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Dear AR Community, “We Don’t Walk Anymore”

Pardon my take on an old Todd Rundgren song, but this past week I saw a lot discussion within Augmented Reality tweet-streams about the possibility of Apple making a head mounted display (HMD) that really looked dated. Five years ago, or so, Oakley began manufacturing a sunglasses/audio playback device, called Thump. I wrote them at that time and told them they needed to get out of the audio device game and into the Bluetooth wireless game. This was during the boom of iPod popularity and people didn’t want another device to contain their music, but they might appreciate a sunglass/wireless headphone combo that when linked to their new iPod, would allow them to swoosh the slopes or mountain bike in a more wireless way. HMD’s are for MIT students, not real people.

Ultimately, what I’ve been disappointed by is the utter lack of attention to the audio / verbal clues that should be at the CORE of augmented reality and our latest AR apps. Nearly every single augmented reality app shows someone walking the streets holding up their Nokiphoid device and looking at buildings to see what is around them with colorful dots that represents little pockets of information. If we all lived in Amsterdam or Madison or some other pleasant low-crime metro area, where we biked to work and took two hour lunch breaks at five star restaurants, this would be helpful. But most people I know DRIVE to work and then drive to lunch, usually at the same places every week and then we hope like hell that the highway isn’t packed so we can get home in less than an hour. Are we really expected to wear a device like this while driving? I try not to even distract myself with talking on the phone let alone, texting or interacting much with navigation.

During my last trip to New York city, as I was standing in between Little Italy and China Town, trying to let the five different AR apps on my Droid tell us where to have dinner, I recognized that, I’m standing and walking the dirty street of New York flaunting a $200 device. It’s not uncommon for me to pocket my wedding band when traveling within NYC, but here I was, Mr. Tourist, holding up my new prized possession just waiting for someone to come knock me over the head and take it.

What’s the ideal scenario? A combination of Augmented Reality and Augmented Intelligence using AUDIO. Picture this; my droid is tucked safe and warm in my pocket and connected magically to my Bluetooth earpiece of choice:

ME: “Droid – Find Best Italian Restaurants within a .5 mile radius”
DROID Audio: “According to Zagat the top three are Pino’s, Little Sicily and Meatball’s for All.”
DROID Audio: “According to Yelp the top three are Joey’s Place, Little Sicily and Grandma Bellini’s.”
DROID Audio: “According to Google the top three are Little Sicily, The Three Sisters and Dave’s Not Here.”
ME: “Droid – Read Zagat Ratings of Little Sicily.”
DROID Audio: “2010 Zagat Ratings for Little Sicily: Décor 18, Food; 26, Service 23…”
ME: “Droid – Walking Directions to Little Sicily.”

The Droid guides me and I make my way to a restaurant called Little Sicily. When we arrive, the host greets me and begins to ask me questions in Italian.

ME: “Droid – Translate please” (using the microphone on my Bluetooth headset, the droid listens for me)
Droid Audio: “Do you have reservations you stupid tourist?”

Clearly, this scenario could play out with existing technologies now that smart phones have the processing power for voice recognition, the GPS connectivity and portability. Probably the only thing we haven’t seen is a wireless earpiece that would have a second, more omnidirectional microphone, that was listening to what was going on outside me (though it seems to me that noise reduction earpieces may already have this). And, so long as we’re changing these little ear jewelry thingys, let’s add a simple camera to them as well so my device knows where I’m looking, will recognize that guy I met at the conference two years ago and remind me that he owes me a dinner.

Plus, if my Bluetooth earpiece could see, I wouldn’t have to walk around Little Italy in New York looking like tourist waiting to be robbed!

But back to the car; Also this week Chris Brogan posted a link to a new social service, CarPong, that let us complain about other people’s poor driving, parking, etc. By basically tagging them online based on their license plate, a new service will let you virtually bitch about someone else. Really? We are actually encouraging people who were just cut-off by someone, to pick up their Nokiphoid device, while driving mind you, and post some negative words about them. So we now have two bad drivers; one that’s was bad to begin with and a new bad driver who is attempting to tattle on his neighbor for being that bad driver. “Oh no!” Here’s an idea - honk your horn and flip him/her/it off. If that escalates, get into a god-damned street fight for fuck’s sake. Your face needs a few more scars anyway - gives you character and is known to make men more attractive.

Ultimately, AR could see more success faster by using audio more and provide verbal commands: Whispers within your ear that give you more information and intelligence. Whether it’s telling you what traffic on I94 is like 20 minutes before leaving work, helping you with the conversion rate from dollars to pesos while you are negotiating with street vendors in Mexico or giving you the home address for that Masshole that just cut you off. More audio whispers please!

PS: I could use your help; I want to create a podcast next year (tomorrow) but am really struggling with a straight AR show or a show dedicated to the superempowerment of people (which could mix in AR elements as well). Hit me on Twitter and let me know what you’re interested in. And what you feel is missing in your weekly audio information diet.

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