Introduction – The Shape of AR

by Amber Case

At first glance, the field of Augmented Reality suffers from doing cool things – maybe this gets in the way of something being useable”. – Sony Ericsson Engineer at a talk on AR at Sony Ericsson HQ in Lund, Sweden.

Augmented Reality is currently keyhole, in-pocket experience. And that is perfectly fine, but not the full augmentation experience that people want to have. Beyond the keyhole is a much fuller experience that hasn’t come into play yet. It is not marked by poorly rendered 3d polygons floating inaccurately across our vision, or massive Doritos ads falling from the sky. Good augmented reality is something that helps us to more greatly manifest within our current experience reality. It compresses our needless actions returns curated material. At best, augmented reality is a feedback loop that increases the productivity of a human and its environment.

This blog is a place to write (think, feel) about the relatively new field of augmented reality. This field is relatively new as everyday experience. Before, augmented reality existed in various R&D laboratories, research facilities and cultural art practice communities. Electronics that supported augmented reality were simply not practical enough or cheap enough to support actual everyday systems.

Given the recent announcement of Google’s HUD release, I’d like to be able to braindump what I’ve been thinking about for 5 years but haven’t put on paper yet, or in the bytestream. If you haven’t read about it yet, check out this article: Google will start selling eyeglasses that will project information, entertainment and ads onto the lenses later this year.

As Jon Lebkowsky wrote a few days ago:

“Google glasses (or maybe we should all ‘em Google Goggles) will be an interesting AR advance, more science friction happening now, if they do happen. Preview (aka rumor) at 9to5Google. These glasses, we heard, have a front-facing camera used to gather information and could aid in augmented reality apps. It will also take pictures. The spied prototype has a flash —perhaps for help at night, or maybe it is just a way to take better photos. The camera is extremely small and likely only a few megapixels”.

The next few years are going to be fascinating. There will be new apps that take entire sequences of a day and turn it into comic-book representations, and quantitative-self types that have their entire lives sampled 30 seconds at a time. A whole new set of social rules will have to emerge about where and when photos are allowed. Who will ban these glasses from taking pictures upon entering a restroom or private event? Who will be bothered if you take a picture of someone when you’re talking to them, or a hot girl in the street? How will they be used for citizen reporting of crimes?

I have a number of issues with the current state of cheesy polygon-based AR, so my focus in this series is first to discuss AR’s current state, and then to focus on other areas of AR history and detail. The non-visual augmented reality I’ll be covering is the auditory AR that’s come from Sweden in the past 10-12 years, as well as haptic-based and location-based AR. I’ll likely cover different input systems too, such as Thad Starner and Steve Mann’s beloved Twiddler device and other kinds of buttons and inputs.

Wearable computing and augmented reality are far from new. In the 70′s and 80′s wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann created sophisticated glasses with his collaborator James Fung. Together they created systems that recognized brands and images and cancelled them out of their vision. Mann built software that allowed people to persistently sample their lives in photos. Issues of privacy came up, but even more importantly, the glasses provided the ability to report issues of safety and crime, real-time citizen journalism, and multiple perspectives from many points of view. Mann called systems like these “Sousvellient”, which unlike surveillance was a way of watching from below.

I’ve been keeping a personal vault of material related to the history of AR and wearable computing, and none of it has yet seen the light. In this blog, along with other authors, I will be opening a discussion on the future of augmented reality and wearable computing. Your comments and collaboration are welcome!

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