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Composing Reality and Bringing Games into Life: Talking with Ori Inbar about Mobile Augmented Reality

Wed, May 6, 2009

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Recently, I talked to Ori Inbar (above), formerly senior vice- president at SAP.  Ori is on a mission to make augmented reality commercially successful not in 5, 10, or 15 years, but now. Ori is the founder of Pookatak Games – a video game company, “with a vision to upgrade the way people experience the world.” Ori will be participating May 20th, in O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 panel, “Mobile Reality” -  an event not to be missed IMO.

The taste for computing anywhere anytime has entered human culture via the iphone and is spreading like chocolate cake and pizza at a preschool party (see why the iPhone changed everything).  And while the full flowering of the next step is yet to come – computing anywhere, anytime by anyone and anything (“the internet of things”), our love for these first devices capable of being mediating artifacts for ubiquitous computing (Adam Greenfield) is a vital first step to free us from our tethers to computer screens, and fulfill the promise of augmented reality.

If you need more convincing on the pivotal role augmented reality will play as the web moves into the world, check out Tim O’Reilly’s recent comments in this video clip posted on Augmented Times and here early last year.

From another perspective, the gloomy specter of economic and environmental catastrophe  is driving a movement to “infuse intelligence into the way the world work’s.” But the challenge for a smart planet is not just about making environments smart, it is about using smart environments to enable people to act smarter (see my interview with Adam Greenfield).

We need a rapid upgrade in both the way the world works, and the way we experience the world.

((Note:  It is time to read (if you haven’t already) Bruce Sterling’s Caryatids (Cory Doctorow’s book of the year for 2009) “as a software design manual” (see Julian Bleeker) because Caryatids reveals the Gordian knots of human folly, greed, compassion and desire entwined in near future designs for technologies to save the world.))

Ori Inbar, worked with Shai Agassi (Shai is now leading the world changing Better Place ) driving Netweaver from a mere concept to a “major, major business for SAP.” So Ori has already been through the cycle of working in a very small startup and growing it into a billion dollar business.  He has both the experience and the passion to realize his vision for augmented reality.

At Pookatak, he explains :

“We design “reality experiences” that make users’ immediate environments more significant to them. We wish to free young and old from getting lost in front of the screen. By delivering the world’s information to people’s field of view, and by weaving real world objects into interactive narratives, we help people rediscover the real world.”

Pookatak will release their first game this summer. Currently it is under wraps. But Ori gives us some glimpses of what is to come in the interview below.

In addition to founding Pookatak, Ori is involved in a broader effort to move augmented reality forward. On his blog, Games Alfresco – he recently welcomed a new partner, Rouli Nir, Ori has focused his eye of wisdom on every significant recent advance in Augmented Reality (check out this essence of Ori’s thinking in a fast paced video presentation for WARM ‘09).

Also Ori is one of the organizers of the interactive media track at ISMAR 2009.  At ISMAR this year, Ori explained, “we are trying to bring in people that develop interactive experiences for consumers, beyond the traditional attendees coming from a research perspective.

In the interview below, Ori explains much of his thinking on how augmented reality will become commercially successful.  Enjoy it, think about it, and share it. And most importantly, if you can, get involved with ISMAR 2009.

Ori  has inspired me to participate in ISMAR this year.  Ori pointed out:

The call for papers is on, and this year it targets well beyond the typical research papers audience and into interactive media and art folks.

There are plenty of opportunities such as:

Art Gallery

Demonstrations

Tutorial

Workshops

It’s a huge opportunity to shape the emergence of augmented reality.


Interview With Ori Inbar

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Making Augmented Reality Commercially Successful

Tish Shute: You are considered a key trail blazer in AR and you have the go to blog for augmented reality!  What are the most important lessons you have learned researching, writing, and developing AR in the last couple of years?

