Augmenting Reality: Measuring It First

My son makes a "fortune" delivering pizzas in Ann Arbor. Seriously, he saves enough money during the school year that he can afford to take summers off, like school teachers, except in his case he's honing his Frisbee golf skills. Last summer he traveled 12,000 miles and visited 240 courses.

That was also the summer he learned to do more things on his Treo 650 than I know how to do on mine. It's really annoying how fast he can check the weather, get a map or directions, and locate the nearest Subway store. The coolest thing about what he's doing with his handheld device, though, is that even though he is--for the moment--a bit geekish for doing so, it's clear that other young consumers are going to want to do what he does.

That means that the folks at Apple and Google and all the startups in between are going to be making it easy for other consumers to do even niftier things. They're aiming, of course, at young people, but that means they'll make it easy enough for me, too. The only thing they won't do that I wish they would is make all of this stuff readable for me without my reading glasses.

A glimpse ahead into the future of what handhelds might be able to do is provided in a recent article, TR10: Augmented Reality, in MIT's Technology Review magazine. A research team from Finland:
... Added a GPS sensor, a compass, and accelerometers to a Nokia smart phone. Using data from these sensors, the phone can calculate the location of just about any object its camera is aimed at. Each time the phone changes location, it retrieves the names and geographical coördinates of nearby landmarks from an external database. The user can then download additional information about a chosen location from the Web--say, the names of businesses in the Empire State Building, the cost of visiting the building's observatories, or hours and menus for its five eateries.
Another company, from France, is working on doing similar things using picture analysis:
Relying on software alone, Total Immersion's­ system begins with a single still image of whatever object the camera is aimed at, plus a rough digital model of that object; image-­recognition algorithms then determine what data should be super­imposed on the image.
When these kinds of capabilities start to take off in the United States, the primary location of their first, most intensive use is going to be on or near college campuses. It's not just me. Google thinks so and in fact might be causing that to happen.

I've written before about Google's Build Your Campus in 3D competition. I actually find it kind of strange that it hasn't garnered more attention in the news media, but that should change any day now as the final entry date for the competition is June 1. (Hey, that's tomorrow!) Somewhere around 365 campuses have officially registered in the competition.

The Google Sketchup folks are behind this. Since they're based in Boulder, CO, I guess it's no surprise that you can go here and view a YouTube display of Boulder in 3D as it appears using GoogleEarth 4. (If you like this, check out the collection of related videos available on YouTube.)

In addition to being a great way for Google to find and probably hire some of the college students who are the best at doing these kinds of things, this is a step toward creating data that will make college and university campuses the best locale for the kind of picture analysis those folks in France are working on.

I'm sure this is making a lot of people uncomfortable. Issues of privacy and safety come to mind immediately when you think about these functionalities. On the other hand, it's probably inevitable, even though privacy luddites are already engaged in trying to legislate ways to stop the information flow. However, stopping someone from showing images from space of your back yard may be impossible:
... Because somebody else will provide access to a server that does this for any region, from outside any jurisdiction you care to name, using any arbitrary web platform; because nobody cares about your landscaping, except for the people who do, who will find a way to see it; because the circumvention of whatever measures you propose will cost less in time and effort than the measures you propose. (Ogle Earth)
This fall, while my son is delivering pizzas and saving money to permanently go "on tour" as a professional disc golfer in 2008, people who want to be right on top of what's happening in the world of "augmented reality" will be traveling to Nara, Japan for the Sixth International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality.

Those two worlds will meet every time he taps a button on his Treo and retrieves geographically  based information.

P.S. As I sent this off to my editor, I learned that the Google SketchUp folks are going to be attending the National Collegiate  Facilities Management Technology Conference at  MIT in August. (That's just after the Campus Technology 2007 conference, so you can go to both!) They'll be displaying some of the results of the campus competition.
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