Aurasma vs. Blippar

I’ve written about Augmented Reality extensively in the past, but since the days of immersing myself in the purely theoretical potential for the medium, a few key players have rooted themselves in a very commercial reality that is now powering the fledgling industry.

And while B2B-focused vendors such as ViewAR remain behind the scenes, the likes of Aurasma and Blippar have soared in notoriety thanks to some quite excellent packaging and an impressive sales proposition. They are the standard bearers, at least in the eyes of the public.

I like Aurasma. But I also like Blippar. So which is better? Well, let’s find out… Here are some provocations I’ve been toying around with. See if it helps you decide, and let me know which side you fall on in the comments.

[twocol_one][dropcap]A[/dropcap]urasma has more technological power behind it. They have (supposedly) incorporated academic research into their proprietary tech and have a heritage in pattern recognition systems – remember their core business though: integrating with business critical processes and then slowly ramping up prices. They do this across all other Autonomy products! Also consider they are an HP property, whose business is hardware, not software. I believe Aurasma are only using this period of their lifespan to learn what does and doesn’t work, get better at it, gain status, equip users to enjoy AR, and then develop a mobile chipset (literally, hardware optimised for AR) that can be embedded in mobile devices, making HP buckets of royalties. They are chasing install base, but not because they want advertising bucks: they want to whitelabel their tech (i.e. Tesco, Heat & GQ) and then disappear into the background.[/twocol_one]

[twocol_one_last][dropcap]B[/dropcap]lippar have a proprietary AR engine, but are listed as using Qualcomm’s Vuforia engine – which is free to use. They seem focused on innovations in the augmented layer. Reading their interviews, they speak of AR not as a tech, platform or medium, but as a kind of magic campaign juice: stuff that reveals they are extremely focused on delivering a good consumer experience paid for by advertisers, with them as connective tissue. To this end, they too are chasing install base, but ultimately they have a different goal in mind. Being Qualcomm-backed, their future is in flexing their creative muscles and helping make AR a mass market medium through normalising behaviour. Big rivals: Aurasma in the short term, but I imagine that one day, Aurasma will revert back to being a tech platform, and companies like Blippar will provide the surface experience: where good content, not tech, will be what sells.[/twocol_one_last]

So what do you reckon – A or B?

Cinemetrics: Interactive Movie Infographics

Cinemetrics is the fascinating result of Frederic Brodbeck‘s bachelor graduation project at The Royal Academy of Art in the Netherlands.

cinemetrics quantum of solaceAs a graphic designer, Brodbeck is drawn to particular style details, but as a generative coder he’s interested in exploring the role for graphic design in analysing these same details.

He picked the medium of film as his ‘data-set’ and came up with something actually very unique: rather than analysing the meta-data around a film (i.e. from IMDB), he’s using movies themselves.

The project seeks to ‘fingerprint’ films (a bit like the recent moviebarcode site) and turn them into interactive models. The models can be manipulated to allow users to identify differences or trends in the graphics via a sexy looking interface, all of which he’s now open-sourced on GitHub.

Here’s a demo:

Brodbeck defines the project as “an experiment to find out if the data that is inherent in the movie can be used to make something visible that otherwise would remain unnoticed.” It’s a really interesting area for academic inquiry, one which he set out the following goals:

Measuring and visualizing movie data to reveal the characteristics of movies and to create some sort of unique “fingerprint” for them.

Extracting and analyzing information – such as the editing structure, use of colors, speech or motion – and transform them into graphic representations, so that movies can be seen as a whole and easily be interpreted or compared.

Working experimentally and presenting the work both in print and digital media.

A side effect is that the system he’s built is great at comparing films, so as to see differences between originals and remakes; within similar genres; among a string of sequels, similar filmmaking styles or certain directors.

What’s great is the system is actually useful. It’s an infographic engine for film-buffs, and we know how popular those are, don’t we?!

Frederick, I look forward to the sequel!

The Second Uncanny Valley

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new Tintin movie in the context of the Uncanny Valley (read my article here).

While searching around for a clear diagram illustrating the principle, I stumbled upon an article called The Second Uncanny Valley on a site called Open the Future, which features a load of really interesting stuff by a guy called Jamais Cascio.

