Category Archives: Tlon

Mixed Reality As An Art Form

First a homework assignment and then a request. Please watch a few of these http://kogonada.com/ video essays on cinema.

I’d like to put together something like this for AR and VR. The basic idea is to take something small in [AR | Cinema | Sci Fi television] and then develop the topic into a conversation. But I need your help with ideas.

For instance, consider the flick in Sci Fi movies but also in Hawaii Five-Oh and in the Avengers movie used to send a piece of digital media from one screen to another. Where did it come from? How did it develop as a gesture? Has it changed over time? Where is it used in real world apps? Does it make sense as good UX or is it pure Sci Fi stuff?

Alternatively, what is the the relationship between John Carpenter’s They Live (long overdue for a big budget remake), The Matrix and spatial computing?

Alternatively, what does Beaudrillard’s ‘desert of the real’ tell us about VR?

Alternatively, what sort of H-C interactions do we need before head-mounted-displays could begin to compete with smartphones as portable computers and begin to fulfill their financial promise.

So I need help with ideas to explore, in essay style, with suggestions for media that can be used to explore.

Once we have enough, and if there is enough interest, I’ll work with you on producing these essays as video essays and we’ll put together an online book about MR, with each of you as an essay author and providing narration.

It’s at minimum a six month project but something I feel the world needs and we are uniquely positioned to create. I’m a little tired of both book writing and recording technical videos when good design thinking around MR is what we’re most lacking in right now.

So, my dear readers, have you got any ideas that you have been keeping to yourselves about the design and philosophy behind MR but needed help expressing?

My VRLA Shopping List

vrla

I meant to finish this earlier in the week. I spent the past weekend in Los Angeles at the VRLA conference in order to hear Jasper Brekelmans speak about the state of the art in depth sensors and visual effects. One of the great things about VRLA is all the vendor booths you can visit that are directly related to VR and AR technology. Nary a data analytics platform pitch or dev ops consulting services shill in sight.

Walking around with Jasper, we started compiling a list of how we would spend our Bitcoin and Ethereum fortunes once they recover some of their value. What follows is my must-have shopping list if I had so much money I didn’t need anything:

1. Red Frog HoloLens mod

IMG_3301

First off is this modified HoloLens by Red Frog Digital. The fabrication allows the HoloLens to balance much better on a user’s head. It also applies no pressure to the bridge of the nose, but instead distributes it across the user’s head. The nicest thing about it is that it always provides a perfect fit, and can be properly aligned with the user’s eyes in about 5 seconds. They designed this for their Zombie Maze location-based experience and are targeting it for large, permanent exhibits / rides.

2. Cleanbox … the future of wholesome fun

cleanbox

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time doing AR and VR demos at an event, you know there are three practical problems you have to work around:

  • seating devices properly on users’ heads
  • cleaning devices between use
  • recharging devices

Cleanbox Technology provides a solution for venue-based AR/VR device cleaning. Place your head-mounted display in the box, close the lid, and it instantly gets blasted with UV rays and air. I’d personally be happy just to have nice wooden boxes for all of my gear – I have a tendency to leave them lying on the floor or scattered across my computer desk – even without the UV lights.

3. VR Hamster Ball

IMG_3012

The guy demoing this never seemed to let anyone try it, so I’m not sure if he was actually playing a hamster sim or not. I just know I want one as a 360 running-in-place controller … and as a private nap space, obviously.

4. Haptic Vest and Gauntlets

haps (2)

Bhaptics was demoing their TactSuit, which provides haptic feedback along the chest, back, arms and face. I’m going to need it to go with my giant hampster ball. They are currently selling dev units.

5. Birdly

birdly

A tilt table with an attached fan and a user control in the form of flapping wings is what you need for a really immersive VR experience. Fortunately, this is exactly what Birdly provides.

6. 5K Head-mounted Display

5KVR

I got to try out the Vive Pro, which has an astounding 2K resolution. But I would rather put my unearned money down for a VRHero 5K VR headset with 170 degree FOV. They seem to be targeting industrial use cases rather than games, though, since their demo was of a truck simulation (you stood in the road as trucks zoomed by).

7. A globe display

globe_display

Do I need a giant spherical display? No, I do not need it. But it would look really cool in my office as a conversation piece. It could also make a really great companion app for a VR or AR experience.

