I am kicking off what will be a series of talks with key players in the rapidly emerging augmented reality industry with an interview with Ori Inbar, co-founder of Ogmento. For Ori’s full bio see here. Ori not only has a passion for interactive entertainment and a commitment to developing augmented reality to, “free young and old from getting lost in front of the screen.” Ori also, as I noted in the intro to my first conversation with Ori in May, brings invaluable experience to the young augmented reality industry because he has already gone through the cycle of working in a very small start-up and growing it into a billion dollar business. Ori 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.”
I have been tracking developments in Augmented Reality pretty carefully since my post, “Is it OMG finally for Augmented Reality?: Interview with Robert Rice.” And I talked at length to Blair McIntyre on Mobile Augmented Reality and Mirror Worlds recently. These interviews, and my first conversation with Ori, are long in depth conversations. But, if you haven’t already read them and you want the full story, they may be a good place to start.
As Ori notes, the Google trend on Augmented Reality is really growing exponentially at this point, and recently there have been two high profile round ups in the New York Times here, and one in Venture Beat here.
Ori comments (for more see full interview below):
“What was unique about the article in Venture Beat is that it was probably the first roundup of Augmented Reality companies. It wasn’t very comprehensive or detailed, but it might be a sign that VCs are getting interested in AR companies.”
I feel that now is an excellent time for a detailed and comprehensive series of interviews on the state of play for augmented reality. I hope to speak with all eight founders of the AR Consortium, Int13, Metaio, Mobilizy, Neogence Enterprises, Ogmento, SPRXmobile, Tonchidot, and Total Immersion. The recent founding of the AR Consortium focused on facilitation of, “faster market penetration, robust technical standards, and a strong focus on the end-user’s experience,” is an important development for augmented reality.
Ogmento co-founder, Ori Inbar, created augmented reality’s trail blazing blog, Games Alfresco, and Pookatak Games – now Ogmento. Ogmento will bring out their first augmented reality game for the iphone later this summer. But Ogmento also brings two important new facets to the rapidly growing augmented reality field. One is that Ogmento brings leadership from veterans of the entertainment industry into augmented reality development – Brian Selzer and Brad Foxhoven from Blockade have partnered with Ori on Ogmento. The other, a very exciting announcement from Ogmento, is that they will be acting as publishers for a fast growing cohort of augmented reality application developers. Ori explains, Ogmento will be helping, “AR development teams out there bring their concepts to the market.”
The emergence of a savvy publisher for augmented reality developers is a vital step forward for this emerging industry. As Ori notes in the interview below:
“recognizing elements on product packaging, posters, games will kick off a frenzy of new consumer experiences before the end of the year mobile AR will take the center stage. Next year will be huge for these experiences.”
The first commercial and practical toolsets, SDKs, and APIs developers wishing to create AR experiences have emerged including AR engines with key development tools for markerless image recognition like Imagination and SRengine Lite (for more see these posts on The Future Digital Life and Games Alfresco). Also the pioneering and the most used AR engine out there, ARTookit, now has a version for the iPhone. And Metaio has produced a powerful modular development tool kit, Unifeye. Wikitude (Mobilizy) and Layar (SPRXmobile) have caused a lot of excitement recently with applications that unlock the potential for a wide range of augmented reality browsing experiences. Notably, they have both opened up developer APIs for their mobile augmented reality platforms in the last couple of weeks (although Layar is only providing “50 developer keys to interested companies across the globe,” whereas the Wikitude World Browser APIs are open to all). Maarten Lens-FitzGerald explained:
“There will be more keys distributed by Layar. We are starting with a small amount to make sure that the servers will be able to handle it. Biggest difference is that the Layar API is aimed at Business to Business market: Companies and or developers with major brands or other content and services which are relevant for the new AR world. They are able to get their own branded experience in Layar”
Wikitude, however, has introduced the vital component of user generated content. With Wikitude.me you can add your own tags now.
I just added my first tag to Wikitude.me and twittered from TweetDeck:
“Signed up for Wikitude.me today, very cool the world as a wikipedia platform.”
click on image above to watch the video
I have interviewed both Mark A. M. Kramer, Mobilizy and Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, Sprxmobile, for this series so I will be posting more on Wikitude and Layar soon. See Wikitude’s “World Browser” press release and video for more, and the video here for read here more about Layar. I was very chuffed to hear from Maarten Lens-FitzGerald of Sprxmobile the other day that my Interview with Robert Rice, in January of this year, was a key inspiration for SPRXmobile to get started on the development of Layar. I hope this series of interviews and the arrival of a world class augmented reality publishing team, Ogmento, will be the inspiration for many more game changing augmented reality projects.
