Making the digital a natural experience! – The insideAR 2011.
two days of a great conference are over and now I’d love to give you guys an insight on what was going on at metaio’s insideAR conference 2011! Thanks metaio for the great show and the parties, it really has grown so quickly and all demos and the location has been so impressive. I guess the event gave quite a few headaches to the staff before (and later at the party to more). Let me wrap up the key facts for you, I won’t be able to go into all talks, though.
The conference kicked off with an introduction of Thomas Alt (CEO) and Peter Meier (CTO) while being supported by a great moderating magician: to a non-tech guy AR still looks like magic and this as a red line was definitely a good fun connection. Thomas stressed their vision, that within the next three years AR will be a standard on everybody’s smartphone (and probably almost everybody will by then have a smart(er) phone). AR will grow for the consumer big time due to useful apps and solid use cases. There is more than one killer app.
His big announcement right at the start was the surprising news that they will now offer a free mobile SDK for all developers. Now there will be two SDKs: a pro edition, that includes their latest research results and tracking algorithms, and a free basic edition, that allows working with the same interface, but has some limitations (e.g. a watermark, no QR code reader, no face tracking). A great step for the developers out there!
Peter continued with some examples to explain their claim of “Making the digital a natural experience”: the whole interface concept and the way we interact with information needs to change and will be changed with AR and new approaches. The interaction needs to be easy, fun and more intuitive. AR can also influence the communication and social interaction of citizens on the long term. E.g. it even allows a direct dialogue of politicans and citizens, aiming at a more direct democracy (the used example was the Da-müssen-wir-ran-App from the greens party during the election in Berlin).
To allow faster creation of this content, Peter announced the metaio Creator. A new tool, that allows easy linking of markers and contents and speeds up the deployment of ideas. The shown alpha release already handled marker+feature tracking plus video and 3D content well (though the WiFi impeded the live demo).
He explained their latest tracking improvements like the GAFD algorithms (gravity aligned feature descriptor) to stabilize tracking on mobile/multi-sensor devices. Moreover we could see demos of a 3D outdoor tracking and a RGB and depth-camera based 3D-reconstruction approach, that made use of the Kinect to recreate the real world into virtual 3D (e.g. for occlusion handling and collisions). Impressive! The good news: the new technology clearly favors AR in multiple ways (from NFC to HTML5, LTE networks and stereo-camera smartphones (for 3D reconstruction)).
But the biggest claim was – introduced by an old school Wolfenstein3D shot – that a new technology state will be reached soon, comparable to the big steps computer graphics did during the early 90s, when the first person shooters hit the public (yielding in the big business of graphics hardware like nvidia and ATI). The same story will happen again – now to Augmented Reality. Especially hardware cooperations of metaio should foster this development and the vision of a natural digital interaction. For this, metaio closely works with different hardware developers, e.g. Vuzix and Sony (both showed their latest HMD prototypes and products) and esp. mobile platform developers (like ARM chipsets) to get the right speed, longer battery life for everyday AR and the best tracking and presentation.
Once these technologies mature enough Peter claims, we will have another technological discontinuity, that breaks away from the currently dominant design (like the touchscreen smartphone is the standard today) towards something completely new. A new era of human-machine and human-world interaction – possibly based on the smart combination of easier interaction methods and AR goggles. Can’t wait to see it happen! :-)
The demos were numerous and displaying a lot of different aspects of AR deployment. Be sure to check out the image gallery below for more to see. Mostly you could see use cases with the mobile SDK and junaio (enhancing posters, shopping situations, games, configurators, instruction manuals, etc.). Moreover they are well established inside the industrial realm (showing precise and fast tracking+overlay for prototyping and design reviews & planning). But to name only two explicitly, I’d pick:
The Augmented City, we’ve been talking about before, was shown the first time live at the conference. Their tracking on a Samsung Galaxy SII was impressively stable and the look of the CG is getting better and better. Judge by yourself above, in their offical video or in this live video, that has been put up before I could edit mine, so enjoy the one from Augmented Minds. Can’t wait for metaio to implement the whole concept of an augmented city in a 1:1 scale in the states!
