking.

Coming out of the University of Pennsylvania, Shaojie S. Nathan M. and Vijay K. have been working on "Autonomous aerial navigation in confined indoor environments." What does all that jargon mean, well essentially they are creating a device that replicates the same purpose as mapping drones in Prometheious.

The device they created flies around a closed environment, using cameras to both navigate and create 3D maps of the surrounding area. If put in a your house, this could create a full digital 3D model of it.

Now with the a full 3D model of your house and a great open sourced virtual reality headset, just imagine the possibilities. Well I did, that's why I'm writing this. This means you could map out your house, upload the map to the Oculus, then wear the Oculus around your house using the uploaded map to navigate.

Yes, yes, I know, there are many technicalities around this, at this moment in time (while not everything is connected to web) you wouldn't be able to use it all the time in your house. For example, making a meal wouldn't work out too well, nor would interacting with others in the house, as none of those would have a way of being detected. These are only limitations at the moment and they all have a way around it, I won't get into the possibilities as that could be a whole other post, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Aside from the technoicalities, what are the possibilities?

Now that you are ready with your Oculus Rift and your 3D realistic house, you can start thinking of your house more like a screen saver now. Rather than these bland colours hopefully that stick on our walls, we can impose anything. Take a second and think for yourself what you would want to see while in your house.

  • Space
  • Safari 
  • Favorite travel destination
  • Movie Scene

These could be either digitally created or have a camera and microphone set up to a server hosting the experience in real time. Rather than channel switching, you'll be scene switching locations. Lets say you are coming back home from a long day. Take your keys out, unlock the door, walk in and put on your Oculus Rift. 

You are now immersed. Where are you?

I'd pick the international space station (ISS), although it might be somewhat nauseating. The walls on the perimeter of my house would represent space. I would walk into my living room, put down my bag, sit down on the couch, relax and enjoy the fact that (virtually) I am immersed in space, with the same view as the only 6 other astronauts in the ISS.

You could really pick anywhere, and like I've been pushing you to think for yourself where you'd like to be, I'll ask again. I like to hear what other peoples dreams are, or if they are just content in the reality they are living in now.

For simplicity, lets say we are still in space. Rather than seeing a live-feed from space, for this example imagine we are using a computer generate model. Still sitting on the couch, and I could like to zoom into earth (like on Google Earth).

Using hand guesstures to control a computing system (a virtual earth for this example) we are able to make use of our dexterity like never before. This is the mouse of the 21st century. That is what Mycestro is doing. They just raised over three times their goal, bringing in over $300,000.

This post was written months ago and I felt bad leaving it as a draft while the Oculus community is building and sharing dozens of such creative ideas. I do apologize for the abrupt ending but I'm off to build my virtual world. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Download Your Brave New (Virtual) World

Who will be grabbing the biggest chunk of the predicted billions of dollars in the future of the augmented reality market? There's advertising agencies of course, but it's hard to predict how that will turn out, whereas the visual entertainment and gaming has just as much if not more potential. This leaves a huge segment of the market to movie and gaming studios.
With all the promising science and technologies coming out, this type of virtual reality is inevitably possible in the future

Imagine being able to create your own world with characters and parts from your favourite movies. Avatar Ikrans (the mountain banshees) perched up and flying around skyscrapers, the Mad Hatter following you around along with Wall-E, the Batman sign projected up in the clouds, Star Wars ships battling in the sky while manoeuvring around the balloon assisted floating house from UP, and every person around looking like Mr. Smith. We will be telling our kids that we used to have information overload, while they are dealing with a visual overload. All these virtual realities could just be downloaded through apps.

The movie studios love their cash grabs. Remaking a movie into 3D, changing next to nothing and making millions. If the hardware is available and consumers demand such applications, there is no doubt the big studios will be releasing virtual reality apps for a couple bucks.
Before big movie studios enter this realm , it is likely they will wait to see if it is a viable market. The smaller independent studios would enter this market first. They wouldn't have big brands like Batman and Star Wars to boost sales, but the first ones to the augmented reality visualisation market who release top-notch apps could make a name for themselves, like what Rovio did with Angry Birds (now worth over $100 MM).

