Interaction10 – Kevin Cheng – Augmented Reality: Is it Real? Should We Care?

Kevin Cheng was one of the first folks I met at the IA Summit in 2008 in Miami, and I’ve been a fan of him ever since. Besides being a bright chap and an all around good egg, he’s recently become a Product Manager at The Twitters (and they’re hiring, folks!), but you may also know him from such online comics as OK/Cancel. He’s also getting married on 10/10/10, but you’ll have to ask him some questions around that, yourself.

Augmented Reality: Is it Real? Should We Care? Description:

This year, we’ve seen the mobile market make incredible strides in technology. The iPhone, Android and Palm platforms have increased their functionality well beyond just being a phone and have added critical functions such as faster internet connectivity, video cameras, GPS and compasses. Handheld gaming devices have also converged, adding cameras and accelerometers to their devices.

The combination of all of these pieces have made Augmented Reality—overlaying information and technology virtually over what you see—become a true possibility. Suddenly, science fiction has become much less fictional.

This presentation will:
– share my personal experiences and insights from developing a game for this new medium
– cover some of the challenges and considerations when designing for such an experience
– the viability of this medium
– how we could apply aspects of augmented reality to projects
– include other examples of such projects on the market ranging from entertainment to practical applications

Kevin Cheng’s Bio:

Kevin Cheng splits his crayon time between many endeavors. He is a product manager at Twitter, the co-founder and artist for OK/ Cancel, a webcomic on user experience, and the author of the upcoming book, See What I Mean: How to Communicate Ideas with Comics. Most recently, he is also co-produced an iPhone augmented reality ghost hunting game. Kevin blogs at and has been known to Twitter as @k.

My Notes on the Session:

  • Kevin saw a video on AR and thought about how this would be a cool ghost-hunting game.
  • ARGH (Augmented Reality Ghost Hunter) is the app he built.
  • Tom Caudell coined the term AR when he was working at Boeing on a project. 18 years ago. That’s right–18.
  • Wikipedia def: Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality. The augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV during a match. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally usable. Artificial information about the environment and the objects in it can be stored and retrieved as an information layer on top of the real world view. The term augmented reality is believed to have been coined in 1990 by Thomas Caudell, an employee of Boeing at the time[1].
  • Our reality is already being augmented–look at the 1st Down line overlay in football games, HUDs in video games, etc.
  • AR is possible via LBS, Audio, etc.
  • AR is here to stay; it’s main stream now, but not meeting it’s potential just yet.
  • Why is NOW the right time?
  • Google trends show it skyrocketing in 2009.
  • Mobile seems to be a key reason for it to take off–especially cameras/video cameras.
  • Reasonable Internet Connectivity
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Accelerometer – less, but you can do some cool things like running/motion, etc.
  • What’s it being used for now?
  • It’s being used in Art.
  • Toys – Lego has a cool app where you can hold up the box and see the 3D version of what your end result will be.
  • Topps baseball cards has some “attempts”
  • Zombie killer game by Skittles–skittles are bombs for killing zombies
  • USPS postal service demo – see if your item fits in the box.
  • There’s a “live tweeting” app–Kevin pointed his phone to the room to see who is tweeting and got heat points. Pretty cool.
  • Problems:
  • Lack of design patterns
  • And none of the existing ones are good
  • The usage of AR is pretty immature
  • Need to get some standards created for AR
  • What if you wrote a “BurglAR” app? If objects are tagged and shared in the cloud and I see that you just bought at Plasma TV, I could know which house to watch and steal from!
  • Clearly, no one is thinking about the deviant side of AR Design!
  • GPS is not that accurate again. It’s not going to show you in exacting measurements where “things” are.
  • Image recognition
  • Processing on mobile – it’s just not there yet.
  • RFID proliferation – not everyone (or enough people have all of the features to make this work well)
  • Technology is not there yet!
  • Looking Ahead for AR
  • Jupiter Research: “The market for mobile AR services is expected to reach $732 million by 2014”. Was less than $1 million.
  • Annual # of Mobile DLs featuring AR content is expected to rise to less than 1 million in 2009 to MORE THAN 400 MILLION by 2014.
  • Smartphones are becoming more common
  • Someone’s actually working on AR Contact Lenses!
  • BMW and AR for Training of mechanics/engineeers.
  • Google Goggles is an app that could have legs, too.
  • Kevin says, “What’s interesting is that we (UXers) appear to be not all that interested”
  • I don’t think we’re not interested, I just think the good ideas aren’t getting to US!
  • Our technology consumption isn’t as fast as Japan, for example.  When I (Russ) worked in mobile, the US was at 18 months for a phone lifecycle and EMEA was more like 6 months.

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