AWE 2013 Highlights – Part 2: ChatPerf, Seebright, Hermaton

2 Aug

In Part 1 of my highlights from AWE 2013, I focused on the challenges that attend the quest for the holy grail of Augmented Reality: a wearable solution that provides a seamless experience. It’s a high-stakes game with a lot of heavy-hitting players and the outcome will potentially have significant impact on the high-tech sector, and possibly society in general. In this post though, I want to touch on some organizations that charmed me because they seemed to be doing things that nobody else was doing, yet still pushing the envelope and having a lot of fun doing it.

ChatPerf

Scent never looked so good

ChatPerf: You can watch movies and listen to music on your phone. With haptics, your phone can even generate some useful, if rudimentary, tactile feedback. But smell things on your phone? Admit it, you’ve been waiting for it, and it’s here! I would have been happy to trade the sheer novelty of experiencing scent coming from a phone for a certain lack of polish in a product that still seems to be in the first-gen/preorder phase of its lifecycle. However, what charmed me most about ChatPerf is that they have already managed to make this product attractive and fun. It comes in different colors, and the overall aesthetic does not necessarily clash viciously with the well-considered design of the iPhone. You literally plug it into an iPhone, and then tap a button on the screen which causes the device to emit a fairly potent aromatic puff. Yes, you can literally see it puff! There is a Willy Wonka/steampunk aspect to it which is delightfully dissonant and unexpected. The developers at the booth told me that each unit is good for 200 blasts (trust me that’s more than enough) especially since each unit can only generate a single scent. However, they said that they are working on a single device that will generate 1000 different scents. Yeah, kind of stopped me dead in my tracks, too. Now that I’ve crossed that off my list, I’m hoping that there will be at least one lickable smartphone at AWE 2014.

Seebright Spark

Has anyone seen my phone?

Seebright: As I’ve previously indicated, the Holy Grail won’t be found anytime soon. Personally, I think the folks at Innovega are on the right track, but that’s a whole other discussion. However, we clearly live in an age where we are essentially undaunted by the prospect of technical limitations, and when we want something, we want it now! At least, that’s what the folks at Seebright seem to be thinking. I hesitate to oversimplify what they’ve done, but I haven’t come across anybody else who is doing it, and it works, so here goes. The Spark is a piece of headgear into which you insert your phone, that uses optics to beam an image of the phone’s screen into your line of sight. Once you’ve played with AR long enough, you get to an apex of frustration where you want to take duct tape, an old watering can and a thick rubber band, and attach your phone to your head. Seebright feels your pain, but they put a lot of thought into it, and the Spark looks and works quite well, despite seeming to be a somewhat low-tech solution. It seems to be an intermediate step that may see itself made obsolete by the HUD that currently only exists in everyone’s dreams. However, so far we’re hearing a lot of talk without a lot of results, whereas the Spark makes you feel like we’re getting somewhere and tries to scratch that itch. I think that technology like this can facilitate prototyping of new experiences since they bridge a gap that is currently too wide, impractical or expensive to traverse from where we’re currently standing.

Hermaton

And you thought your dreams were weird

Hermaton: A central feature of AR, and one of the reasons why it has such a magic quality, is that there is no substitute for experiencing it firsthand. Nowhere is this more evident than with Hermaton from Darf Design. By definition, all AR requires a real-world object to serve as a “marker” to anchor one or more layers of virtual content. While this marker can be anything, it’s typically something 2-dimensional like a page in a magazine, or with the rapid development of computer-vision algorithms, a 3D object. In most cases, you’re dealing with an “average-sized” object, although there are some impressive examples of augmenting an entire building. However, Hermaton is basically a marker that you can walk inside that surrounds you. Words and pictures simply won’t do this justice. Even the marker, which was deployed as two full walls of a booth, is a compelling piece of abstract art. Hermaton succeeds as installation art, architectural statement, immersive game/story, and most importantly a satisfying experience. My experience walking through it was to temporarily lose myself in a novel form of exploration. There are interactive components on the environment, but they can be difficult to access, which requires you to slow down, absorb your surroundings, and enjoy the journey. It’s a powerful archetype for immersive storytelling, and I’m sure there will be followers and copycats. However, I can’t wait to see what’s next from this group.

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