Ori Inbar: You need to have a vision. You need to know where this is going to go in ten or fifteen or twenty years. But you’ve got to start with something really simple that makes use of the technology you have on hand. And do something that is practical, that people will like, and something they would actually want to buy. Its as simple as that. I’m currently looking at what we could do with existing technology. First of all, you have to put it in front of people. Right now most people have never heard about the term augmented reality. Go into the street, and ask 100 people about it, maybe 2 would know about it. So you need to put it in front of people because most people think it’s still science fiction or a special effect you see in movies, not something you can experience in real life.

Tish: It seems to me to that for augmented reality applications to become popular with existing technology the key breakthrough would be getting people to hold up their phones. What are the obstacles to getting people to use their mobile devices like this?

Ori: There’s a really nice cartoon by Tonchidot (below) – the Japanese company behind the Sekai Camera. It’s an illustration showing the evolution of man, from ape to man (holding a cell phone looking down), to the developed man holding a device like a camera – in front of its eyes.

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Which is exactly what you’re talking about. People ask, “are people going to walk with this like that all day long?” Probably not. I mean you have to build it in a way that doesn’t require them to hold it like that all the time. People are used to this gesture with the ubiquitous digital cameras. I tested one of my prototypes on a two and a half year old girl. She had no problem holding it just like she holds a camera.

Tish: Blair MacIntyre mentioned, “The problem with the mobile phone as a AR device is a problem of awareness,” i.e., you have to have a way of letting people know when there’s something interesting wherever they are. One of the issues regarding this is if you get too many alerts, then you tune them out.

Ori: First of all Blair is one of the people in academia that get it. Because he looks at it from an experience perspective. Not just as an interesting technical problem to solve. Let’s start with getting people to enjoy this new experience. The AR demos so far were mostly eye candies, and mostly for advertising – the GE AR ad created a lot of buzz; but you look at it for 10 seconds and you forget about it.  You need to build something that people would want to experience over time and would be willing to pay for. I think that’s the big test, right?

Now in terms of having a ubiquitous experience where you’re continously connected, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. Just like some of the social media tools we’re using today, we decide when to connect, and we filter out the trash. You could get alerts only for things that really matter to you, not for everything that happens in your immediate environment.

There will be many layers of information, and it’ll be up to you to pick the ones you want to experience. The real benefit is that you get the information in your own field of view and in context of where you are or what you do.

Tish: So what are you working on these days?

Ori: We are working on a little app that targets a very different audience than what you’d expect: pre schoolers. We think we can encourage them to get away from a PC or TV screen and learn something while playing – in the real world. You’ll hear more about it as soon as this summer. Nuff said.

But, it is a small application that will run on the iPhone. People ask how many pre-schoolers own iPhones? Well, their parents do.

Tish: Yes there are certainly many New York kids with iPhones – my kid now has my old iphone.  He has pretty much switched from playing games on his DS to the iPhone. I noticed in your WARM video you place a big emphasis on AR as something that will get kids away from screens and engaged with reality.  This is something parents will approve of!

Ori: Yes I saw something really interesting at my kids’ party one day; they were all sitting around the room – looking down at their own DS screens.  You could play the DS anywhere, but kids would usually play it on the sofa, looking at the screen, isolated from the world. With an iPhone and a camera, and the application we’re producing, reality becomes part of the game. Yes that makes it all of a sudden much more interesting for parents. Because kids are spending so much time in front of the screen, all of a sudden they’re something that will encourage them to interact with real objects, real things. Every parent I’ve talked to loves that idea.

Tish: Yes that is what is cool about the work of Kati London – I think I saw someone say this on Twitter, “Kati puts the computer in the game not the game in the computer.”

Ori: Yes, kids are spending more time in front of games and the computer because it’s more interesting. It captivates them with “game pleasures ” that tap into their brain’s dopamine circuitry – constantly seeking reward and satisfaction. So you’re not going to be able to tell them to go back to playing in reality without these pleasures. We have to study these mechanics from games and bring them into reality. It’s about programming real life; and augmented reality helps you achieve that.

