If you’ve read Daniel Suarez’s techno thriller Daemon or William Gibson’s Spook Country, then you’ve encountered a world where there is no dividing line between physical and virtual realities. This vision is also advanced in the films Blade Runner, Minority Report or Children of Men which feature floating screens and active surfaces that come alive at a gesture or command. While this may seem like fantasy, those in business and marketing need to start paying attention to how real this all becoming.
The fields of augmented reality, projection mapping and Kinect hacking are where some of the most exciting work is happening. The changes are occurring so rapidly and in such variety that it is hard to keep up. But what many startups, hackers, corporations and tech artists are creating — a hybrid between computer interactivity, data, social media and how those relate to our physical world — is not only mind-blowing, but it is also a teaser for what media and communication experiences will look like in the near future.
Here is a taste of what’s going on.
Remember when AR was all about little black-and-white codes that made pretty little animations play on your webcam? It seemed like a fun trick back then, and a few brands (Lego, best of all, and maybe Ray-Ban for an honorable mention) used it to create new ways to digest their products or play simple games.
Actually, there was very little ‘reality’ being augmented with those. But now that the concept has matured, we’re starting to see a very different AR come to life. With your phone’s camera becoming the input device, apps are popping up that let you view a building in your city and find out if there is available office space for rent in it, make newspapers, magazines and outdoor imagery come to life, get translation on the fly or see a person’s social profile as they pass you on the street.
As our desire to check in and share location-related media grows, we’re going to see the ability to overlay those actions on real space through these tools and new ones coming.
Where to start:
Rofo on junaio: AR Real Estate application for cities (above)
Aurasma from Autonomy: Activating still visuals
Lego Retail AR: See how the product will look when built
TAT Augmented ID: Social profiling via AR
Projection mapping has been around for a few years now, but it is starting to come into its own with some high profile stunts. Projection mapping software looks at the shape of an object and creates a 3D map of it, allowing an artist to overlay imagery — usually on a large surface or structure.
Why is this interesting? Because it provides the ability to change the experience of a physical object creatively, so at one point the object was one thing, and then right in front of your eyes it appears to be another. Ralph Lauren made a recent splash with this tech at a high profile event, projecting a 3D spectacle on the facades of flagship stores in New York and London.
Infiniti and Toyota have used the technique effectively to make their cars defy the laws of nature at private events. Others have used it to augment architecture and living spaces in such dramatic ways that you would have to touch them to see if the change was real or simply a visual trick. If all the structures around us were a canvas, imagine what we could do with them.
Where to start:
Ralph Lauren: “4D Experience”
Mr. Beam: “Living Room”
Infiniti: “Journey of Inspiration”
Toyota Auris: “Get Your Energy Back”
On November 4, 2010, Microsoft took a major step toward reasserting itself as a leader in future tech. The release of the Kinect for its Xbox system, — and how the Kinect was adopted by the creative/hacker community — has ushered in a new era for augmented reality.
Why is the Kinect so innovative? It’s not really breaking new ground, technology-wise. But it’s the way in which it combines existing tech — a multi-array microphone, an RGB camera, an infrared depth sensor — that makes it smarter and cheaper than preceding attempts. Perhaps more importantly, it’s hackable. And recognizing the innovation that could come of this, Microsoft is due to release an SDK that will allow the curious and the research-minded alike to tinker with ease.
In just a few short months, developers have used the Kinect to create everything from optical camouflage to body-controlled light shows. Beyond the novelty, the practical implications of tying gestures to computer control are abundant.
Here are a few impressive examples of Kinect hacks in action:
Phil Reyneri: Kinect Light/Laser Control
blabblabLab: Be Your Own Souvenir
Controlling A Humanoid Robot via Kinect
Become Your Own Superhero
These technologies (and a variety of others) are radically changing the way the physical and digital worlds interface. Because media and marketing are moving ever closer to the technologies that feature (and often reward) user engagement and user creation, these innovative types of input/output mechanisms will directly lead us into a new era of active and reactive brand communication and experience.
Sam Travis Ewen is the CEO and founder of Interference Incorporated, a non-traditional marketing agency, and is co-founder of Supertou.ch an immersive technology company focused on bringing human computer interaction (HCI) to real-world environments.