This post is a position paper for the upcoming Mobile Augmented Reality Summit, held in Barcelona on Feb 17th, 2010 held in conjunction with the Mobile World Congress.
Pheromone, as company developing Web services and applications, and online social networks in particular, will be joining this summit to observe the upcoming technological trends in Augmented Reality. We would also like to propose our vision of MAR beyond the usual scenarios of the online tour guide and the dystopian overflow of information without any concern for privacy: Mobile Augmented Reality as a very personal tool for memory, egocasting, serendipity and discovery.
With the increase in power of smart phones and mobile computing devices, the promise of enriching our daily context has recently taken the face of Mobile Augmented Reality. In a study, Matthew Buckland and Philip Langley write:
Imagine holding up your phone or other digital device against a person you’ve just met or passing by. You’d instantly have information returned about that person within seconds, gleaned from an automatic web, public profile and social network search. You’d discover common friends, talking points — and then have the ability to add him/her to your network. Using a semantic scan, you’d discover negative or positive comments on Google or elsewhere relating to this individual.
For now however, AR on mobile platforms is still burgeoning. Companies like layar, acrossair wikitude or robotvision are leading the charge with their mobile AR browsers.
Strictly speaking, one could argue that these are not exactly AR, since their technology is mostly limited to the knowledge of a list of geolocated Points of Interest, which are then overlaid on a live video view of the geography around the user.
The usual definition of Augmented Reality would involve analysis of the video feed and its “augmentation” with meta data about the scene, and thus, the current crop of MAR browsers are often refered to as “pseudo-AR”. Regardless, these are technological prowesses that do provide extra information about a scene, and would fit a more etymological interpretation of “augmented reality”.
Regardless of the semantic debate, the current MAR solutions are acceptable, albeit often flawed because of the relative lack of precision of positioning systems. One can imagine future progress in AR transcending the technical limitations of geolocation systems, and actually use face or building image recognition. This is the scenario that most AR ideation seems to be heading towards: Mobile Augmented Reality as a ultra-precise and dense overlay engine of *everything* around me.
The problem with this vision of augmented reality is that it leads us from the current situation where AR is but a glorified tour guide tool, to a disturbing dystopia where the thin veil of privacy (or complete lack thereof) in the online world becomes the reality of our AR-mediated physical world.
We could imagine, however, less disturbing scenarios for the evolution of AR. This require taking a few steps back and looking at what our perception our reality in a generic context is, and what our needs are.
Most AR futuristic scenarios take place in a situation when the user would already know a lot of information on the scene (e.g: the name of participants of my meeting, the name of the street in which I am walking, etc.). AR can then repeat and enhance all this knowledge and overlay it onto the perceived scene. But what if instead of “enhancing” data I already know, AR actually surprised me with relevant information I may not know about, or remind me of information I may have forgotten.
Indeed, rather than leverage crowdsourcing and masses of data, it would enhance my life through the analysis of my own recorded behavior, and my choices of “egosourcing”.
Rather than knowing the names of all the people in the street – some mildly useful knowledge, not to mention a little disturbing – I would be happy to know whether my favorite restaurant in the area is open and what its menu du jour is, I would be interested to receive suggestions of an exhibition just opened in the museum a block away from here.
Without needing to wait for technology to allow for some of the advanced capabilities that MAR promises, there is a yet untapped market for MAR to look into:
- egocasting and personalized bookmarking
- collaborative filtering for unique, personalized suggestions. That is, going beyond raw data and the overlay of POIs, and instead doing the hard work
- becoming a serendipity engine by matching social behavior analysis with the wealth of online data
Next week, amidst the Mobile World Congress, I plan to attend the Mobile Augmented Reality Summit and observe the trends in the MAR industry: are we rapidly heading towards highly technological Augmented Reality, or will MAR be the new media platform for lo-fi personalized information and social networking?