Here’s an example: cause and effect; in a game when you do something you always get an immediate effect. You’re good, you get a reward. You’re not good, you get a cue to improve. In real life you do things and you could wait 2 or 3 years until you actually get feedback (if you’re lucky). Augmented Reality allows you to bring these mechanics into the real world. I think that’s going to help kids rediscover reality, in a new sense, which is what every parent is dreaming about.

Tish: I don’t know how much you can say about your app. But in regard to doing augmented reality on the iPhone.. there’s no compass. Is this a limitation?

Ori: True, no compass yet. But the camera gives you a lot of information that you can interact with. When you run the application, you see the world in front of you, and if the app can recognize real life objects – it can put virtual elements on top of it.

Tish: But not with any accuracy unless you’re using markers. Are you using markers?

Ori: We’re using natural feature recognition. It doesn’t have to be an ugly looking marker. It can be any image.

Tish: So you’re using image recognition. Are you working with one of these image recognition startup companies (list here )?

Ori: We’re working with one of those. What’s unique about it is it runs very nicely on any cell phone, and on the iPhone it works the best. For this first app, it doesn’t really matter where you are physically; the geolocation is not part of the experience.

Tish: For a truly engaging AR experience we will need more of a backend than is currently available?

Ori: I call the backend the cloud, where you have all this information and ways to access it from anywhere. Actually I think it’s become pretty mature today. If you look at the different elements required to enable an augmented reality experience to work, you have – first – the user whose always in the center. Then you have the lens. The lens can be an iPhone, or glasses, even a projector. The lens allows you to watch, sense and track information in the real world: people, places, things. Then in the backend you have the cloud where you store and retrieve information.

So if you look at the maturity of these different elements, I think the cloud is in pretty good shape. Because there’s so much information we’re collecting and storing. Anything from Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, all that kind of stuff, it’s a lot of useful information you can access from anywhere using APIs. And a lot of it is also starting to include geolocation information. Take Loopt or Google’s friends service that allows you to see where your friends are and what they’re doing. There’s tons of information out there and it’s pretty easy to access it. Now what do you do with it is the question?

Wikitude is such a simple and brilliant application and nobody thought about doing it until this guy from Salzburg did. It doesn’t have any sophisticated visual tracking. It knows your position and it’s simply looking at the angle you’re pointing to. Based on these parameters it brings information from Wikipedia that pertains to your field of view. So most of it was already there. It’s just a matter of connecting the pieces in an experience that is valuable for people.

Tish: It is the uptake of even a very simple technology that puts the magic in it.

Ori:  Yes, take Twitter. If you go to its homepage it looks like a very simple boring app but it is something that is both enjoyable and very useful to people.

Why you should participate in ISMAR 2009

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Tish: I know that you are involved in organizing  ISMAR (picture above from Ori’s post on “ISMAR 2009: The World’s Best Augmented Reality Event…,“) and there is a call out for papers and for volunteers, can you tell me more about it?

Ori: Yes, we hope to have the first ISMAR where we practice what we have just discussed: let’s build on all the research invested so far and instead of thinking only about 5-10 years from now, let’s see what we can do today. So we are bringing people in from other disciplines – artists, interactive media developers and people from the entertainment industry.  The goal is to use the technology to make something interesting for people – again, something that people would buy, and making it commercially successful.  Many people either don’t know about ISMAR because in the past it was a pure engineering-orientated event and people  from a commercial perspective of AR weren’t attracted to it.  The Chair of the Event this year is based in Florida and he is going to bring in a lot of people from the entertainment industry such as Disney. I think this will transform this event into something more like SIGGRAPH – more of an industry event.  As one of the organizers of the interactive media track we are trying to bring in people that want to build applications for consumers.

Tish: In terms of AR applications what are the flagships today?