Robert Rice (who founded the AR Consortium with Ori) is a key innovator in the field who is tackling some of the really hard problems of AR development. While we will have to wait until ISMAR in October to see demos of Robert’s AR platform, Robert explained in my interview with him (to be posted soon):
“I guess you could say that we are trying to build a platform for platforms, or more accurately the infrastructure for the global augmented reality network. If Neogence does its job right, anything you create using ARtoolkit, Unifeye, or Imagination would be applications you could link to, integrate with, or deploy on what we are building, and not be tied to a specific set of hardware, browser, or walled garden.”
Augmented Reality and the Next Generation of Compelling Interactive Entertainment Experiences
Ogmento and the partnership of Brian Selzer and Brad Foxhoven from Blockade with Ori Inbar is a very significant development for Augmented Reality. I am very excited to be discussing Augmented Reality with Entertainment Industry veterans (interviews with Brian and Brad upcoming soon). Here is an excerpt from the beginning of my conversation with Brian.
“My first conversation with Ori was actually about my interest in Location Based RPG concepts. We had a long conversation about the possibilities with AR, and it was clear that we shared similar interests, but we’re coming from different complementary backgrounds. The idea of collaboration was exciting, so we just kept talking until the timing felt right. Now, with Ogmento we bring a unique blend of AR development experience with a deep backgrounds in AR technology, animation, video games, entertainment, social media, etc. I think this is a powerful mix that will allow us to do some great things.
It’s still so early, and things are just getting started in AR. There are only so many webcam magic tricks you can enjoy before you are ready for something else.
The location-based apps have the most potential in my opinion, which is why we are really focused on mobile AR. We have some board-game type projects, which do not instantly scream location-based gaming, but if you look at something like the ARhrrr board game [for more see my interview with Blair McIntyre here], you can see how much more compelling it can be when the game invites the player to be actively moving around during the experience.”
Talking with Ori Inbar
Tish Shute: First I really want to catch up with you on your new venture – Ogmento.
Ori Inbar: It’s basically an evolutionary step. A little bit about Ogmento, I partnered with a couple of very strong veterans of the entertainment industry from LA, and we want to do two key things. One is develop augmented reality applications and games; and two, which is becoming really interesting lately, is to help AR development teams out there bring their concepts to the market.
Ori Inbar: Brad and Brian are both from Blockade and are leveraging their contacts and deep knowledge of entertainment companies and big brands they worked with over the years.
Tish: Sounds great to have a team like this getting into AR! How will you work with developers? Will you help them market their AR applications?
Ori: Exactly. In parallel to my blog becoming popular, it seems there’s a lot of activity picking up in the AR space. People are reaching out to us and are asking asking for help. So we started actually making that a part of our business. We help connect them with the right technologies if they need it or connect them with the right brands or companies and strategize with them on how to go to market and help publish their applications or games. So that’s becoming an exciting part of what we do.
Tish: It seems that great content rather than applications is going to be what drives the early AR market. What is your direction/vision for content development and what technologies are you focusing on: In my recent discussion with Robert Rice he asked the question: “The iphone…future or failure? With a seemingly anti-developer stance regarding augmented reality, and only a sliver of the global market share, are we letting the short term glitz of Apple and the iPhone fad pull us in the wrong direction? Shouldn’t we be focusing on Symbian devices that have the lion’s share of the market? or should we be looking more at either other OSs (winmobile, android) or not at all and trying to create a new platform that is more MID and less smart phone with a hardware partner?”
Ori: I can tell you that we’re now being inundated with requests for projects from all angles. Either from big brands, independent entertainment companies, all and everything in between. In terms of the hype it’s curving up. More and more people are hearing about it. In a sense we’re moving from a very strong push to a little pull. We’re starting to see some pull from people asking for development of AR projects.
In terms of technologies, what platforms to use? At this point we’re very open to picking the right technology, the right platform for each project. For example: Wikitude, or Layar, could be good for certain types of experiences, but they do not visually recognize elements in real life. So for that purpose you’ll need technologies from other folks like ARtoolkit or Imagination. We are basically picking the right tool for each job.
Tish: What distinguishes Imagination from ARtoolkit?
Ori: Imagination have been doing virtual reality and augmented reality for years now. They probably have the best augmented reality engine for mobile devices. It’s the only engine built from the ground up for mobile.