These studios do not only have to stick with just visuals. They could be interactive, this is where the gaming studios play their role. Simple apps could allow the visuals to integrate movements with surrounding buildings (This wouldn't be hard to do, as both Apple and Google are releasing photo-realistic 3D maps to their mobile devices, both with APIs). As mentioned earlier flocks of Avatar Ikrans (the flying banshees) could fly around, swooping around city blocks, avoiding the buildings. More advanced developers could take the augmented reality apps one step further. Sticking with the Avatar banshees for this example, players could start off with one (or have to capture one, like in the movie). The banshee follows the user around wherever they go. If they go for a run, it could fly infront to try to motivate the user to run faster than their last run. It could grow depending on different factors, one could be time. Another could be dependent on how active you are: physically (running/moving around) or socially (using systems like Klout to judge). This visual app is now a social augmented reality game. It doesn't have to be an Avatar banshee the virtual character could be anything. The possibilities are endless.

Imagine what the first augmented reality MMO would be like. Would it be a global game or stick to the citys? A social platform (Facebook or G+)? What do you think will happen when the technology is ready?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Apples next big innovation?

We all know what the next big thing Google plans to come out with (other than autonomous cars). Their stance with augmented reality seems pretty clear, after their release of the Google glasses viral video. 

Where will Apple stand with this technology?  Jupiter Research had stamped augmented reality hardware with “Annual revenues…will exceed $6 billion by 2012”. There is no doubt Apple will take a bite sized chunk out of those dollars. If you keep track of the companies they have been acquiring lately, it is clear that Apple is planning something usual.

 In 2011 Apple bought out C3 Technologies. A company that effectively captures high definition 3D images, stiching them together to create crisp photo-realistic 3D maps. The work is done by flying drones with a pricy camera strapped onto the plane, you can see the whole process in C3’s old promotion video to the left.

The quality of the 3D maps produced outperforms google maps (and earth) by a long shot. It's been rumored that Apple will be removing Google Maps from the next iPhone, one can only assume that they will be replacing it with their own map app, using C3 technologies. 

These maps could easily be used into a video game (as the video above showed it’s already being using for simulations), which is a nice thought, given that the C3 Tech executives are now working in the iOS division. Just imagine the possibilities for a game with the world as your map, you're the controller and the screen just rests in front of your eyes. 

Now Apple hasn't been only purchasing mapping technologies. They bought Face detection software from a company called Polar Rose in September 2010. This technology is most likely already being used with iPhoto’s face recognition service for now, but it's doubtful that it will be its only use. Being able to detect faces for augmented reality is essential. At first we may see filters for faces.  Apps that make it seem like everyone around you (could be everyone excluding your friends or contacts in your networks) would be wearing Scream masks, or look the the Joker from Batman. This isn't a new feature, it has already been done with webcams years ago, just the ability to virtually put a mask (or anything) onto anyone you see around you, would be very amusing at first.

From the big shots it’d be likely to see Facebook and other major social networks, have live information posted beside everyone's face. With over 900 million users, you would be able to see some augmented information at least 1 in 8 people that walk by you.  If it was a friend, you could see their recent activity on their timeline or tweets. If it was someone you didn't know, it would depend on their privacy on what you see. For networking this would be helpful, as you could see anyone's linked-in profile without having to go through the finicky search feature. To get a better idea of how the information could appear, look at the illustration to the left. 

Who knows when Apple will release AR hardware. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all have the capability to use some current AR. For the real deal, the next new innovative product they release, Tim Cooks opportunity to shine, its only a matter of years until something is released, do you think he can produce a new product up to Jobs standards?.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Augmented Reality: Glasses or Contact Lenses?

How will we be able to see anything even close to the Matrix? First we will have to focus on an image that is close to our eyes or even on them. Innovega has jumped the gun, by developing a contact lens called iOptik™. It allows us to focus on multiple objects at once. This means, we could be wearing something similar to the Google Glasses (glasses with translucent digital images displayed on the glass) and still focus on what is physically around us.