Ori: There are very few because it’s just the beginning. There’s one tiny studio in France called Int 13 . They’ve created maybe the first commercial game running on a mobile device using AR technology. It’s called Kweekies. It was one of the contenders for the Nokia Mobile innovation awards. They were one of the ten finalists, but they didn’t win it. It’s looks really cool. It’s somethng that runs on your desk, with a marker. Many AR folks say markers are the past, markers are ugly. But it’s still a cool experience. I think people will go for it.

Tish: Yes I think we will have to look to small companies that are free to think creatively to lead the way.  It seems many games companies are tied up pulling off huge big budget projects and enterprise is still catching up on how to use social media!

Ori: Yes, last year I was in the game development conference (GDC); there was no mention of augmented reality – not on the exhibition floor, none of the sessions, nobody talked about it. I was stunned. Then this year, there was a little a change. There were like three demos on the exhibition floor, Metaio, Vuzix and a Dutch company called Beyond Reality.  And then there was Blair’s talk, which was very very cool. The room was packed with people. And after the talk there were dozens of people lining up to talk with him about the topic. There was definitely interest, but still on the very edge. The video game industry is still a hit driven business and publishers spend upward of 20-30 million dollar to create the best AAA game possible. They just can’t take the risk. So it’s going to come from smaller companies, from outsiders coming in with a vision and understanding on how to put the AR pieces together to create a totally new experience.

Tish: But the basic tool set is there isn’t it?

Ori: I talked to some folks at the games developer conference, many folks with MMO background, and they have great ideas about AR. It’s great to see different people with different views on what’s needed first. “Joe the Programmer” had this idea of creating a small piece of hardware that you can put in every house and provide accurate geospatial information in your home. That could  open up many opportunities for AR experiences in homes.

Tish: Don’t you think we have enormous resources in terms of image databases that provide a great basis for augmented reality.  I was talking to Aaron Cope at ETech about The Shape of Alpha – Flickr’s vernacular mapping project using all the geotagged photos in Flickr. That is such cool project. Aaron will be speaking at Where 2.0 also.

Ori: Think of Google Earth. Google Earth leveraged communities to basically map all the major cities around the world into 3D models. And that is an essential step to be able to do augmented reality outdoors. Because if you had to model everything from scratch, it wouldn’t be realistic.

Augmented Reality and Becoming Greener.

Tish: I am really interested in how AR interfaces might be useful to some of the emerging energy identity/metering projects like AMEE and WATTZON because I think it is very important that people have very intuitive, immediate, and enjoyable ways to relate to energy data so they can make greener choices.

Ori: Back in the day I had an idea to build an Augmented Reality application to become greener. You look at things around your home with the camera and it  recognizes its green gas footprint and makes recommendations to reduce it.  I guess it was a bit too early to do that based on visual recognition alone…you’d need  additional sensors that would provide related information about what you are looking at.

Tish: Well as there is more interest in Green technology do you think we may see VC interest in some green AR projects now?

Ori: I talked to some of the investment folks, Angels as well as VC’s about AR and they had no clue what it is. There’s a need for a whole lot of education. And there are no proof points (as in successful investments in this domain), and counter to popular belief – they don’t like risk so much…

Tish: And consumer adoption must lead the way, right?

Ori: Just like with every emerging technology in history, people never bought the technology, they bought the content, the apps, the benefits that came on top of the technology. Whether it was VHS winning over Beta Max, or BluRay winning over HD. It’s always because of more/better content. Look at the video game console war: Xbox, and Nintendo did better than Sony just because they had more and better games. Even Windows was a success thanks to its applications. People bought it for the applications not the OS. The content is the first to drive demand.

Tish: One of the challenges to giving people new ways to relate to their energy consumption is that you can just have them looking at graphs of how bad they have been in the past you – that may make them feel bad but that doesn’t necessarily give them ways or motivation to change. There perhaps needs to be more immediate relationship to the data to facilitate change. I think the mantra for optimization of anything from energy usage to supply chains is timely, actionable data?

