“Augmented Reality is like a Philip K Dick novel torn off its paperback rack and blasted out of iPhones,” Bruce Sterling in Beyond the Beyond
“a techno visionary dream come true – those are rare, really rare, you have to be patient, it’s super cyberpunk”… Bruce Sterling, “At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry.”
The Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry continues to brighten, and now we have two augmented reality companies, Total Immersion and Ogmento, firmly established in Hollywood – the dream mother of so many of our augmented realities.
Ogmento is the most recent of these two pioneering augmented reality companies to set up shop in LA. Total Immersion’s CEO Bruno Uzzan moved to LA from France two years ago, although he still has a fifty person RandD team in France. Total Immersion began 10 years ago in the quiet, lonely, hours before the dawn of an AR industry. But Total Immersion’s AR toys for Mattel, and augmented reality for Topps baseball cards, fired CNet writer Daniel Terdiman up enough to say, “I have seen the future of toys, and it is augmented reality” (see full post here on CNet).
Recently, I talked with Ori Inbar, one of the founders of Ogmento and the premier augmented reality blog Games Alfresco about his new venture in Hollywood. Bruce Sterling, @bruces, had some fun with my invention of brand new augmented reality trade jargon here! Ori pointed out Ogmento brings two important new facets to the rapidly growing augmented reality field: firstly they are bringing leadership from veterans of the entertainment industry into augmented reality development. Brad Foxhoven and Brian Selzer from Blockade have partnered with Ori on Ogmento. And, in an another important step forward for a young industry, Ogmento announced they will be acting as publishers for a fast growing cohort of augmented reality application developers and helping AR development teams out there bring their concepts to the market.
So I was very happy also to have the opportunity to talk with Brian Selzer. Bruce Sterling pointed out in his seminal sermon from the flatlands at the Layar Developer Conference, AR is kind of a “Hollywood scene.” We have seen the web early adopter/developer/blogger community embrace augmented reality browser experiences in recent weeks in an awesome wave of enthusiasm. Are Hollywood creatives equally smitten? For the answers see the full interview with Brian Selzer below.
“from launching dot com entertainment sites in the late 90′s to creating early versions of social gaming platforms, or bringing big brands like Spider-Man and X-Men into the mobile space for the first time. Last year I was focused on bringing video game characters and worlds into the online space as UGC [user generated content] projects (mashade.com, instafilms.com).”
I began my own career in Hollywood doing motion control photography and creating software that bridged the language of robotics and servo motors with the visions of film directors. Eventually our little company, NPlus1, moved on to 3D vision systems and image recognition stuff. So yes, I have been really, really patient waiting for this particular techno visionary dream. And, while I have been waiting for augmented reality to manifest, I have grown to love the internet. But now, how awesome, It is OMG finally for mobile AR!
Augmented reality is busting out all over – through our laptops, our phones, on the streets, toys, baseball cards, art installations, sticky light calligraphy and more.
Many of my questions to Brian were directed at at how and when we will see augmented realities with near field object recognition, image recognition and tracking and, of course, the illusive eyewear. As Bruce Sterling points out we are just at the very, very beginning – the dawn of an industry. I created the photomontage below on the right to compliment Tonchidot’s illustration suggesting the evolutionary inevitability of holding our phones up (below on the left). The Evolutionary Reality of AR will not end there. It is just a step into eyewear, hummingbirds or Nano Air Vehicles, and more…….
The Evolutionary Reality of AR
While we finally we have, an affordable mediating device with the horse power, mindshare and business model to bring AR mainstream with the iphone. The much anticipated Apple 3.1 Beta SDK to be released in September will not, I am sure, open up the Video API at the levels that augmented realities with near field object recognition and tracking require (I would love to be proved wrong though). But the magic wand to deliver even tightly registered AR graphics/media (that require a lot of CPU and GPU) to a wide audience is in our hands, so full access to may not be far off. And others, of course, can/will/might knock the iphone off its current pedestal. AR made it’s mobile phone debut on the Android after all.
Like everyone else who loves AR, I wish that Apple would open up faster (and I wish Android would manifest on some rocking hardware). But we will see enough of the iphone Video API open for the next generation of mobile augmented reality games and applications to emerge in the coming months.
One of these will be Ogmento’s. Although Ogmento is in stealth mode, they have released a teaser for their first game, “Put A Spell,” developed by ARBalloon – screenshot below. Ori did reveal to me in this interview that they are doing image recognition and using the Imagination AR engine.
