Augmented reality - techy quirk or the next big thing? Lunchtime Talk Write-Up
On Friday 30 November we were treated to a Lunchtime Talk on Augmented Reality from Jan Warnstam. Augmented Reality (AR) layers media content onto the fabric of the physical world. It is starting to be found in many contexts but what is it really for?
Coming from the world of large-scale immersive visualisation, Jan has been working with Kudan in Bristol since the start two years ago, seeing the early days of augmented reality turn from research area into a busy business. As hardware technology increases in capability, and the algorithms increase their complexity, the things we can do with mobile devices are now staggering.
Due to the dropping cost of cameras and easier computer vision, augmented reality has become commonplace on mobile phones, but the majority of AR applications are for marketing. AR has become a contentious subject in recent years due to the split in opinion about it; from it being hailed as the next big thing to being regarded as a total novelty and gimmick. There are some notable practical uses such as Word Lens (which translates languages) and DanKam (which lets colourblind people see the difference between similar colours more clearly) but neither has had wide success. Jan came into the Studio to talk about why someone should use this technology, what the benefit and purpose is and what future uses he can see for AR.
Jan started by explaining what Kudan aim to do with AR: ‘We ‘augment’ a camera view with text, links, video and 3D assets to provide another level of content to viewers. We empower our clients and their customers with contextual, engaging AR experiences – not gimmicks.’ He explained that one of the main things they do is challenge their clients to create campaigns and apps that use AR in more interesting ways than traditional marketing campaigns. He explained that people don’t want to spend time downloading an app, using a huge amount of their memory, for it to then launch and to just see an ad. It is not only annoying for the consumer/customer but it’s counter productive as it leaves people with a bad impression of the company. Jan explained that it is important to add value to the experience through incentives, rewards or entertainment purposes such as additional content or games.
Jan explained that coming from a background in astronomy and education he understands that people are constantly being challenged in the way they see the world and that is extremely valuable and important. We have to get away from these marketing drives and actually create something that makes a difference. Jan wants to use AR to make people see the world in a different way but explained that we’re not quite there yet...
What’s the intended purpose of the technology, it’s obviously cool but...
Exactly, why do we do it, the thing is, that is exactly the question isn’t it. We’ve got a technology that does all sort of stuff, we’ve got the image recognition based on a engine from Austria, and we’ve worked together with them to make all this other stuff happen like movies with playback on top of it, but actually image recognition is just another type of user interface (UI). It’s like when someone invented the touch screen back in the day and everyone was like ‘ooh a touchscreen,’ and then all those little games came out, but nobody does that anymore, now no ones amazed by the fact they can touch a screen. We need to get there with AR as well, the thing is, we’re kind of ready now, but we’re trying to find that ‘why are we using this.’ AR is just a UI tool. We try to make people think, what should you use it for –It is supposed to bridge the gap somewhere between reality and digital.
In the demonstration you showed it can be awkward to hold a physical screen in front of your face - it’s cool but it doesn’t really fit into our lifestyle, but the moment you’re able to wear something like the Google Project Glass surely it becomes a lot less limiting?
Yes if that plugs in, then obviously anything that already sits in front of your eyes and takes away the need for a screen would make integrating it into everyday life easier. It would become more useful and it would change how we use AR, definitely. Yes looking ahead in five years time we might not be using mobile, perhaps audio recognition is more interesting soon, maybe 3D slam recognition will be? Actually 3D point cloud recognition of spaces is coming; it’s already kind of mature. We’re working together with a Swedish company, Point Cloud at 13th Lab to see what possibilities develop from it. There’s two different things detection and tracking. Detection is recognising ‘what am I looking at, do I know what it is?’ When you’ve done that, you track it in 3D space so it actually knows where it is, that’s the wow factor. The slam recognition only does the latter part, it has no idea what it’s looking at. That’s the thing they’re working to fix now. It’s a lot of processing, and to do it you need a new iPad or an iPhone 4s at least to run the current engine on it, but the technology is evolving fast. So right now we’re churning out these apps based on basic image recognition, but I think soon people are going to ask us to start exploring other avenues and 3D spaces.
If you have no constraints, and enough time and money, what would you do?
When you can actually augment your surroundings you can go back to the really hard tasks we get asked to do; can you fit a kitchen for me? You would be able to do it millimetre perfect, you could put a fridge in and it would look completely real. You could watch theatre with 3D actors in your front room, there are so many things you could do. The more things happen, the more you’ll stop thinking about it, because the tech will just work.
It’s just another way of doing interactive media, so the question is what do you do with interactive media, and that’s quite a big question; so you do whatever you want with it. I put myself here asking that question what do we do next, but obviously I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s really interesting, it’s a technology that’s about to take off and as usual with tech it’s kind of a year or two ahead of itself.
If you want to find out more about Kudan’s work visit their site here: http://www.kudan.eu/