Ori: There are a lot of ideas about measuring information and displaying it to people. For example, the Prius hybrid car, one of its interesting features – which is kind of game like – is a constant display of your current fuel consumption. That alone changes how people drive because they try to beat the “Score” and as a result conserve more fuel. That model can be applied to our homes…

Tish: Yes that is something I am very interested in. I have been following several projects in this area – one of my favorites is the Arduino, Current Cost/Tweetawatt, Pachube integrations I saw at Homecamp.

You joined a start up with Shai Agassi which was bought out by SAP right? He has a brilliant approach with Better Place.

Ori:  I think what’s really unique about Better Place’s approach is that he doesn’t require people to change their behavior. People are still going to have their own cars. They’ll be able to drive as far as they want, and for the same (or lower cost). Its not necessarily about a new technology, electric cars have been around for a long time but there was no way people were going to be limited by the 50 or 70 mile range and Better Place is solving that problem. With its infrastructure of charging spots and battery switching stations, drivers are going to be able to drive anywhere. And it’ll be similar to having to stop once in a while to refuel your car. The price maybe even lower than what you pay today for your transportation needs – and you’ll stop generating green gas. It’s a clever way of taking technology to a whole new level without changing the behavior of people.

Tish: Better Place is a classic example of things as a service isn’t it?  It is basically a utility company.

Ori: It is similar to a phone carrier model.  You pay for a membership that gives you access to the car (equivalent to the phone) and electricity (equivalent to the phone line) for the same price of fuel cost today. And as bonus you get to save the world.

How the iphone changed the game for AR – and the iphone versus Android

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Picture from Ori’s post, “GDC 2009: Why the iphone changed everything”

Ori: And back to AR, you have to take the same approach, because nobody’s wants to don those huge head mounted displays or backpacks. You have to take advantage of people’s current behavior: they already carry their iPhones or similar devices.

Tish: As we discussed, you just have to get people raising up their phones and looking through them when that is a useful thing to do. Both Wikitude and Nathan Freitas’s graffiti app were enough to get me interested in the evolutionary step of raising my phone! Nathan’s graffiti app is nice. You leave a marker for your graffiti so other people can find view/add their own – a nice primal experience like pissing on the lamp post to let your pack know where you’ve been.  Also the graffiti app taps into a long history of  NYC street culture around tagging and graffiti art (see my interview, “Is it OMG finally for Augmented Reality?”).

Ori: The app store has fundamentally changed the mobile gaming industry. Last year they were in shambles. There was no growth. Everybody was complaining, “we can’t handle it, there’s a million phones, and you have to test it on each phone. And carriers suck, they don’t care about sharing and promoting your content. Everything was bad. This year mobile gaming is the hottest thing. And it’s all because of the iPhone. It changed the game.

Tish: How do you think Android is going to get traction against the iphone?

Ori: Well the number one thing is the form factor – the iPhone is just much cooler than the G1. Its OK but it doesn’t have the same feel. People thought it was going to be easy to clone the iPhone but none of the attempts succeeded so far.

Tish: How much does it matter for AR not being able to runs things persistently in the background on the iphone?

Ori: Actually they have add a such a capability in OS 3.  You can now make use of a background service.

Tish: OS 3 will open up new possibilities for AR?

Ori: The access to the video API is still not public.  But there is a new Microsoft application – Microsoft Tag that makes use of that API which means it is probably OK to use it.

Tish: (I ask Ori for his card and he shows me how to read it with my iphone.) Oh nice you have an AR card, of course!

In Search of Pong for Augmented Reality

Tish: So how will AR begin to, as Blair’s friend put’s it, “facilitate a killer existence,” particularly as we are probably looking at some new and perhaps pricey hardware?

Ori: You could take the Better Place approach. We’re going to give you a great experience and we’ll include the devices as part of that experience for the same price. Let’s say you subscribe to an AR experience  which offers access to multiuser, support, and all the information you need wherever you go – exactly according to the vision. You pay for a subscription on a monthly basis and included in that cost we give you a better device that offers a  better AR experience. It’s following the phone carrier approach, but in a good way.

