Programmed To Love

Two robots, Vincent & Emily, are connected to each other as if deeply in love: where at the heights of romance, every motion, utterance, or external influence is shared in an acutely empathic, highly attuned ’emotional’ response:

The creation of German artists Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler and Carolin Liebl, the robots take in sound and motion data–from each other and from spectators– via sensors, which causes them to react–via gears and motors–with certain expressions. Shown in a gallery and open to the interaction of visitors, the project aims to explore the ideal of the human couple by distilling it into a more basic form. Simple lines represent bodies. Reacting to inputs replaces complicated decision-making.

Like in any relationship, miscommunication is a factor – so an intimate moment can lead to conflict, and eventual resolution. This gives a certain texture to their ‘dance of love’ that makes it hard not to anthropomorphise, or indeed relate to!

Take a look:

Via Co.Exist.

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?

Towards a Cyberpunk Sky

When plans for The Shard were unveiled my first thoughts were that its piercing aesthetic would be too harsh for the London skyline. But now it’s been ‘topped out’ and soon to open to the public, it’s time to get used to it.

I heard somewhere that Irvine Sellar, the property magnate behind the tower, intends for his creation to stand for more than 200 years. Well, of course it does, but this concept did the most to shift my perspective.

Imagine how this city will feel in two centuries: totally transformed, utterly modern and yet (hopefully) still uniquely London. The Shard is another step towards an exciting Future London.

To illustrate my point, here’s a video flyover showing the tower in context. Watch closely and you’ll see  London’s slow climb towards a cyberpunk sky:

Web Discoveries for July 24th

These are my del.icio.us links for July 24th

Gameware: A Case-Study in AR Development

I have been aided in this series by a connection with Gameware Development Limited, a Cambridge-based commercial enterprise working in the entertainment industry. Gameware was formed in May 2003 from Creature Labs Ltd, developing for the PC games market which produced the market leading game in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Creatures. When Gameware was formed, a strategic decision was made to move away from retail products and into the provision of technical services. They now work within the Broadcasting and Mobile Telephony space in addition to the traditional PC market. I use this business as a platform to launch into a discussion of the developments current and past that could see AR become a part of contemporary life, and just why AR is such a promising technology.

Gameware’s first explorations into AR came when they were commissioned by the BBC to develop an AR engine and software toolkit for a television show to be aired on the CBBC channel. The toolkit lets children build virtual creatures or zooks at home on their PCs which are uploaded back to the BBC and assessed:

 

A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures
A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures

 

The children with the best designs are then invited to the BAMZOOKi studio to have their virtual creatures compete against each other in a purpose-built arena comprised of real and digital elements. The zooks themselves are not real, of course, but the children can see silhouettes of digital action projected onto the arena in front of them. Each camera has an auxiliary camera pointed at AR markers on the studio ceiling, meaning each camera’s exact location in relation to the simulated events can be processed in real time. The digital creatures are stitched into the footage, and are then navigable and zoomable as if they were real studio elements. No post-production is necessary. BAMZOOKi is currently in its fourth series, with repeats aired daily:

 

BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment
BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment

 

BAMZOOKi has earned Childrens BBC some of its highest viewing figures (up to 1.2 million for the Monday shows on BBC1 and around 100,000 for each of the 20 episodes shown on digital Children’s BBC), which represents a massive milestone for AR and its emergence as a mainstream media technology. The evidence shows that there is a willing audience already receptive to contemporary AR applications. Further to the viewing figures the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, is in talks to distribute the BAMZOOKi format across the world, with its AR engine as its biggest USP. Gameware hold the rights required to further develop their BAMZOOKi intellectual property (IP), and are currently working on a stripped down version of their complex AR engine for the mobile telephony market.

I argue, however, that Broadcast AR is not the central application of AR technologies, merely an enabler for its wider applicability in other, more potent forms of media. Mobile AR offers a new channel of distribution for a variety of media forms, and it is its flexibility as a platform that could see it become a mainstream medium. Its successful deployment and reception is reliant on a number of cooperating factors; the innovation of its developers and the quality of the actual product being just part of the overall success the imminent release.