Tish: What about this whole issue of most of the world being Symbian and the U.S. being iPhone and possibly moving somewhat towards Android?
Ori: That’s right. We’re currently focusing on the iPhone because it’s the coolest out there and fits our target audiences perfectly, and there’s a pretty good market here in the U.S. which is currently our main target market. But you’re right, it could change tomorrow, when another major platform becomes popular. Another thing is that is attractive about the iPhone is that all of the iPhones are the same (although it’s now changing with the 3G-S). It’s very easy to develop an application and distribute it to 40 million people. But if you’re going into the Symbian market or Windows Mobile, it’s a nightmare. It’s not just the technical aspect of testing the app on all these devices but also the distribution challenge. Apparently there’s just no simple channel to distribute it across these various versions of these platforms.
Tish: That’s what stopped mobile gaming taking off until the iPhone wasn’t it.
Tish: So this Austrian AR engine, Imagination, it must be for Symbian too, is it?
Ori: They have an augmented reality engine that works on P.C. webcam, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and now in the iPhone. You write the application once and theoretically it runs on all these platforms.
Tish: Any interesting development showing up on Imagination yet, or is it too early?
Ori: Our first game that we discussed [see my previous interview with Ori here] is actually going to be based on that engine.
Tish: Your game for pre-schoolers that we discussed before? What’s the release date for that?
Ori: We said it’s going to be released this summer and that’s still the plan, but it depends a little bit on Apple. You’ll be among the first to know when it’s in the app store.
Tish: It seems at the moment the two main forms of AR are mainly tethered or marker experiences or kind of stepping stone apps like Wikitude and Layar that are markerless but mainly pull info from web to world rather than truly aligning graphics in a tight relationship to the “real” world. Although what differentiates Wikitude from Layar is that you can actually create content with Wikitude.me and add your own tags now. When are we going to see something that goes beyond the tethered experience and the “browsing” experience and get to the magic of AR in terms of tightly aligning media/graphics with real world objects?
Ori: That’s right. That’s one difference between Layar and Wikitude. Another is that Wikitude is actually being used across the world by what is it now 160,000 or 200,000 people and Layar only works in the Netherlands for the moment. That’s a big difference. But things are changing rapidly.
But there are a lot of new AR concepts being developed out there (and we are fortunate to be working with some of them).
We’ll still see many webcam campaigns for another year or so, but recognizing elements on product packaging, posters, games will kick off a frenzy of new consumer experiences before the end of the year mobile AR will take the center stage. Next year will be huge for these experiences.
But to address your question, you’re going to see two different types of apps. One is the so called browsers like Wikitude and Layar, which actually doesn’t comply with the scientific definition of augmented reality in the sense that you have to align graphics with real life objects (Azuma).
Tish: Wikitude and Layar are not the purist idea of AR and technically should they really claim the title “browser”?
Ori: Right. But I don’t think it really matters to users that find these apps useful. The second type of apps you’re going to see in parallel are those which recognize markers or natural images and soon any real life object – and overlay on top of computer graphics. I believe we’ll see more and more of that towards the end of the year.
Tish: And you think Imagination really does give people an engine that allows them to do image recognition more easily?
Ori: Yes absolutely. They do. We’re using it. Right now it’s not an official SDK, but pretty soon they’ll open it up and more and more people will be able to take advantage of it.
Tish: When do you think they’ll open it up?
Ori: You’ll have to ask them But there’s also the ARtoolkit – the most used AR engine out there, which now has a version for the iPhone. They also have a version that can track images, but it’s still not running on the iPhone. It’s going to take some time until these, as well as the products from Metaio, and other folks are going to catch up with them.
Tish: I want to ask you about the Cartoon Network AR campaign? I didn’t get a chance to look at it before I spoke to you. It’s still a tethered experience I think but there is a “next generation AR” claim?
Ori: I think in terms of the experience it’s trying to take it a bit further than what we’ve seen so far by creating an actual game. But you are still tethered to a PC screen which is not significantly different than playing a 3D game on a PC.
Tish: Then the other thing is did you get a chance to play with the iPhone video API? Is it accessible now? I noticed your blog on this.
Ori: It’s under NDA with Apple so we cannot really talk about the details. But it seems like it’s doing only half of what we need for AR. It’ll be useful for applications like Wikitude but not when you want to align graphics with live video.
But I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen soon and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t… It’s just that Apple’s policy is to never reveals their plans. We don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Tish: You basically think we’re going to have to be very flexible because it seems as a developer the iPhone is obviously the only place to get easily to a market. But in terms of developer you do have to make some serious decisions and there are some interesting MIDs and new Android platforms coming out aren’t there?