Biggest fun was to see myself from the perspective of a toy car racing through the augmented real track outside the conference building! It’s weird to see yourself from below through your eyes through the camera of the car… ;-) Next time please with a combined AR:DRONE fight! :-)
By the way – we now have pictures up on our very own flickr account. So enjoy more of the conference online and conveniently embedded below:
The well fitting talks gave great new impulses on different sides of AR usage. John C. Havens from Transitional Media started on how AR will transform ads and your identity. He made good points regarding the unclear question of who owns augmented space: if an artists highjacks the Mona Lisa by overlaying it with his own art: can he be sued? Does the Louvre have the only right on the 3D volume of air around its building? Who owns the ad space? Especially: should the app developers get revenues from linked companies inside their AR browsers? If I as a user are being tracked: how much control do I have over my own person? Do I own myself? Inside this quite scary marketing vision he recommended to become your own brand and to turn the tables this way.
Josh Shabtai of Vertigore Games speaks about games as being the #1 driver of technology (before AR and with AR) and elaborates on the overall gamification process of our lives (e.g. like chore wars). He demands that AR games should trigger more feelings to the user and start our imagination, rather than trying to squeeze a bit of more polygons out of the tiny graphics chips. Altered Reality Games are the best example: the user converts much more of the real world around him into a gaming experience – than the graphics only ever could – by imagining much more than is presented. If we trick the brain through a great experience, audio and some visual hints, we can get the goose bumps much faster than by a single image. Lastly he envisions how future social AR games will demand for even specific real world physical spaces for the people to meet and play. (Like playing AR paintball.) Great talk!
Of course I can’t continue on all talks in this detail. Though there were great talks on AR example use cases (historical records, industry AR), story telling concepts and upcoming hardware for better AR-enabled experiences (scary: “You dont’ need to talk to nobody anymore, your phone is your best friend”) and more panel discussions, as you might have read here at metaio’s page anyway. But One more thing to mention: I loved the talk of Shelley Mannion (British Museum) on AR in culture and arts and especially her interest in augmented sound, I share by 100%. I must have missed the mentioned Inception Augmented Sound app, so check it out if you haven’t either. It blows you away and into the 13th dream level. :-)
metaio & the Future
The second day metaio’s researchers gave more insight on the latest development. The big bang was the progress in markerless RGB tracking on mobile devices and their approach of rgb+depth camera based tracking and meshing. To the latter we will see a presentation at this year’s ISMAR in Basel! Can’t wait. The live demo with a stereoscopic camera cell phone allowed direct and live-learning marker-free tracking, that will also be able to solve the scale problem (due to the stereo base). I hope I’m allowed to go into more details about all this soon.
Other news and plans include an online calibration for web-based apps, gravity-awareness to be used inside the SDK (allow more convincing experiences due to correct physics for virtual objects), continued work on tracking improvements (of course) and scalable mobile instant 3D tracking (indoor/outdoors) plus a mobile client-based fast recognition on large databases. This all will help to better localize the user on a much better level of accuracy and to create better applications such as outdoor AR-navigation or more detailed context-aware AR.
Also, cool to see, that they are always willing to integrate even more sensors for a better augmentation, if the consumer products/hardware offers it (e.g. thermal sensors, etc.).
… metaio did it again. Great progress in tracking and 3D reconstruction and a complete porting to the mobile world is a great deal. Their clear vision that not only focuses on the core development of tracking but also thinks about the consumer connection and the hardware was impressive. They sure have a plan! Lets hope that their plan works out and that external developers will give us the needed killer app plus content and that metaio is not betting on the wrong horse, delivering “only” the awesome base for AR.
See you next year and hopefully also at the ISMAR11 in Basel!