But first of all we do need our Pong! I was sitting with a couple of AR game enthusiasts at the GDC and we were asking ourselves, “how do we create the first pong for AR?”

Was Pong a multiplayer game? Not necessarily! Did it connect to the network? No! We have to create the first dot in a long line of dots that will bring us to our destination.

Tish: You haven’t seen a Pong yet have you?

Ori: Not yet. I mean there’s maybe a handful of games and apps out there, but I don’t think any of them is a Pong yet. Still, it’s getting closer.

Tish: Kati London is doing some very interesting work on bringing games into reality, isn’t she?

Ori: Yes, she works with Frank Lanz at Area/Code. He teaches at NYU and has designed games for the “Come Out and Play” festival here in Manhattan. And a lot of these games are actually low tech.

Tish: Yes I have a big alternate reality game blog brewing that I haven’t had time to write yet!

Ori: The city is the gameboard is their slogan. It’s going to be a great playground for AR games. The city becomes a theme park. The city could become an even bigger touristic attraction. People will come to the city to be part of these games. So you’re having thousands of people running around the city playing all sorts of games from laser-tag style to history adventures, to treasure hunts.

Composing Reality

Tish: So why haven’t you focused on one of these kinds of games with your company?

Ori: We have a couple of scenarios along these lines that we’re planning for 2010-11. But first focus on what’s possible today.

Tish: And what’s stopping you from doing those kind of games today?

Ori: Many things. The devices are not there yet, location services are not accurate enough, ubiquitous sensors are not  there yet.

Tish: You think alternate reality gaming needs more “ubiquity” than is currently available?

Ori: Not necessarily. People are doing alternate reality games with no “ubiquity” at all. But my interest is to add the visual aspect. I believe humans are mostly driven visually.

Jane McGonigal said in a talk at GDC, that AR would allow us to program reality, which is exactly how I look at it. Once you can recognize things, some of it with WiFi and RFID and all sorts of sensors. But visual sensors is always going to be the ultimate way to recognize things. And once you recognize things and know what they are, and can pull information about those things (or people and places) from the internet, you can program it (visually). You could program it to be fictional, like in a video game, or it could be programmed as non-fictional, like a documentary. And that allows you to do things that before were unimaginable.

Tish: But you can’t forget the visual, it is primary the connection to peoples’ primary sensory relationships.

Ori: Yes, it’s like you go to a grocery store and you pick your vegetables, a lot of it is by sight and by touch. And what if you could also see just by looking at it that it’s from a local store, and that it’s organic?

Tish: It goes beyond overlays really?

Ori: By the way, I don’t like the term ‘overlay’. I know that’s how it looks: you either overlay or superimpose, but I’m still searching for a better term. A term I prefer to use is “composing reality”. Just like painters, they use brushstrokes and colors and compose a painting. We need to take the real element and the virtual element and compose them into something new. It’s not just about slapping one on top of the other.

Tish: yes I think the idea of dashboards is not so appealing.

Pookatak Games

Tish: Do you want to explain the evolution of your company? You have an interesting history of success with high end enterprise applications.

Ori: Since I was a kid I wanted to invent and create things. When I discovered software, that was a really cool way of actually creating things from nothing. From thin air; and you can do it very quickly. That’s what brought me into software. But I was always looking for the intersection between technology and art. Looking for ways to bring these things together. In the early nineties virtual reality was doing it. It had the appeal of cutting edge technology that can be combined with art. But then, as we all know, it crashed. So I joined Shai Agassi’s startup (who is now doing Better Place) back in the early nineties. I was one of the first employees in his startup which was developing multimedia products. I was leading the development of one of its flagship product. At some point we realized the technology could be great for an enterprise environment.