Ori: Last year I thought MIDs would make a big difference in the AR world but they didn’t. Not in terms of adoption and not in terms of the number of MIDs that we expected to be released this year. Some companies are trying to resurrect it for next year… or later this year. I think the high price is going to be a barrier for adoption.
Tish: The economic climate hasn’t been good for it. Which bring up another question, now that people are really catching on to AR, should there be a partnership with the hardware people to get some of the hardware that really will make AR rock n roll moving e.g. accurate gps (Robert mentioned to me the idea of creating pseudolites = ground based differential GPS with <10cm accuracy hotspot say in partnership with Starbucks, for example). And it seems to be that there definitely needs to be an eyeware push now we have seen close but not yet perfect prototypes from companies like Vuzix and Lumus. Will Ogmento,’cos you are going to be involved in lots of cool projects focusing on content, partner with the hardware people and get it moving along in that area?
Ori: That’s absolutely right. For ISMAR this year we’re planning some panel discussions with industry leaders as well as hardware companies to define the ideal mobile device for augmented reality. These discussions are already happening. But I don’t think companies like Intel and others are paying enough attention to it just because they don’t see the demand yet. I believe that with more content and apps in the market, they’ll realize they can’t wait any longer and will accelerate their decision process and act.
Tish: But it does seem to me – one would have to be an Ostrich not to have noticed the excitement that relatively trivial Augmented Reality apps have stirred up. It’s something that people get is a cool and engaging experience and right away they like it. Although we haven’t seen a popular game yet have we?
Ori: Exactly. It’s gaining mindshare but it’s still very low on most people’s radar and there’s no market right now. You can’t even size the market. Before they invest a lot in this concept they’ll want to see some ROI.
Tish: So that’s the plan then. You’re basically hoping at Ogmento to make some popular iPhone apps? That’s really the first step?
Ori: Yes. That’s true. That’s what we think is going to trigger the other parts of the industry to contribute and to invest.
Tish: Right. Because ultimately a partnership between content and hardware – each enables investment and ROI in the other, its a synergistic combo. You need the big content to push the hardware companies, and you need the hardware to get the really dynamic content.
Ori: You are so right. It’s multiple elements in the industry that have to come together. You have the technology companies like Imagination and Metaio, then you have content companies like what we’re trying to do; the hardware vendors and the large content providers. Those brands that we’re trying to go after and educate them about the potential of AR. All these pieces need to come together for this market to ignite.
Tish: So is Ogmento talking to major content franchise owners or are they coming to you?
Ori: It’s both ways actually. Mostly we’re still educating. That’s one piece of the puzzle, the other piece is connecting them with various AR developers out there who have great ceoncepts, but don’t have the expertise or connections to market it.
Tish: So Ogmento acts as an agency for them or how would you describe it?
Ori: It’s more of a publisher-developer relationship. Similar to the gaming industry where you have game developers and publishers.
Tish: At the minute are you working with any particular team or are you still in the early stages with that?
Ori: We have several projects in the early stages. Follow us on Ogmento.com or Games Alfresco to see the progress with these projects in the future.
Tish: Have you had seen anyone coming up with good ideas for a Green Tech AR application? Seems that visualizing emissions and carbon footprint for everything in our lives would be a big step forward in taking action to make the changes we need to avert a climate catastrophe – seeing is believing!!
Ori: Not really yet. I was kind of playing with this idea (see my previous interview with Ori here) about that but the technology wasn’t really ready for this kind of application. I think that when it happens this will be a very important area.
click the image above to see video
Tish: I was thinking if we could organize a prize, for development of really good Green Tech AR apps. that would help. It is early for Green Tech AR because it really involves a level of instrumentation and visualization/alignment of media with nearby objects that is hard to do at the moment (although the necessary instrumentation is on its way to becoming ubiquitous – see Google’s Android to invade homes and Touch Revolution household Android devices coming this year). And smart energy monitoring like Current Cost is already widely available in the UK. AMEE – the world’s energy meter is integrated with Pachube and can be used to calculate the carbon footprint of a Pachube feed that is monitoring some kind of energy consumption. And many people are interested (see Tom Raftery’s Green Monk post here) in this kind of application that will really advance the usability of much Green Tech. So we have some ground work for a competition already! Particularly, I think, if the competition focuses on a target instrumented environment.