As well as their AR research, Gameware creates innovative digital games based on their Creatures AI engine. They recently produced Creebies; a digital game for Nokia Corp. Creebies is one of the first 3D games which incorporates AI for mobile phones. Gameware’s relationship with Nokia was strengthened when Nokia named them Pro-Developers. This is a title that grants Gameware a certain advantage: access to prototype mobile devices, hardware specifications, programming tools and their own Symbian operating system (Symbian OS) for mobile platforms. It was this development in combination with their experiences with BAMZOOKi and a long-standing collaboration with Cambridge University which has led to the idea for their HARVEE project. HARVEE stands for Handheld Augmented Reality Virtual Entertainment Engine.

Their product allows full 3D virtual objects to co-exist with real objects in physical space, viewed through the AR Device, which are animated, interactive and navigable, meaning the software can make changes to the objects as required, providing much space for interesting digital content. The applications of such a tool range from simple toy products; advertising outlets; tourist information or multiplayer game applications; to complex visualisations of weather movements; collaborating on engineering or architectural problems; or even implementing massive city-wide databases of knowledge where users might ‘tag’ buildings with their own graphical labels that might be useful to other AR users. There is rich potential here.

In HARVEE, Gameware attempt to surmount the limitations of current AR hardware in order to deliver the latest in interactive reality imaging to a new and potentially huge user base. Indeed, Nokia’s own market research suggests that AR-capable Smartphones will be owned by 25% of all consumers by 2009 (Nokia Research Centre Cambridge, non-public document). Mobile AR of the type HARVEE hopes to achieve represents not only a significant technical challenge, but also a potentially revolutionary step in mobile telephony technologies and the entertainment industry.

Gameware’s HARVEE project is essentially the creation of an SDK (Software Development Kit) which will allow developers to create content deliverable via their own Mobile AR applications. The SDK is written with the developer in mind, and does the difficult work of augmenting images and information related to the content. This simple yet flexible approach opens up a space for various types of AR content created at low cost for developers and end-users. I see Mobile AR’s visibility on the open market the only impediment to its success, and I believe that its simplicity of concept could see it become a participatory mass-medium of user-generated and mainstream commercial content.

Wrigley to Launch New 5 Gum in UK

A new gum brand is about to hit the shelves. 5 Gum is designed to ‘stimulate the senses’ and it’s one of the most exciting new brands of the year.
I was lucky enough to get hold of a sample set:

IMG_0558The marketing lifecycle is about to kick off here in the UK with a heavyweight branding campaign designed to encourage product sampling. Let’s look at how the product was launched in the US, taken from the Wrigley corporate site:

  • 2007 In March 2007, Wrigley introduced U.S. consumers to 5, the most exciting development in sugar-free stick gum since the launch of Extra® more than 20 years earlier.
  • 2007 In August 2007, 5 gum unveiled its marketing campaign titled ‘Stimulate Your Senses.’ The advertising spots described “what it feels like to chew 5 gum.” Set against an industrial, futuristic backdrop, the cooling, warming and tingling sensations created by 5 gum flavors Cobalt,
  • Flare and Rain are expressed through dramatically stimulating visuals and sounds. The campaign also strongly leveraged magazine, cinema and online media advertising to showcase our new brand.
  • 2008 In 2008, 5 brand launched two new fruit gum experiences. Lush gum provides a crisp tropical sensation and Elixir gum is a mouthwatering berry sensation.
  • 2009 5 gum takes it to the next level with unique, game-changing flavor experiences. Solstice, a warm and cool winter, and Zing, a sour to sweet bubble, are new-to-world flavor transitioning experiences.

Do check out the 5 Gum YouTube channel for examples of the TV/Cinema creative, but in this post I’d like to review the packaging, which I believe is a point of difference that will give the product luxury status.