It was a really great experience. First going through this cycle from a very small startup and growing into this multi billion dollar business. I was responsible for defining and marketing SAP’s platform, which was called Netweaver. It was just an idea when we joined SAP and by the time I left it was a major, major business for SAP. I learned about the challenges of building a platform. No matter what purpose you’re building it for, it typically has similar rules. It’s definitely not just about the technology; the content that comes with it is really key to making a platform successful.

The third part of this platform trifecta is the community. If you don’t build a community, you won’t get the critical mass required for adoption. It may be your own platform but it’s not necessarily the people’s platform. That experience is very key to what we’re doing today. Now, a new industry is being born on the basis of a remarkable technology. But to drive adoption, first we’ll need good content. The content will be created using today’s technology with internal tools developed to simplify the process. Next step would be to make the tools used internally – available to other developers. Help scale the industry, enable innovation on a larger scale. That way we have a chance to create a platform. So it isn’t really just about my company. I’m so passionate about augmented reality, I want to it to become a healthy and successful industry for the next 5, 10, 15 years.

Tish: Yes I am so ready to be liberated from the sitting behind a computing screen! And I know that all this hardware is murdering the environment.

Ori: There’s ‘s the book by Rolf Hainich which is called “The End Of Hardware. ” It’s about hardware for augmented-reality. Once you use goggles or other AR interfaces you eliminate the need for screens, laptops, etc. It’s going to be great for the environment. You have read Rainbow’s End, right? According to the book in few years there will barely be any (visible) hardware. At least it’ll have a much smaller footprint for the environment. And it’ll touch every aspect of life, everything you do. It’ll change the way you interact with the world.

The Illusive Eyewear for Immersive AR.

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Friend of Ori’s in San Francisco wearing retro AR goggles (from Games Alfresco, Ori’s roundup of GDC 2009)

Tish:OK lets talk about goggles.

Ori: Goggles are going to happen, we want to be hands free.

It’s going to happen because it’s just a more intuitive way to use this technology. But above all it has to look cool. Because if it’s not, if it’s a big headset, then maybe a small percent of the population might use it, but most people won’t. It has to look like an accessory, like new cool eyeglasses that you just must wear.

I recently talked to a friend, who runs an industrial design firm, and has experience in designing such glasses for companies like Microvision and Lumux. He says that when you try to bring the images so close to our eyes – there are some really hard problems to solve. Otherwise it can become really annoying and cause dizzyness.

But I’m optimistic. I believe it’s going to happen 3 to 5 years from now. It’s already starting now: Vuzix announced goggles that will be available this year. Some AR apps that are going to take advantage of next year. Initially only a fraction of the population will use it. And that’s going to help advance it and make it better and better. But it’s going to take time until it reaches the mass market.

Tish: In virtual worlds we have seen, I think, a lot of mistakes in terms of reinventing the wheel and producing too many proprietary versions of the same thing and not enough concerted effort on standards and open platforms that could create a vibrant ecosystem.  How can augmented reality not make the same mistakes?

Ori: There are some early AR open source efforts ARTookit, ARtag but it is not a movement yet.  One of the things we’re trying to do at ISMAR this year is to put together  discussions around key industry issues, such as standards. Some people say it’s too early, you have to have a defacto standard to start from. But pretty soon it’s going to be too late. Just like with virtual worlds, all of a sudden you have all these islands that don’t talk to each other. Why get to that point if we can plan to avoid it? Let’s start thinking about it right now. On the other front there are devices. There are pockets of people working on adapting devices for AR, second guessing the hardware companies. Why not get them together with the Intels and Nvidias of the world, and discuss what this device should be able to do. And then compete to make it happen.

Tish: How much luck are you having with this discussion part?

Ori: People are very interested in doing this. We proposed these panels for ISMAR. And I’ve got some key people already on board. They have tons of input, they want to get involved. We’ll see how much we can actually get out of it.

Tish: In virtual worlds it was a while before vibrant opensource communities developed.  OpenSim has I think been the breakthrough community in this regard.