As Brian notes, Hollywood has had the AR bug for a long time. AR has been everywhere in Science Fiction Movies and video games. Nintendo’s SPD3 head Kensuke Tanabe, “effectively the man in charge of overseeing all the Metroid franchise underneath original co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto,” explains the story of Metroid to Brandon Boyer of Offworld here (an image of a Metroid Hud on the right opening this post) :
“the idea of the different visors you use in the Prime games to interact with the world: the scan visor, for instance, set the game apart from other first person shooters in that the player was using it to proactively collect information from the world, rather than having the story come to them passively, in the form of cut-scenes or narration. “Prime could have adventure elements with the introduction of this visor,” says Tanabe, “That’s how we came up with the genre — first person adventure, instead of shooter.”
But as Brian points out:
“the light bulb has been lit and Hollywood is seeing that the software and hardware are here today to deliver these types of AR experiences in real life (to a lesser extent of course, but the path is getting clear).”
Talking with Brian Selzer
Tish Shute: Bruce Sterling’s sermon at the Layar Developer conference, “At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry,” was absolutely awesome. He spread the future feast/orgy of augmented reality before us – and described many of the dishes we will tasting both delectable and diabolical. One of the many things he points out is, AR is kind of a “Hollywood scene.” And, as Ogmento is one of only two augmented reality companies in Hollywood, I am interested to hear how it looks from your neck of the woods. We have seen the web early adopter/developer/blogger community embrace augmented reality browser in recent weeks in an awesome wave of enthusiam – are Hollywood creatives catching the buzz?
Brian Selzer: It was a thrill to hear Bruce Sterling mention Ogmento. I devoured all of his Cyberpunk books back in the 80′s, along with writers like Gibson, Rucker, Shirley… To me, sci-fi writers are the visionaries who define and influence our technological paths into the future. They make science and tech sexy enough to want to manifest those experiences in the real world. Clearly Bruce sees the AR industry as being sexy. I love that he called it “a techno-visionary dream come true… and super-cyberpunk.” And yes, kind of a Hollywood scene.
Hollywood creatives caught the AR bug before they knew what AR was. Look at science fiction movies and video games to see AR everywhere. Terminator, The Matrix, Minority Report, Iron Man.. the list goes on. Look at any video game with an integrated heads-up display. It’s clear Hollywood loves AR. It’s only been in the past few months though that the light bulb has been lit and Hollywood is seeing that the software and hardware are here today to deliver these types of AR experiences in real life (to a lesser extent of course, but the path is getting clear). So yes, the buzz is here and it’s strong. With that, we all have to be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly as AR goes mainstream.
It certainly goes to show how young this industry is when Ogmento and Total Immersion are currently the only AR companies based in Los Angeles. It’s very exciting to be the only company right now demonstrating a natural feature tracking (markerless) iPhone experience in Hollywood. We are in talks to bring some very big brand and properties to the mobile AR space. The goal is to deliver experiences that create added engagement and value to the consumer.
Tish Shute: Also in his landmark sermon Bruce Sterling noted that augmented reality has been around for 17 yrs and now at last we are seeing the dawning of an augmented reality industry. What inspired you to take up the challenge of launching an augmented reality company in Hollywood? Oh congrats that Bruce Sterling name checked Ogmento in his list of companies that prove that this really is the dawn of an industry!
Brian Selzer: I’ve always been involved in emerging platforms… from launching dot com entertainment sites in the late 90′s to creating early versions of social gaming platforms, or bringing big brands like Spider-Man and X-Men into the mobile space for the first time. Last year I was focused on bringing video game characters and worlds into the online space as UGC projects (mashade.com, instafilms.com). Working with all these great CG game assets, I continued to think about what’s next, and that’s when I started to follow AR very closely and started engaging with those who were pioneering in the space.
I remember swapping instant messages with Robert Rice (@robertrice) right after the 2008 Super Bowl. We were not chatting about the football game, but rather about some of the commercials that aired during the event as a sign that AR was making its way into the mainstream. A lot of people became aware of AR for the first time when the GE SmartGrid commercial aired. There were all these YouTube videos popping up of people blowing on holographic wind turbines.