[Note: Pachube has produced a really nice augmented reality demo (see video above) where 3D Pachube visualisation data is overlayed in realtime 'on top' of Arduino sensor boxes around their office. The demo "features the Pachube office carbon footprint wall with chalk-drawn augmented reality marker, for Dennou-Coil-style space-hacking." The code is written in c++ using openFrameworks, ArToolKit and the ofxPachube library and is being cleaned up for public release soon. As the Pachube team notes, this "could provide an easy way to inspect rooms (or streets) full of sensor and environment data via a camera (e.g. iPhone)... or even AR goggles!]
Ori: Yes a prize is a good idea!
Tish: What do you think would be a reasonable sum to get the right kind of developers into that?
Ori: I think fifty thousand is the minimum. Or a publishing deal.
Tish: $50,000 is the minimum. And how would you offer it?
Ori: A cash prize for the first place and a little bit less for the second and third.
Tish: I’ll start talking to people. Maybe Ogmento could help adjudicate it, if we can find a way to raise the prize money, would you be willing to help run a competition?
Ori: We would love to. Just like we discussed before, it’s a matter of understanding the current technical limitations, and then designing something that works within those limitations and delivering an added value.
Tish: What have been the most exciting things that you’ve seen since we’ve last talked. What are the things that got you going wow this is moving forward?
Ori: First If you just looked at the Google trend on Augmented Reality, it has the right curve. It’s really growing exponentially at this point. Also I really like a couple of articles just last week, one in the New York Times and one in Venture Beat. What was unique about the article in Venture Beat is that it was probably the first roundup of Augmented Reality companies. It wasn’t very comprehensive or detailed, but it might be a sign that VCs are getting interested in AR companies.
And, in a way AR is perfect because it’s suited to the kind of level of investment that people are interested in right now – relatively small scale investment. And what’s good about particularly say iPhone apps, you can do a lot with relatively little can’t you?
Ori: Yeah, I agree. But to answer your question, I think the most exciting thing that is happening is the (small) swarm of AR developers popping up in various corners of the world and are looking to bring their ideas and products to the market. I think that’s unique and we haven’t seen it until this year.
Tish: Why are we seeing most things coming out of Europe like Layer, Wikitude, Imagination?
Ori: It’s a true statement. You know what? I have no idea why. I really don’t know.
Tish: Is there anything special coming out of Silicon Valley that’s normally leading the field in these kind of things?
Ori: I can’t say, but at least…there’s Ogmento!
Tish: Yes! There is Ogmento. Right. But it is interesting isn’t it? I think I know the answer to my own question. It’s because mobile culture is very well developed in Europe and this is springing out of mobile culture.
Ori: There is another important initiative from the US – the AR consortium which Robert Rice and I have recently launched…
Tish: Oh yes I must ask you about that. And Robert’s been really working hard on the big problems of full on AR- massively multiplayer, 3D, virtual goods market, tight alignment of media/ graphics with real world objects, partnerships to move the hardware forward – eyeware etc. I know he has some exciting demos planned for ISMAR 2009, it’s just that he’s still under the radar.
Ori: Robert is going after the hard problems, which is good.
Tish: It is great. Actually I just spoke to him today and it seems like he’s a few months off being able to show us something. He is working hard to push the hardware forward.
Ori: I think he is and he’s probably targeting existing platforms.
Tish: Which is were we get back to the snake biting the tail – great content need good hardware and hardware investment comes from seeing great content. What does the current crop of AR browsers have to do to take it to the next level?
Ori: I think what they’re doing right now is a very good first step. Which is opening it up just like Wikitude and Layar. It’s kind of what made a difference for Facebook versus other social networks and for Twitter as well. Their approach as a platform is what made it so huge. The other step which Wikitude is doing with wikitude.me is allowing people everwhere to tag the world.
Tish: They’re the first who are doing that so far.
Ori: There were other attempts to provide ways to tag the world, but I think Wikitude is the first that is actually available on a global scale.
Tish: Have you had a chance to try out Google Wave yet – do you see some potential for some interesting AR integrations with Wave? I think Wave may be a big game changer in real time communication, if it gets mass adoption. It basically makes the web like a videogame – bringing a real time many participant shared interaction to the web. I have been exploring in the sandbox and there are some interesting possibilities for role playing games. It’s completely open so it could be integrated into an AR project.
Ori: I am going to have to look into Wave in the next few days.
Tish: So what should we look out for from Ogmento in the next few months? What do you want to develop next?
Ori: I have given some hints above – you’ll have to stay tuned to discover…