Cascio is a futurist who centres his thinking on the question: “what if human beings, and all of our technology, could actually manage to change things for the better?” He’s an optimist, and one who’s interested in ideas as far ranging as geoengineering, climate science, renewables, open source, emerging tech, social networks, ethics and transhumanism. He’s also spoken at TED. Interesting bloke, really.

Which is why when I saw the below, in the context of the above, I felt quite childish when my access point to considering his ‘Second Uncanny Valley’ as an academic framework are media such as Transmetropolitan, Neuromancer or even Lawnmower Man. Take a look:

Just for clarity, his principle thought is that in a posthuman world, Masahiro Mori‘s Uncanny Valley theory (green area) would need to be extended out into this new blue area:

Once a significant number of us are opting for cosmetic cyborgism, seeking out other human upgrades, or even just trying to fake it, we’ll probably feel quite weird about having transhumans (or homo superior as Magneto might say) walking among us. That’s the second uncanny valley, right there.

Guys like Kevin Warwick (pictured left) are probably the first wave of posthumanism yet to plunge into this new uncanny valley. All he has is a chip in his arm that opens doors on his university campus. He claims to be the “world’s first cyborg”, but as many of you will know, the upcoming singularity will see a lot more of us merging with the machine world.

The ultimate end, perhaps the ‘radical posthuman’ at the far right of Cascio’s model, might be an entirely discarnate consciousness: thought without body, or more likely a digital embodiment. And that’s as familiar, on this scale, as the industrial robots at the opposite end. But Cascio might say ‘not in a way that’s uncanny’. And he’d go on to say:

I wanted to be clear on a distinction between things made/evolved to be like humans, and things made/evolved from humans […] the H+ era is likely to see a diversity of morphologies, both physical and cognitive.

Not to put words in his mouth, but with all of the things we might evolve to become, physically, mentally, virtually or otherwise, I think the idea is that we make a sort of ‘leap across’ the second uncanny valley to a place where we’re comfortable with our future lives.

Basically, technology, don’t creep us out.

Experts Predict The Next Decade In Mobile

Rudy de Waele has been a busy man. He’s curated 37 of the world’s most notable voices from Mobile & Academia for inclusion in his Mobile Trends 2020 slide deck – a collection of thoughts on where we’ll all be this time next decade:

“I asked some of my personal heroes in mobile to write down their five most significant trends for the coming decade. All of them have been of great inspiration to me during this decade: for their ideas, visions, talent, the capabilities to adapt and the perseverance to succeed whatever the situation.”

Here’s the deck. Hit fullscreen for best viewing experience:

These are my five stand-out ideas from the presentation. What are yours?

Digital syllogomania:

Digital garbage collection becomes a (very) lucrative business
Slide 10 / Fabien Girardin / Researcher at Lift Lab

Sensors:

Mobile devices will have sensors added which will enable the capture of local data from temperature to noise and from location to who else is on the room
Slide 13 / Tony Fish / Entrepreneur

Cellular voice dies:

It truly becomes another form of data on the next generation data networks
Slide 30 / Kevin C. Tofel / Managing Editor at jkOnTheRun

Mobiles manifesting AI:

Fulfilling, at last, the vision of “personal digital assistants”
Slide 33 / David Wood / Principal at Delta Wisdom

New sonic experiences:

Augmented reality, 3D sound, will create new mobile audio formats and end user experiences
Slide 41 / Atau Tanaka / Director of Culture Lab

On the Potential for Branded Robots

Last year I wrote about these awesome fighting robots from Japan, where  I asked this question:

“I am very interested in at least progressing research into the potential for branded robotics, androids & cybernetics if any readers have thoughts?”

I received an equally awesome response from one Pius Agius, who challenged me on my Western predilection to see robots fighting rather than fulfilling a higher place in society. I reproduce the key lines of our dialogue here:

“Because [the Japanese] accept robots as part of their daily lives more than a majority of those living in the west does not mean we in the so called west cannot build great machines […] We can make better use of our creations than place them in roman like battles. What does that say about us as a civilization?? Let us build machines that can develop and reach their full potential.”

Stunned to have stimulated such a well-considered response, in answer I cited a company that I think are making some great stuff in this field – Festo:

“I think their design-led approach is not only creating some very useful mechanisms, but can potentially change the way we in the West perceive robotics as part of everyday life.”

