AUGMENTED REALITY: Top 10 tidbits reshaping AR industry

Augmented Realty (AR) Browsers make peace not war: Augmented reality browsers and navigation apps have been the media darlings of 2009. They have been depicted as gladiators battling to the death (we take some of the blame). ISMAR, on the contrary, was all about love and peace. On Monday’s Mobile Workshop, Robert Rice and I had the privilege to moderate a session about collaboration in the AR industry. Picture this: Layar, Wikitude, Junaio (from Metaio), and Across Air sitting around a table planning a communication standard for augmented reality information. I had a tear at the corner of my eye. Missing in action: Presselite, Tonchidot, RobotVision, GeoVector…

Mobile is king, and the iPhone is the emperor’s new clothes: In 2009, ISMAR organizers decided to feature Mobile Augmented Reality (driven by Christine Perey) as the highlight of the event (duh!). The event guide explains: “much of the media and consumer attention is on mobile AR…because AR is increasingly with users where ever [they go].” The intention manifested itself allover the place: in workshops (“Present, Future, and the Roadmap to Mobile AR”, “Outdoor AR”), tutorials (Introduction to Handheld AR), sessions (Human interfaces, Human Factors, Tracking on mobile devices), announcements (Junaio, Artoolkit on the iPhone), posters (Streaming on mobile phones, In-situ outdoor geo models, Clinical Training experiences, Egocentric space distortion for environment exploration, Learning on the iPhone, and EyePly – mobile AR for sporting events), and demos (first panda ever to appear at ISMAR, PTAM on an iPhone.) And all this hoopla around a phone that requires you to access a private API for live video?

Vuzix leading the pack in AR glasses: Mobile AR was all the rage, but AR aficionados in-situ were hungry for new AR glasses that will truly unleash its power. ORA Lab and Canon still offer huge-expensive HMDs; Microvision is focused on thick military grade monocle, and Nokia tries to leapfrog with way-cool gaze tracking but poor display (check out Thomas Carpenter’s post for more on ISMAR HMDs.) This leaves Vuzix lonely at the top with with the only see-around, semi-dorky, inexpensive glasses (the envy of any Panda). Missing in action: Lumus

Sketch is the new marker: Best student paper award went to Oriel, Nate et al. for AR Sketch (which featured in our top post and popular video). Their work is revolutionizing the AR world by avoiding the need to print markers – or any images whatsoever. Two other winner were Steven Henderson (with Steven Feiner) for “Augmented Reality for Task Localization in Maintenance of an Armored Personnel Carrier Turret” and honorable mention for the lovely Susanna Nilsson (with Bjorn Johansson) for “AR to support cross-organisational collaboration in dynamic tasks”(read: disaster relief) – but both would have made scarry headlines: “Tanks Take Over ISMAR” or “Fire sweeps ISMAR”… Missing in action: Daniel Wagner – who delivered his best paper yet.

Qualcomm spearheads as the most aggressive chip maker in AR: As diamond sponsor of the event, and with its own Jay Wright painting the vision for AR in 2012, as well as bravely moderating the controvertial “Past and Future of ISMAR” Panel –  Qualcomm leapfrogged the other chip makers to become the most sincere contender in the future of AR devices. Missing in action: Nvidia

Microsoft – the new big player to watch: Georg Klein, inventor of PTAM-on-an-iPhone (and the smartest Computer Vision guy on the block) joins Microsoft to make Mobile AR. Look out for Microsoft.

Minority report VFX designer is looking for the next big thing in AR: The mere presence of guy with the most enviable AR credentials in the world (the guy who designed VFX for minority report), Kent Demaine, signaled the entrance of AR into the major leagues. Now he just needs to convince J.J. Abrahams to make a movie out of Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End.

New ARtist in charge: At ISMAR 2008, only one artist was present at the show and easily grabbed my Most Beautiful Demo award. In 2009 with a whole new tarck for Humanities, Arts and Media – the competition was more intensive. One artist came above all with commercial-quality, entertaining-yet-sophisticated pieces – and proved that with good design today’s technology is ready for prime time. Helen Papagiannis is the new AR artist-in-charge.

The AR ivory tower has been shaken
The fearless Pattie Maes presented, in front of an AR-only crowd, her popular off-mainstream augmented reality project the Six Sense making the point that with simple technology, low cost components, and clever design –  it may be easy to bring the digital world into the physical one. Although they all saw it coming – the audience was stumped. Just check out who asked the questions:
Mark Billinghurst – “have you evaluated the user experience with users?”
Steven Feiner – “It won’t work on large buildings, would it?”
Bruce Thomas – “What about privacy?”

AR goes commercial: This was already the 10th ISMAR yet since the first – multiple attempts were made to bring AR to consumers – but the market has been elusive. This year, was the first time were consumer-oriented products were introduced. From Layar to Wikitude to Across Air and the just-announced Junaio, and learning games like Ogmento‘s Put a Spell – ISMAR became the breading ground for commercial AR. Christine Perey even dares to estimate Mobile AR revenue in 2009 to hit $10 Million. The tsunami is coming, prepare your surf boards.