The commercial that really got me excited though was the Coke Avatar commercial. In that commercial people in the city were sporadically being portrayed as their digital persona’s, avatars, gaming characters, etc.. For me that spot did a great job showing how many of us already have these ‘alter egos” that live in cyberspace, and how the line between these worlds can sometimes be blurred. I remember watching that commercial and thinking that is exactly the type of experience I’d like to create with mobile AR. I want to overlap the virtual world into our every-day reality. Why cant I bring my World of Warcraft or Second Life persona with me into the real world?
I am big on the notion of “Games and Goals.” I believe that games have the power to motivate people in a very powerful way. By challenging ourselves while playing a game we can climb mountains. Augmented Reality is the perfect platform to bring gaming into the real world. By mixing the virtual world with the physical world, this added layer of perception provides a very powerful experience for something like a role-playing game.
One of my earlier social-gaming projects was a website called Superdudes. This was a “Be Your Own Superhero” concept that celebrated and motivated kids to create superhero avatar/persona’s online, and we gave members all sorts of games, challenges, and rewards, some of which carried into the real world. The site recognized members for teamwork, creativity, volunteer work and things like that. So the Superdudes were often involved in charity events and benefits to help children. Everybody called each other by their Superhero names, and the line between fantasy and reality were being blurred. This project really got me thinking about what happens when you take positive role-playing like this and mix it into the real world. I started to work on a plan for location-based activist missions for points and rewards, but never got to complete that. So I have some unfinished business here.
I think it would be fantastic to be able to show up to some type of fun event with friends, and everybody could see each others alter ego personas standing before them. When you can turn the world into a playground, and use the power of gaming to make a positive impact on the planet… well, I don’t think there is anything better than that. These are the types of projects that drive me, and I think AR is the best platform to support these types of social gaming experiences.
Tish: Does Ogmento have any RPGs under development? I noticed in the Google Wave on RPG someone has been working on doing something with the Dungeons&Dragons API. I am interested in exploring the web of protocols underlying Wave as a transport mechanism for multi-person, mobile, AR experiences (not requiring downloads), on an open global outdoor AR network. If not Wave, what do you see as the potential infrastrucure and protocols we could harness for an open augmented reality network?
Brian: Ogmento has a deep background in video games and we interact regularly with most of the major game publishers. As a company we are not so much developing our own RPGs right now, but rather exploring what mobile AR extensions make sense for existing brands. There are many limitations to location-based gaming, but a global AR network is exactly along the lines we are thinking. Lots of discussions are taking place on protocols, platforms, API’s, and there are numerous ways to approach this. We need to be able to use what’s available now and continue to refine and customize for AR’s specific needs and issues as we progress.
In general though, Ogmento is focused on what types of experiences can be had today and over the next couple of years. I still think we are several years out from a truly open augmented reality network. We are certainly looking at launching our own “Ogmented Network” which would support some fun treasure hunt type experiences, or add an entertainment layer on top of traditional outdoor marketing campaigns.
Tish: I don’t know whether you have read Thomas Wrobel’s ideas for an open augmented reality network that I just published here on Ugotrade. The principals he talks about are very important for augmented reality to become a major part of our lives – . Considering the difficulty open networks can pose for emerging business models how can we fund the development of an open framework for augmented reality?
“a future AR Network, I mean one as universal and as standard as the internet. One where people can connect from any number of devices, and without additional downloads, experience the majority of the content.
Where people can just point their phone, webcam, or pair of AR glasses anywhere were a virtual object should be, and they will see it. The user experience is seamless, AR comes to them without them needing to “prepare” their device for it.”
Brian: I think funding for these types of projects will definitely come from Venture Capital groups in the near future. It’s early in AR, but the VC’s are watching and deciding which horses to bet on. Until that time, it’s about service work, and developing AR experiences for others with what is possible today. That work will help fund internal development of original AR products, and platform development.
Tish: How did you get started with Ogmento?
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 were coming from different complimentary 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, you can see how much more compelling it can be when the game invites the player to be actively moving around during the experience.
Tish: I am interested in your perspective on how we can create the kind AR experiences that really embody what has always been so exciting about AR – the tight alignment of graphics and media with real world objects and ultimately a rich immersive 3D experience, so I am going to hit you with a bunch of those, “Is this really eyewear or vaporware?” questions. The real deal eyewear changes everything!
While eyeware is a big challenge technically and aesthetically, I am pretty sure that there are several outfits out there that can pull off the optics and projection. Will the entertainment industry get excited enough to put a major push into delivering the eyewear in short order instead of the 5 to 10 year project that some people still think it is? The business development challenge is bigger perhaps than the technical obstacles perhaps? What is your view on this?