Check them out if you like – Festo do great stuff.

Meanwhile, I went to see what I could find out about the guy who’d crashed in with his well-considered comment. I found Pius dwelling on the vibrant community pages of Grandroids, a Ning-based social network full of heavyweight discussion on robotics. Members spoke of a ‘Steve Grand’ as the patriarch of their micro-culture. I’m coming back to this…

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I grew up surrounded by members of the Games Industry in Cambridge. My father was Director of Development at Millennium Interactive, which became Cyberlife, then Creature Labs, and then Gameware Development.

The common thread between these companies was a breakthrough series of Artificial Life games called Creatures. Cyberlife was created to commercialise the work of this very same Steve Grand, where together with a team of artists and programmers they went about developing the Creatures series.

Though artificial life simulators are now a well-established genre (Tamagotchi; Sims; EyePet), the series was first to reach critical and commercial acclaim. Players would take on the role of keepers to cutesy ‘Norns’. But these were no ordinary creations, and in the 90’s Creatures was far ahead of its time.

These creatures would learn and grow, each with their own neural network, and were motivated to survive, and eventually breed in order to pass on their digital genotype. They had the ability to adapt and evolve, iterating towards an understanding of and harmony with their environment.

Years later, Steve is well-established as the leading thinker in AI and robotics. As well as mounds of academic submissions, he’d been running a project to build a series of intelligent robots for rent, as crowd pullers in public events and trade shows. His first robot was a five foot tall humanoid female called Grace, I discovered.

Because I’d found myself on his site, and because I know the guy, I thought I’d go to Steve to ask my initial question once more:

Hello Steve,
This is Tom Saunter here, Ian’s son.

A member of this very network recently commented on my blog, and one Google later I found myself here. With such a vibrant community there’s so much to digest, so I thought I’d go straight to the source…

Part of my job these days is to seek out emerging technologies for advertising purposes, and now that I’ve read about your Grandroids project I am interested to hear your thoughts on how you feel robotics could be of benefit to brands and, in turn, to consumers.

Besides increased traffic to conference booths, what part do you feel your robots might reasonably play when faced with a brief to change the buying behaviours of the general public?

There’s got to be a great piece of research in there.
Do you know anyone who can help me with an answer?

All the best,
Tom

The response, and get ready for it, was this phenomenal piece of prose:

[…] So, um, how might robots like Grace change buying behaviours? God knows! They could certainly have an impact on brand perception, and I suspect that’s a double-edged sword. If the robot is suitably impressive then it improves the company’s image, but if it’s a bit naff then at best it’s just a novelty to draw crowds that the client would then have to secure by other means, and at worst it damages the client’s image.

For instance Asimo has done wonders for Honda’s public image (not in terms of AI, particularly, just general technology), but some other Japanese robots have fared less well, especially those that fall into the Valley of the Uncanny. In other words, they’re lifelike enough to trigger the circuits in our brains that detect things that “aren’t quite right” in other people (signs that we’re being deceived or threatened, say), but they’re not lifelike enough to actually pass the test, so we find them disconcerting. 3D computer games frequently suffer from the same problem, as I’m sure you know, and years ago I predicted that as 3D graphics got better, the demands on intelligent behaviour for game characters would grow intense.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent. It was a big factor in our design for Grace, though. We deliberately made her look like a robot and didn’t give her human-like skin, etc. Instead I relied on psychological cues of sexiness and lifelikeness that didn’t risk us falling into the Valley of the Uncanny. My point is, you have to get the psychology right or you won’t produce the positive associations in people’s minds that your client needs. The consumers aren’t necessarily going to be able to articulate these things, so they’ll feel bad without knowing why, and you could damage the brand rather than enhance it. I felt I had enough unique experience in designing artificial lifeforms to stay on the safe side of that boundary, though.

