Friday, August 21, 2009

The future of reality

Bruce Sterling is a man who understands the future.

His presentation on the augmented reality industry is insightful. He explains the opportunities and pitfalls awaiting this new industry and how AR companies need to prepare for them. I wish someone explained the future this clearly to the web 0.1 startups back in the day.

The basic idea is that AR is either going to turn out to be VRML 2.0 or "Bigger then the web". I personally am betting that augmented reality will be bigger than the internet, if we can solve the problem of mobile data charges.

It may not be initially clear as to how this can be true or how this applies to the field of robotics, so let me use this graph to explain.

As you can see from the graph, awesomeness will increase exponentially as we head towards the future. Proof of concept and demo applications are just now starting to pop up showing how augmented reality can allow you to find your way to the nearest subway, play games, go shopping or look up the wikipedia entries on anything you (your camera) can see.

These applications give the first glimpse of what the future is going to look like, however the biggest impact will be after augmented reality applications have gone mainstream.

After the foundations made up of augmented reality databases, fiducial markers and 2D bar codes are in place, we will begin to see the development of a vast new range of practical civilian mobile robotics. When every food product has 2D barcodes linked to an internet accessible database allowing your iPhone to check the nutritional information of the items against your current diet and allergies in real time, this is useful technological progress. However this same technological infrastructure will also allow robots to assist people in ways that are much more complicated than simply vacuuming your floor.

In someways these applications will start with something trivial like having a robot perform beverage retrieval while you are watching a movie. However more complicated tasks can easily be envisioned such as using 2D barcodes embedded into the washing instructions of your clothing allowing your robot to not only add the correct amount of bleach for your white shirts while doing your laundry for you but also to take out the dry cleaning to get done.

Wide deployment of augmented reality is the step right before we start seeing robots walking down the sidewalks of New York City driven by tourists from Tokyo on virtual vacations. The worst case is that I expect to be able to drive a robot around the streets of Akiba from my apartment in New York City within three years. I hope to be aided by localization, navigation and automatic translation provided by QR Codes painted on the sidewalks and sides of buildings so I can read all the signs in English.

There are thousands of practical robotics applications that will be unlocked as the technological foundations for augmented reality are built. So, get ready for the future!

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