8. 360 Camera Rig with Red Epic Cameras

redrig

Five 6K Red Dragon Epic Cameras in a 360 video rig may seem like overkill, but with a starting price of around $250K, before tripod, lenses and a computer powerful enough to process your videos – this could make the killer raffle item at any hi-tech conference.

9. XSens Mocap Suit

According to Jasper, the XSens motion capture fullbody, lycra suit with realtime kinematics is one of the best available. I think I was quoted a price something like $7K(?) to $13K(?) Combined with my hamster ball, it would make me unstoppable in PvP competitive Minecraft.

10. AntVR AR Head-mounted display

antvr

AntVR will be launching a kickstarter campaign for their $500 augmented reality HMD in the next few weeks. I’d been reading about it for a while and was very excited to get a chance to try it out. It uses a Pepper’s ghost strategy for displaying AR, has decent tracking, works with Steam, and at $500 is very good for its price point.

11. Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

qualcomm

The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Chip has built-in SLAM – meaning 6DOF inside-out tracking is now a trivial chip-based solution – unlike just two years ago when nobody outside of robotics had even heard of SLAM algorithms. This is a really big deal.

Lenovo is using this chip in its new (untethered) Mirage Solo VR device – which looks surprisingly like the Windows Occluded MR headset they built with Microsoft tracking tech. At the keynote, the Lenovo rep stumbled and said that they will support “at least” 6 degrees of freedom, which has now become an inside joke among VR and AR developers. It’s also spoiled me, because I am no longer satisfied with only 6DOF. I need 7DOF at least but what I really want is to take my DOF up to 11.

12. Kinect 4

kinect4

This wasn’t actually at VRLA, and I’m not ultimately sure what it is (maybe a competitor for the Google computer vision kit?) but Kinect for Azure was announced at the /build conference in Seattle and should be coming out sometime in 2019. As a former Kinect MVP and a Kinect book author, this announcement mellows me out like a glass of Hennessy in a suddenly quiet dance club.

While I’m waiting for bitcoin to rebound, I’ll just leave this list up on Amazon for, like, in case anyone wants to fulfill it for me or something. In the off chance that that actually comes through, I can guarantee you a really awesome unboxing video.

Older but not wiser

In late December I tried making some infrastructure changes to my blog, which is hosted on Microsoft Azure, and managed to hose the whole thing. Because I’m a devotee of doing things the long way, I spent the next two months learning about Docker containers and command line tools only to discover that Docker wasn’t my problem at all. There was something wrong with the way I’d configured my Linux VM and something to do with a button I’d pressed without looking at the warnings as closely as they warranted.

Long story short, I finally just blew away that VM and slowly reconstructed my blog from post fragments and backups I found on various machines around the house.

I still need to go through and reconstruct the WordPress categories. For now, though, I will take a moment to pause and reflect on the folly of my technical ways.

My problem with More Personal Computing as a Branding Attempt

We all know that Microsoft has had a long history with problematic branding. For every “Silverlight” that comes along we get many more confusing monikers like “Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007.” As the old saw goes, if Microsoft invented the iPod, they would have called it the “Microsoft I-pod Pro 2005 Human Ear Professional Edition.”

While “More Personal Computing” breaks the trend of long academic nomenclature, it is still a bit wordy. It’s also a pun. For anyone who hasn’t figured out the joke, MPC can mean either [More] Personal Computing — for people who still haven’t gotten enough personal computing, apparently — or [More Personal] Computing — for those who like their technology to be intimate and a wee bit creepy.

But the best gloss on MPC, IMO, comes from this 1993 episode of The Simpsons. Enjoy:

MIXED REALITY ESSENTIALS: A CONCISE COURSE

On Saturday, October 29th, Dennis Vroegop and I will be running a Mixed Reality Workshop as part of the DEVintersection conference in Las Vegas. Dennis is both a promoter and trainer in Mixed Reality and has made frequent appearances on European TV talking about this emerging technology as well as consulting on and leading several high-profile mixed reality projects. I’ve worked as a developer on several commercial mixed reality experiences while also studying and writing about the various implications and scenarios for using mixed reality in entertainment and productivity apps.