Ori: You have to think about the elements up front. The dream job is to architect the industry. Say we agree on the required pieces. Then we could help the right companies succeed in delivering the pieces. Next, we have to collaborate so that these pieces talk to each other. And eventually these communication methods will become defacto standards and most developers will adopt it.

Tish: So I’m going to put you in the role. You’ve got your dream job. You’re going to architect this community. So what are the key pieces and where would you like to see the open source communities take hold first?

Ori: Open source will not be exclusive. It’s going to live side by side with proprietary technology.

The key pieces? You have the user at the center. And the user interacts with a lens. The lens includes both the hardware and the software. And then the lens senses and interacts with the world, which includes people, things and places. And these people-things-places emit information – about who they are, where they are, what they’re doing, etc  – which is then stored in the cloud.

And then you have the content providers, the people and companies, composers who weave AR experiences through the pieces we mentioned before. These composers need a platform that glues these pieces together. Pieces of the platform will be on the lens, and in the world, and in the cloud. If you manage to remove the frictions, and connect these pieces into an experience that people like – then you have a platform. What the platform does it reduces the overhead and accelerates innovation.

Tish: Another problem virtual worlds faced in their development was their isolation from the world wide web.  Will augmented reality avoid this plight?

Ori:  Yes, I believe the key, like you said before, is not to reinvent the wheel. The cloud is already there.  Take Wikitude for example, all Mobilizy had to do is build  a relatively simple client app, connected to wikipedia, and all of a sudden it offered a wealth of information in your field of view.

I think we can learn a lot from web 2.0. For example, in order to have a ubiquitous experience like Robert Rice and others are striving for, you’ll need to 3d map the world. Google earth like apps are going to help but it is not going to be sufficient. So let’s leverage people. Google became successful in part by making people work with them.  Each time you create a link from your blog to my blog their search engines learn from it.  So let’s find ways to make people create information that can be used for AR.

Ori Inbar directed Wiki Mouse – a WIKI Film co-created by a swarm of movie makers around the world.

categories: Ambient Devices, Ambient Displays, architecture of participation, Augmented Reality, Carbon Footprint Reduction, CurrentCost, digital public space, Ecological Intelligence, Energy Awareness, Energy Saving, home automation, home energy monitoring, home energy monitors, HomeCamp, Instrumenting the World, internet of things, Kids With Cameras, Mixed Reality, MMOGs, mobile meets social, Mobile Technology, new urbanism, open source, Paticipatory Culture, smart appliances, Smart Devices, Smart Planet, social gaming, social media, sustainable living, sustainable mobility, ubiquitous computing, Virtual Meters, Virtual Realities, Web 2.0, Web Meets World, World 2.0
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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Thomas Wrobel Says:

    An absolute excelent interview, and I agree with a lot said there.

    I’m especialy pashionate about the last point, establishing standards and using existing ones to make AR more mainstream.

    The AR has to come to the users, they cant keep needing to download unique bits of software for every bit of content!

    We need an AR Browseing standard that lets users log into an out of channels (like IRC) and toggle them as layers on their visual view (like Photoshop).
    Channels need to be public or privite, hosted online (making them shared spaces) or offline (private spaces). They need to be able to be both open (chat channel) or closed (city map channel) as needed. Created by anyone anywhere.

    Really IRC itself provides a great starting point. Most data dosnt need to be persistant, after all.

    I look forward too seeing the world though new eyes.

    I only hope I will be toggleing layers rather then alt+tabbing and only seeing one “reality addition” at a time.

  2. Tish Shute Says:

    Hi Thomas, thanks very much for your comment. I know this is a topic you have thought a lot about. Are you going to present some of your ideas to ISMAR?

  3. Thomas Wrobel Says:

    I was writing a paper about my thoughts on my IRC/Photoshop paradigms as a way to move AR forward, but it doesn’t look like it will be finished in time.

  4. Tish Shute Says:

    Thomas – time to pull out all the stops and finish that paper!

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