One of the things I was keen to achieve was understatement. There are various companies renting out “robots” as crowd pullers (although really they’re just animatronics or remote controlled) and they go for a big noisy splash – flashing lights, big press releases, comedy routines, etc. I wanted Grace to just sit there at the entrance to a booth and be as much like a normal sales girl as possible. I wanted people to do a double-take and then be intrigued. Let them discover it for themselves. It’s a bit like knowing you’ve just been passed by a really powerful motorcycle because you didn’t hear it coming. I think if you do something like this with a fanfare then people will be primed to find something wrong with it, but if you go for the soft sell then they’ll be supportive and impressed. When I wrote Creatures all those centuries ago, my prime principle was that I shouldn’t try to fool people into thinking norns were alive – I should really try my best to make them alive. If people knew I was being honest and doing my best then they’d be on my side, and I think the same is true here. Undersell the robot and you make their company look good by association, as if there’s a lot more under the hood of their products than they’re letting on.

There are also many other kinds of subliminal association that can work for you or against you depending on the client and your ability to tap into the right psychological triggers. I based the look of Grace on the robots Chris Cunningham designed for the video to go with Bjork’s “All is full of love”, because I think he got a lot of those triggers just right – especially the tension between femininity and technology. It’s a bit like designing the iPod – the right curves and the bits you leave out are so important. And with real robots you have to get the behaviour right too, which is a big subject all by itself. Almost all current robots fail miserably in that regard, especially by being too predictable and not subtle enough.

But I don’t think I’m really answering your question, am I? Sorry. Advertising and marketing aren’t my field (I have quite enough fields without adding any more). I don’t really know of anyone who knows about this stuff. One of our “competitors” in New York has a site where they talk quite a bit about the marketing potential of their remote-controlled “robots”, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the company (so maybe their advice doesn’t work!).

Looks like it’s down to you to figure it out…

There it is then. The planet’s preeminent ALife & robotics academic, whom has been referred to by Richard Dawkins as “the creator of what I think is the nearest approach to artificial life so far”, is leaving it up to us to answer the big questions:

  • What is the potential for branded robots?
  • Will they ever form part of a marketing strategy?
  • Will we ever allow robots a part in everyday life?

And so, I ask again, dear reader, what do you think?

Let me know in the comments.

Technosis

There is a new mental condition to look out for, people.
Try this self-diagnosis and let me know how you did in the comments below.

Do you feel stressed if you haven’t checked your voice or e-mail within the last 12 hours? Yes/No
Do you feel as if you can’t cook a meal without technological gadgets? Yes/No
Do you become upset when you can’t find an ATM for quick cash? Yes/No
Do you have difficulty writing without sitting in front of your computer? Yes/No
Do you have a hard time determining when you are finished researching a topic on the Internet? Yes/No
Do you feel less adequate than your highly technologized peers? Yes/No
Do you rely on pre-programmed systems to contact others? Yes/No

In their book, TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @WORK @HOME @PLAY (available here), Michelle M. Weil, Ph.D. and Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D. assert that the growing dependence on technology affects us negatively.

We count on our machines to do so much that when something goes wrong with our technology we are thrown into a tailspin. According to Weil and Rosen (1998):

People allow themselves to be sucked into this technological abyss, and in doing so they become more machine-oriented and less sensitive to their own needs and the needs of others. Some people become so immersed in technology that they risk losing their own identity.

That’s Technosis, a condition whose victims develop an attachment to technology. It grows slowly, but before patients know it, they have lost sight of where they end and technology begins.

Symptoms of Technosis include overdoing work and never feeling finished, believing faster is better, and not knowing how to function successfully without technology. It’s now a peer-reviewed clinical condition, and almost everyone I know suffers from it – probably you, dear reader, too.

Happy Xmas!

Bibliography

So that’s it, my series is over. All that’s left to do now is credit the academic sources that influenced and aided in the construction of my argument. Thanks to everyone below, and thanks to you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride.

References:

Baudrillard, Jean (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e).

Baudrillard, Jean (1988). Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Baumann, Jim (date unknown). ‘Military applications of virtual reality’ on the World Wide Web. Accessed 20th March 2007. Available at http://www.hitl.washington.edu/scivw/EVE/II.G.Military.html

Benjamin, Walter (1968). ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Walter Benjamin Illuminations (trans. Harry Zohn), pp. 217–51. New York: Schocken Books.

Bolter, J. D., B. Mcintyre, M. Gandy, Schweitzer, P. (2006). ‘New Media and the Permanent Crisis of Aura’ in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 12 (1): 21-39.