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been working closely with Innovega's development team for military usage. Their website stated the following:

"Currently being developed by DARPA researchers at Washington-based Innovega iOptiks are contact lenses that enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus.  Instead of oversized virtual reality helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-color displays that are very near the eye.  These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away.  This could improve ability to use tiny portable displays while sill interacting with the surrounding environment.
Developed as part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, SCENICC’s objective is to eliminate the ISR capability gap that exists at the individual Soldier level.  The program seeks to develop novel computational imaging capabilities and explore joint design of hardware and software that give war-fighters access to systems that greatly enhance their awareness, security and survivability."
If you don't already know DARPA, it happens to be a large part of the reason why the Internet was created. The accidental the success with the Internet has, and continues to have, both huge positive and negative impacts on the world as we know it. If DARPAs assistance with iOptik™ is anywhere as close as the accidental success with the Internet, it could open up just as many opportunities, if not more than the creation of the internet.

DARPA was a major contributor to the creation of the internet, but they were not the only ones responsible. Universities played a role, as they had a demand for it with research projects. UCLA, UCBS, University of Utah and Stanford were the first Universities to start to use, what today is known as the Internet. This is interesting because there are Universities working with similar technology as the iOptik™

The University of Washington is working on contact lenses one step further than iOptik™. This lens has LEDs right inside of it. There would be no need to wear glasses, as we would have any image projected literally, right on our eyes. As nice as that sounds, its going to be quite a few years before that happens. The team at UoW has managed to create these lenses with a 8 by 8 LED display. To put it in perspective thats 64 tiny lights, while new cell phones will have hundreds of thousands of them. Applying those numbers to Moores Law, it will take us at least 20 years before we are able to have contact lenses with the same quality as cell phone screens have today.

Now it this doesn't mean augmented reality won't be out for another two decades. As seen in some earlier posts the market is growing slowly and the early adaptors have already started to join in. It simply means that having a contact lens will not be the current solution for quite some time, but a mix between Innovega's  iOptik™  and glasses that can display an image on the glass will have to do in the meantime. 

One issue that is slowing down consumers from being able to play around with glasses like Google's, is that consumers standards for digital quality is very high, as it should be. If any company released a product with a graphics not up to todays standard, they would be scrutinized and ridiculed. All that, while competition would learn from their mistakes. Similar to how Apple only released a tablet over a decade after Microsoft released theirs.

It would be nice to see a major player releasing augmented glasses. Although, at this point in time, it would best for the market to have small team to release a pair, and jumpstart sales to the early adopters through a Kickstarter campaign. This would allow the big players to learn what works and what doesn't, all while developing their own to work with their respective operating systems. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Augmented Reality. The New Reality

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a virtual layer added over an observers view. There is no limit as to how much or what is able to be augmented. Does that mean we could view the world like the Matrix one day? Yes. To an extent, given the right environment and technology. It's possible that you could be the next Neo running around earth.

When will AR be available? To my surprise when I started looking into augmented reality, I did not expect to find many current applications available. That changed after looking into the Apple's App Store. I came across quite a few games and tried out three of them (AR Invaders, AR Defender, and SkySiege3D). They all are a fair representation of where mobile AR gaming is now.

There is an app that has usage more similar to what the Google's Glasses seemed to target. That app is called Layar. On their website they describe themselves as, "Layar detects real world objects and displays digital AR experiences on top of them." Within Layar there are multiple apps, which they call 'Layers'. These layers vary from pointing out nearby restaurants, subway stations, hotels, to games. To use one of those layers, you simply find the layer you want by browsing through the lists of them on the app. Once you have found one that you like - say its a restaurant finder, you walk around town, holding your phone up infront of you, finding the closest restaurant that suits your needs.

Seems a bit unnecessary, huh? I could not see myself walking around holding up my phone right infront of my eyes, like an old man holding a large paper map, inches from his face, just to get around. Even after that fact, Google Maps can find almost anything near by, and there is no need to make a fool of yourself.

Layar is just one of the many apps in the infancy of AR. The Tamagotchi's of AR. What is really needed to make this feasible, is something sleek that can be worn. That could be coming out halfway through this decade. What will be available then and what kind of quality will only be offered, will only depend on what these companies think what you will demand.