So to begin with, we’re starting with an initial three flavours: Cobalt – a cooling peppermint; Electro – a tingling spearmint and Pulse – a crisp tropical. Packs will reportedly go on sale at £1.50 RRP, to reflect that they are a considered rather than impulse purchase.

I’ll be looking at Pulse – the tropical flavour, which comes with little speckles of sharp citric stuff that actually gets your mouth watering when you first start chewing:

IMG_0560Notice how slick the box looks. Think about the colour of the last pack of gum you bought, and now say that 5 doesn’t look cool on this front alone. It does not look clinical like most gums do with their greens, whites and light blues. They look more like smart trading cards or a packet of condoms for that matter – gum for grownups.

IMG_0567It might be hard to tell from the above but the packs are slightly textured, with a heavy feel in the hand like holding a deck of cards. They slide into a back pocket pretty well. Build quality is excellent, made from a thick card and high gloss colour.

IMG_0569OK I admit the above is a shit picture, but it’s just to give you an idea of how you open and close the box. That flap of paper is embossed with glossy material so you can easily slide the box open with your thumb. Very James Bond. A bit like a book of matches, it’s an old school but perma-cool ‘paper technology’.

IMG_0570And there’s the money shot. You would not be ashamed offering someone a piece of this stuff, rather than one of those pocket-lint covered chiclets you have to fight the foil to thumb out. The designs on the inside are different for each flavour. This would be a great place to feature a QR code or even exhibit work from young artists.

And that concludes my short assessment of 5 Gum’s packaging. Look out for the TV, Online and Print creative coming soon. If you can’t wait, 5 have teamed up with Vice Magazine to generate early interest and reach into the difficult to please Hoxtonite crew – more info at Viceland whose readers have been asked to work with band Hot Chip to create a Launch Event in London that will stimulate the senses.

If you would like more of these sorts of reviews from me, please leave a comment. I look forward to hearing your feedback. Happy chewing.

Google Reveals Their Game Plan

Google are launching an AdSense platform for casual games.
Here’s some info to suit all depths of interest in this new development.

Here’s the link to Google’s official announcement:
http://adsense.blogspot.com/2008/10/get-in-game-with-adsense-for-games.html

There is also a YouTube “press release” of their announcement here:

And an example of how the in-game ads might look here:

And finally, an article from CasualGaming.biz who broke the story last Friday:

Google unveils its game plan
Oct 8th 2008 at 13:54 by Michael French:

Web giant Google has finally unveiled its long-awaited bid to enter the in-game advertising sector, revealing it is putting a big focus of the strategy on casual games.

In a post on the blog for the firm’s web advertising team Adsense, Google reps said that it is targeting web games in the first instance:

“Do you develop or publish web-based games? If so, you’re contributing to a growing trend – according to comScore, over 25% of Internet users play online games every week, which is over 200 million users worldwide. As a beta user of AdSense for Games, you can display video ads, image ads, or text ads within your online games to earn revenue,” the sales pitch reads.

“You’ll be able to show these ads in placements you define, such as interstitial frames before a game, after a level change, or when a game is over. Members of our AdWords team will sell your in-game ad placements directly to top brand advertisers, and you’ll also see contextually targeted text and image ads based on content and demographic information. In addition, you’ll be able to control the ads you see on your pages using our filtering options.”

Google has opened a beta for the service, which is open to publishers with predominantly (over 80 per cent)  traffic from the UK or US.

Demonstration videos for the service make reference to a wide variety of games – although both open with footage from Playfish’s Facebook Word Challenge game.

“We’ve built ad technology for games played within a user’s browser, and now we’re looking to expand our publisher network,” the company said.

Google has partnered with Mochi Media and its MochiAds network to add inventory to its available advertising slots.

Jameson Hsu, CEO of Mochi Media commented: “Google AdSense for Games will be able to offer a wide reach for its advertisers, and Mochi Media can better monetize international traffic for our developers and publishers.”

The news comes just hours after the company revealed its YouTube video service would start offering online sales of games as well via links from its relevant videos to online stores such as Amazon and iTunes.