Last month I spoke at the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, CA. I met Steve Mann, James Fung, some of their colleagues, and many other pioneers in the wearable computing industry. The conference showcased the latest tech and discussed the future of AR and how different companies were bringing data to life for the enterprise. It was the best conference I have been to all year, as it was small (around 1,000 people) and full of people building things instead of speculating about the future. It went from June 4-5, 2013 at Santa Clara Convention Center.
Privacy and Surveillance
Mann gave a great talk on privacy and surveillance, urging “priveillance” as a term to use.
Aaron Parecki and I got to try out Mann’s Hydraulophone, his water-based organ invention. It played well and sounded great.
Mann brought in a large collection of wearable computers, and wore his favorite model.
My favorite exhibit was the 35-year history of wearable computing.
Industry and Conference History
Only a few years ago at the earliest iteration of the conference, talks focused on the future, as only a limited amount of useable technology had been built. Geoloqi has always been about freeing data from the static web and bringing it to life for the user. I’ve always considered Geoloqi tech to be “non-visual” augmented reality in that it does not require a viewfinder overlay on the world in order to access the data. Visual augmented reality is similar, but much of its potential is yet to be tapped. Many visual AR applications are related to gaming or marketing, but where the real opportunities lie is in augmenting the real world. Augmented reality or “mediated reality” is not necessarily about adding visuals to reality, but about allowing people to “see better.” Whether it is helping a ship’s captain to steer better, or helping one to see 3d mapping data, augmented reality – via either a tablet or a heads up display – is actually becoming a possibility.
Ivan Sutherland, founder of Virtual Reality, worked with my grandfather at the University of Utah. He imagined, as did others like Steve Mann and Thad Starner, a world in which data added to and surrounded a person – where data made better meaning in one’s life – and where the interface between a human and information was calm and seamless, mediated by tools that not only augmented the human spirit, but helped to get the right information to the right person at the right time. GIS and augmented reality systems have very similar goals! Wearable computing, mobile and augmented reality are just another interface on which to make that data more valuable.
Bruce Sterling keynoted the conference, followed by Will Wright, founder of SimCity. Sterling outlined what would need to happen for AR as an industry to take off. Right now we’re seeing the emergence of it. Once it is tied into city data and GIS it can truly bloom. At Esri we can make that happen, and I believe it’s worth a much further look. For me, this industry has been a fun hobby, as I didn’t see how much money was actually present there yet.
This year, the industry showed signs of growth in all the right areas. It’s an industry that has been aching to work for 40 years. Historic limits to this industry have been limited sensors, expensive technology, battery life, heavy equipment, long set-up time, cumbersome programming languages, and an uncertain distribution model. With the increase in sensor availability, decrease in technology prices, and widespread availability of wireless networks and cloud-based server technology, a real market is possible to grow and expand on here.