Botella, Cristina.M, & M.C. Juan, R.M. Banos, M. Alcaniz, V. Guillen, B. Rey (2005). ‘Mixing Realities? An Application of Augmented Reality for the Treatment of Cockroach Phobia’ in CyberPsychology & Behaviour, Vol. 8 (2): 162-171.

Clark, N. ‘The Recursive Generation of the Cyberbody’ in Featherstone, M. & Burrows, R. (1995) Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk, London: Sage.

Featherstone, Mike. & Burrows, Roger eds. (1995). Cyberspace/ Cyberbodies/ Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. London: Sage.

Future Image (author unknown) (2006). ‘The 6Sight® Mobile Imaging Report’ on the World Wide Web. Accessed 22nd March 2007. Available at http://www.wirelessimaging.info/

Genosko, Gary (1999). McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion. London: Routledge.

Kline, Stephen, DePeuter, Grieg, & Dyer-Witheforde, Nick (2003). Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing. Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Levinson, Paul (1999). Digital McLuhan: a guide to the information millennium. London: Routledge.

Liarokapis, Fotis (2006). ‘An Exploration from Virtual to Augmented Reality Gaming’ in Simulation Gaming, Vol. 37 (4): 507-533.

Manovich, Lev (2006). ‘The Poetics of Augmented Space’ in Visual Communication, Vol. 5 (2): 219-240.

McLuhan, Marshall (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

McLuhan, Marshall and Powers, Bruce R. (1989). The Global Village: Transformations in World Life in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press: New York.

Milgram, Paul & Kishino, Fumio (1994). ‘A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays’ in IEICE Transactions on Information Systems, Vol. E77-D, No.12 December 1994.

Reitmayr, Gerhard & Schmalstieg, Dieter (2001). Mobile Collaborative Augmented Reality. Proceedings of the IEEE 2001 International Symposium on Augmented Reality, 114–123.

Roberts, G., A. Evans, A. Dodson, B. Denby, S. Cooper, R. Hollands (2002) ‘Application Challenge: Look Beneath the Surface with Augmented Reality’ in GPS World, (UK, Feb. 2002): 14-20.

Stokes, Jon (2003). ‘Understanding Moore’s Law’ on the World Wide Web. Accessed 21st March 2007. Available at http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/cpu/moore.ars

Straubhaar, Joseph D. & LaRose, Robert (2005). Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Thomas, B., Close. B., Donoghue, J., Squires, J., De Bondi, I’,. Morris, M., and Piekarski, W. ‘ARQuake: An outdoor/indoor augmented reality first-person application’ in Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Wearable Computers, (Atlanta, GA, Oct. 2000), 139-141.

Wagner, D., Pintaric, T., Ledermann, F., & Schmalstieg, D. (2005). ‘Towards massively multi-user augmented reality on handheld devices’. In Proc. 3rd Int’l Conference on Pervasive Computing, Munich, Germany.

Weiser, M. (1991) ‘The Computer for the Twenty-First Century’ in Scientific American 265(3), September: 94–104.

Williams, Raymond (1992). Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Hanover and London: University Press of New England and Wesleyan University Press

Further Reading:

Bolter, Jay D. & Grusin, Richard (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cavell, Richard (2002). McLuhan in Space: a Cultural Geography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Galloway, Alexander R. (2006). Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Horrocks, Christopher (2000). Marshall McLuhan & Virtuality. Cambridge: Icon Books.

Jennings, Pamela (2001). ‘The Poetics of Engagement’ in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 7 (2): 103-111.

Lauria, Rita (2001). ‘In Love with our Technology: Virtual Reality A Brief Intellectual History of the Idea of Virtuality and the Emergence of a Media Environment’ in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 7 (4): 30-51.

Lonsway, Brian (2002). ‘Testing the Space of the Virtual’ in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 8 (3): 61-77.

Moos, Michel A. (1997). Marshall McLuhan Essays: Media Research, technology, art, communication. London: Overseas Publishers Association.

Pacey, Arnold (1983). The Culture of Technology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Salen, Katie & Zimmerman, Eric. (2004) Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Sassower, Raphael (1995). Cultural Collisions: Postmodern Technoscience. London: Routledge.

Wood, John ed. (1998). The Virtual Embodied: Presence/Practice/Technology. London: Routledge.