Our workshop will cover the fundamentals of building for mixed reality through the first half of the day. Through the rest of the day, we will work with you to build your own mixed reality application of your choice—so come with ideas of what you’d like to make. And if you aren’t sure what you want to create in mixed reality, we’ll help you with that, too.

Here’s an outline of what we plan to cover in the workshop:

  1. Hardware: an overview of the leading mixed reality devices and how they work.
  2. Tools: an introduction to the toolchain used for mixed reality development emphasizing Unity and Visual Studio.
  3. Hello Unity: hands-on development of an MR app using gestures and voice commands.
  4. SDK: we’ll go over the libraries used in MR development, what they provide and how to use them.
  5. Raycasting – covering some things you never have to worry about in 2D programming.
  6. Spatial Mapping and Spatial Understanding – how MR devices recognize the world around them.
  7. World Anchors – fixing virtual objects in the real world.

Break for lunch

    8.  Dennis and I will help you realize your mixed reality project. At the end of the workshop, we’ll do a show and tell to share what you’ve built and go over next steps if you want to publish your work.

We are extremely excited to be doing this workshop at DEVintersection. Mixed Reality is forecasted to be a multi-billion dollar industry by 2020. This is your opportunity to get in at the ground floor with some real hands-on experience.

(Be sure to use the promo code ASHLEY for a discount on your registration.)

Pokémon Go as An Illustration of AR Belief Circles

venn

Recent rumors circling around Pokémon Go suggest that they will delay their next major update until next year. It was previously believed that they would be including additional game elements, creatures and levels beyond level 40 sometime in December.

A large gap between releases like this would seem to leave the door open to other copy cat games to move into the opening that Niantec is providing them. And maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. While World of Warcraft is the most successful MMORPG, for instance, it certainly wasn’t the first. Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest, Asheron’s Call and Ultima Online all preceded it. What WoW did was perhaps to collect the best features of all these games while also ride the right graphics card cycle to success.

A similar student-becomes-the-master trope can play out for other franchise owners, since the only thing that seems to be required to get a game similar to Pokemon going is a pre-existing storyline (like WoW had) and 3D assets either available or easily created to go into the game. With Azure and AWS cloud computing easily available, even infrastructure isn’t such a challenge as it was when the early MMORPGs were starting. Possible franchise holders that could make the leap into geographically-aware augmented reality games include Disney, Wow itself, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic the Gathering, and Star Wars.

Imagine going to the park one day and asking someone else face down staring at their phone if they know where the bulbasaur showing up on the nearby is and having them not knowing what you are talking about because they are looking for Captain Hook or a jawa on their nearby?

This sort of experience is exemplary of what Vernor Vinge calls belief circles in his book about augmented reality, Rainbow’s End. Belief circles describe groups of people who share a collaborative AR experience. Because they also share a common real life world with others, their belief circles may conflict with other people’s belief circles. What’s even more peculiar is that members of different belief circles do not have access to each other’s augmented worlds – a peculiar twist on the problem of other minds. So while a person in H.P. Lovecraft’s belief circle can encounter someone in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld belief circle at a Starbuck’s, it isn’t at all clear how they will ultimately interact with one another. Starbuck’s itself may provide virtual assets that can be incorporated into either belief circle in order to attract customers from different worlds and backgrounds – basically multi-tier marketing of the future. Will different things be emphasized in the store based on our self-selected belief circles? Will our drinks have different names and ingredients? How will trademark and copyright laws impact the ability to incorporate franchises into the muti-aspect branding of coffee houses, restaurants and other mall stores?

But most of all, how will people talk to each other? One of the great pleasures of playing Pokemon today is encountering and chatting with people I otherwise wouldn’t meet and having a common set of interests that trump our political and social differences. Belief circles in the AR future of five to ten years may simply encourage the opposite trend of community Balkanization in interest zones. Will high concept belief circles based on art, literature and genre fiction simply devolve into Democrat and Republican belief circles at some point?

Pokemonography

Pokémon Go is the first big augmented reality hit. It also challenges our understanding of what augmented reality means. While it has AR modes for catching as well as battling pokémon, it feels like an augmentation of reality even when these modes are disabled.

krabby

Pokémon Go in large part is a game overlaid on top of a maps application. Maps apps, in turn, are an augmentation overlaid on top of our physical world that track our position inside of the digital representation of streets and roads. More than anything else, it is the fully successful cartography referred to George Luis Borges’s story On Exactitude in Science, prominently referred to in Baudrillard’s monograph Simulacra and Simulation.