I have no reports from people who have tried the Maunaga eyewear yet. But, limited by small field of view, and tethered, currently eyewear offerings, available at a reasonable price point, are not workable solutions for augmented reality experiences. But the problems are not insurmountable. What will facilitate the real deal? It seems that it is critical to start creating hardware relationships now. The industry is costly and slow moving and as Robert Rice put it to me in a recent conversation, “once the software cat is out of the bag, its going to go wild and if the hardware isnt there, its going to stutter.”
As Ori notes some of the hardware companies like Intel and others don’t seem to be paying enough attention to AR. Ori points out they don’t see the demand yet. But in order to create an awesome AR experience and demand from a mass audience, don’t we need to work in conjunction with hardware designers?
Brian: It’s fun to think about who will eventually deliver a great hardware solution for AR glasses. It will happen. It would be cool to see somebody like an Oakley or Nike partnered up with a company like Vuzix to deliver something people actually might wear in public. Perhaps a hardware manufacturer like Apple or Nokia will bring us something like the iSight or the NGaze down the line. I’d love to see a set of glasses designed by Ideo. Microsoft or Sony are already playing with technologies like Project Natale and the EyeToy, so I think its only a matter of time before they deliver an eyewear solution. I would even look to the toy companies to eventually make an investment here.
Gamers will be the early adopters, and in a few years we may start to see people running around in the park wearing glasses with headsets, but it will be acceptable because it’s clear they are using them for a game. It’s going to take a very sexy and stylish piece of hardware for everyday people to be willing to wear AR glasses in public while going about their everyday business. It’s like the recent cover of Wired magazine where Brad Pitt is wearing a mobile headset in his ear, and the editors point out that even he can’t pull that look off, so why do you think you can. When AR glasses come in designer frames, and you can’t tell them from non-AR glasses, to me that’s when things get really interesting from a mass-adoption perspective. Compare how many people were carrying around a mobile phone in the 80s to now. I think it will be the same thing with glasses.
I was in an AR pitch meeting the other week at a very significant media company, and brought up the point that today’s handheld Smartphones will eventually evolve into tomorrows Smartglasses. My comment was quickly shrugged off as sort of a sci-fi notion that was irrelevant to the business at hand. Probably true, but I think it is important to understand where digital media and entertainment is going, so you can adapt quickly, and evolve into those spaces more naturally. The more we see people walking around with their Smartphones in front of their face (like a camera), the sooner it will be that we make the jump to eyeglasses as a key hardware device for AR experiences.
At Ogmento, we definitely are working on AR experiences with the hardware and software available today. We will get some product out this year, and 2010 will be a banner year for markerless mobile AR in general. I think the entire AR community is looking forward to bringing this technology to the mainstream in the form of games, marketing campaigns, virtual docent apps, and much more. It might not be the full experience we are all dreaming about for some time, but we can see the path and the true potential, and it’s pretty spectacular.
You mention the tight alignment of graphics and media with real world objects. That is really our focus. A lot of well-deserved attention is going to the browser overlay “post-it” approach right now, which uses compass and GPS. We are focused on markerless natural feature tracking, so once you identify something that is AR enhanced in your environment, you can interact with that integrated experience. On an iPhone that can be as simple as using your touch screen to interact. When you are wearing glasses, it becomes more about visual tracking. There are lots of smart people thinking through these issues. Many of which you have interviewed. It is my hope that there are exciting collaborative efforts to be had in the coming months to get us all there together and faster.
Tish: Bruce touched on some of the hard problems that have to be solved for augmented reality – and he noted for instance security needs to be tackled in the early stages. Robert made a nice list, “privacy, media persistence, spam, creating UI conventions, security, tagging and annotation standards, contextual search, intelligent agents, seamless integration and access of external sensors or data sources, telecom fragmentation, privilege and trust systems, and a variety of others.” Will Ogmento be leading the way in solving some of these hard problems?
And, won’t trying to solve these hard problems for networked AR in walled garden scenarios one company at a time lead to a lot of reinventing the wheel wasted energy?
Brian: These are all important issues, and again there are a lot of smart people thinking about solutions to these problems on a daily basis. Ogmento is interested in partnering with developers and supporting their efforts as a publisher of mobile AR experiences. While we intend to roll up our sleeves in these areas, we are currently more focused on taking AR mainstream with the hardware and software available today. As the industry evolves, so will Ogmento. As the opportunities evolve, our ability to make a greater impact tackling these issues will be realized.