Pokémon Go’s digital world is also the world’s largest game world. Games like Fallout 4 and Grand Theft Auto V boast of worlds that encompass 40 sq miles and 50 sq miles, respectively. Pokémon Go’s world, on the other hand, is co-extensive with the mapped world (or the known world, as we once called it).  It has a scale of one kilometer to one kilometer.

dragonaire

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game even when we have AR turned off. Players share the same geographic space we do but live, simultaneously, in a different world revealed to them through their portable devices. It makes the real world more interesting – so much so that the sedentary will participate in exercise while the normally cautious will risk sunburn and heatstroke in post-climate change summers around the world in order to participate in an alternative reality. In other words, it shapes behavior by creating new goals. It creates new fiscal economies in the process.

electabuzz

Which is all a way of saying that Pokémon Go does what marketing has always wanted to do. It generates a desire for things that, up to a month ago, did not exist.

magikarp

A desire for things which, literally, do not exist today.

What more fitting moniker to describe a desire for something that does not exist than Pokémonography. Here are some pics from my personal collection.

porygon

snorlax

warturturtle

raichu

dratini

lapras

dragonite

gyrados

HoloLens Surface Reconstruction XEF File Format

[Update 4/23 – this turns out to be just a re-appropriation of an extension name. Kinect studio doesn’t recognize the HoloLens XEF format and vice-versa.]

The HoloLens documentation reveals interesting connections with the Kinect sensor. As most people by now know, the man behind the HoloLens, Alex Kipman, was also behind the Kinect v1 and Kinect v2 sensors.

kinect_studio_xef

One of the more interesting features of the Kinect was its ability to perform a scan and then play that scan back later like a 3D movie. The Kinect v2 even came with a recording and playback tool for this called Kinect Studio. Kinect Studio v2 serialized recordings in a file format known as the eXtended Event File format. This basically recorded depth point information over time – along with audio and color video if specified.

Now a few years later we have HoloLens. Just as the Kinect included a depth camera, the HoloLens also has a depth camera that it uses to perform spatial mapping of the area in front of the user. These spatmaps are turned into simulations that are then combined with code so that in the final visualization, 2D apps appear to be pinned to globally fixed positions while 3D objects and characters seem to be aware of physical objects in the room and interact with them appropriately.

xef

Deep in the documentation on the HoloLens emulator is fascinating information about the ability to play back previously scanned rooms in the emulator. If you have a physical headset, it turns out you can also record surface reconstructions using the windows device portal.

The serialization format, it turns out, is the same one that is used in Kinect Studio v2: *.xef .

An interesting fact about the XEF format is that Microsoft never released any documentation about what the xef format looked like. When I open up a saved xef file in Notepad++, this is what it looks like:

xef_np 

Microsoft also never released a library to deserialize depth data from the xef format, which forced many people trying to make recordings to come up with their own, idiosyncratic formats for saving depth information.

Hopefully, now that the same format is being used across devices, Microsoft will be able to finally release a lib for general use – and if not that, then at least a spec of how xef is formed.

Rethinking VR/AR Launch Dates

The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens all opened for pre-orders in 2016 with plans to ship in early April (or late March in the case of the Oculus). All have run into fulfillment problems creating general confusion for their most ardent fans.

I won’t try to go into all the details of what each company originally promised and then what each company has done to explain their delays. I honestly barely understand it. Oculus says there were component shortages and is contacting people through email to update them. Oculus also refunded some shipping costs for some purchasers as compensation. HTC had issues with their day one ordering process and is using its blog for updates. Microsoft hasn’t acknowledged a problem but is using its developer forum to clarify the shipping timeline.

Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that spinning up production for expensive devices in relatively small batches is really, really hard. Early promises from 2015 followed by CES in January 2016 and then GDC in March probably created an artificial timeline that was difficult to hit.

On top of this, internal corporate pressure has probably also driven each product group to hype to the point that it is difficult to meet production goals. HTC probably has the most experience with international production lines for high tech gear and even they stumbled a bit.

Maybe it’s also time to stop blaming each of these companies as they reach out for the future. All that’s happened is that some early adopters aren’t getting to be as early as they want to be (including me, admittedly).

As William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”