Tish: Another area of development that could really kick AR into high gear might be creating augmented reality hotspots where we use can deliver the kind of location accuracy/instrumentation necessary to create interesting AR experiences (partnership with Starbucks, perhaps ?!). Augmented reality hots spots, could deliver the kind of high quality AR experience that isn’t possible ubiquitously at the moment, and may be a real way to get people really exploring the potential of AR now, rather than later?
Brian: Agreed. I see a great opportunity here with this approach.
Tish: Although there are many obstacles to Green AR – the energy hogging servers at the backend for starters! Last week I had a conversation with Gavin Starks, AMEE, and Robert Rice and Jim Purbrick about how to work with AMEE and the technology available and encourage Green Tech AR development (see an early exploration of green tech AR from Pachube here).
We came up with the idea of holding a competition perhaps centered around a targeted instrumented space. But I would really love to hear your thoughts on the topic of Green Tech AR (the energy hogging servers at the back end being the first cloud on the horizon!.) Cool GreenTech AR imaginings, social gaming ideas, RPGs, not even necessarily even tied to the immediately practical, would be like rain in a drought!
Brian: I go back to “Games and Goals”… If you make environmental and other activist efforts fun and rewarding, more are likely to be motivated and participate. Can you imagine having a personal “carbon footprint stat” floating over your self at all times? Or over your home or factory? How would that change your behavior? We all love stats. Look at how the Nike+ campaign has used technology and gaming to motivate people to run. I think there is a lot that can be done to make being green fun. It starts with the individual, and spreads from there. Keep me posted on that one!
Tish: I would also like to explore further the RRW suggestion that ambient intelligence is both the Holy Grail of AR and possibly snake oil:
“The holy grail of the mobile AR industry is to find a way to deliver the right information to a user before the user needs it, and without the user having to search for it. This holy grail is likely in a ditch somewhere beside a well-traveled road in the district of the semantic Web, ambient intelligence and the Internet of things. Be wary of any hyped-up invitation to invest in a company that claims to have gotten the opportunity right. What we’ve seen in the commercial industry to date is a rather complex version of a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.”
So Holy Grail, Snake Oil, or a ditch somewhere….?
Brian: I instantly think of Minority Report, where Tom Cruise’s character is being bombarded with holographic ads personalized with his name and to his current situation. In the future, Spam is a nightmare, especially when it knows who you are. I think the key thing here is delivering “the right information”, and we still dont have that down. I do see a day where we can truly customize what comes to us, how we want it, when we want it. My future vision of ambient intelligence is the ability to “turn everything off” if I want to… block out the stimuli and replace it with images of nature, or natural surroundings, etc. Where I live in Los Angeles, we have those digital billboards everywhere, so it’s like advertising overload wherever you look (hints of Blade Runner). I personally don’t mind them, but I know there is great debate on there being simply too many billboards everywhere. So AR would only add to the noise of life by adding yet another digital overlay of information, right?
Perhaps the holy grail is to use technology to filter things out. AR might become a solution to leading a simpler life, or a perfectly customized life if you want that. Ultimately the control needs to be with the individual. I guess I am talking about something like TiVo taken to the extreme.
Tish: And then that other biggy – augmented reality search! I am asking this next question of Wikitude and Sekai camera too and now I must also ask Acrossair and several others I guess! Obviously a huge area of opportunity in this broader landscape that uses location-awareness, barcode scanners, image recognition and augmented reality is to harness the collective intelligence – a whole new field of search. There is the beginning of a discussion on this in the comments here.
What will it take, in your view, to become a leader in augmented reality search?
Brian: I’m more of a content guy, so I tend to focus on things like UI, quality of creative, etc.. From that perspective, I am looking forward to evolving beyond the “post-it” text overlay user-experience we see now in AR search. I was impressed with the TAT Augmented ID concept and hope we start seeing more smart design solutions like that emerging in the space. There are some great new design approaches coming out of the location-aware space that should be applied to AR search. I’ve been studying the heads-up display designs being used in video games, and re-watching movies like Iron Man for ideas. This is another example where Hollywood has painted a polished picture of what AR can and should look like, and the masses have already accepted these design approaches. So from that perspective, from my view the leaders in search will be delivering sexy, smart and simple solutions. It’s all about the S’s.