Tag Archives: multimedia

Aurasma: Augmented Reality on your iPad, iPhone or Android

Article first published as Aurasma: Augmented Reality on Your iPad, iPhone or Android on Technorati.

At this week’s New York Tech Meetup event, (after surprise opening comments by Mayor Bloomberg), I got to see demos from several interesting new companies that exemplify the use of technology to change how we work, live and play—always something very exciting to see. One of demonstrations that jumped out was one of Aurasma, by Autonomy. Autonomy calls Aurasma “the world’s first visual browser.” As most browsers are already visual, I am not sure what this means. However, what jumped out at me was that Aurasma is a great expression of the idea that tablets (and now even some smartphones) not just keyboard-less computers, but instead a mass-market platform for augmented reality. It combines the portable application processing power, camera, touch screen and Internet connection of an Apple or Android smart device with backend image recognition and multimedia content management software to let you literally bring images you see “to life.” Here’s how it works:

  1. Point the camera at an image (billboard, magazine advert, box cover, etc.)
  2. Aurasma detects the image and replaces it with interactive web pages and multimedia adding information and enabling online transactions regarding what you are viewing
  3. This interaction is “stateful” – once you start the process you can walk away from the picture, product or billboard and continue to explore the interactive information

The video below shows how Aurasma works in action:

This type of technology opens the door to many interesting applications:

  • Turning a static billboard or print advertisement into a commercial or move trailer
  • Viewing real-time product information and reviews on a product displayed in a store
  • Immediately purchasing (online) something you see anywhere: in an advert, store window—or even a friend’s house
  • Reviewing a bio and statistics for an athlete or actor you are watching on TV
  • Overlaying a landmark or museum display with maps and historical information

What is nice about this approach is that you don’t need to put QR Codes, Snap Tags, or MS Tags everywhere (you only need to “point and shoot” at an image you see). What adds complexity is the replacing the ease-of-search that these 2D barcodes bring with less structured image recognition software (and many uploaded images). Whether this approach is “The One” remains to be seen. Regardless, it is something to take a look at (and try-out) if you are interesting taking advantage of the growth of tablets and smartphones to create rich, interactive experiences for your customers and partners—wherever they are.

Note: I have no relationship with Autonomy. I just have a strong belief that mobile, portable and capacitive touch technology will fundamentally change how we use computers in the next decade.

Big Web 2.0 Technology Challenges: Cross-platform media management

We live in a multimedia world

Once we escaped the tyranny of 56-kbps dial-up rates, we entered a fully multimedia online world. Small pictures and hypertext were no longer good enough. We demanded high-definition pictures, streaming audio and video and rich interactive experiences (such as those provided by Adobe Flash and AIR). This created whole new challenges for capacity management across data centers, bandwidth, servers and storage. However, all of these challenges were solvable by application of basic systems engineering principles. Then Web 2.0 came along…

Web 2.0 literally “exploded” multimedia challenges

In the Web 2.0 world any community member can upload multimedia user-generated content (UGC) from any platform (browser and operating system combination) using a multitude of file formats: MPEG, AVI, SWF, WMF, FLV, and many, many others. To further complicate this, any other member will need to download and view this content locally (again, from a multitude of browser and operating system combinations).

Anyone who has ever worked with CODECs can appreciate how difficult it is to create a sight that lets you play multimedia on any operating system and browser combination. This becomes a much more complex engineering problem when you have to manage CODECs when you have no control regarding the size, type, source or frequency of uploaded content. (I did not fully appreciate this problem until I began to build multimedia-based social networks at Neighborhood America).

You cannot run from this challenge

Some have argued that social networks should limit what type of content they allow users to upload, pointing to low-bandwidth networks such as Twitter as an example. Nevertheless, you cannot run from this challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Social networking is about collaboration
  2. Go into any room where people are collaborating and you will see that they do this through picture, hand motions, speech, etc. People collaborate in multimedia
  3. Multimedia is not just pictures: a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video contains thousands of pictures (frames). In addition, audio files let people transcribe words to media faster and more easily than any other format

If you do not support multimedia collaboration and ideation in your social network, some else will. Once they do this, they will steal your market.

What it takes to manage this

You still need to apply all of the basic systems engineering principles that you used to manage your Web 1.0 multimedia network. Now, however, you have to add the following:

  • Basic file upload functionality
  • File screening functionality (to block dangerous files like executables and to detect and block files with viruses and malware)
  • File upload preview and annotation functionality (to enable your members to tag and describe files with data that makes them searchable and matchable)
  • Tracking of Terms of Service acceptance and indication of Rights for Publication
  • Universal File Conversion functionality (this is a “biggie,” see below for more)
  • File Linking Services (so you can associate one piece of media with many albums, blog posts etc–without needing to re-upload it).
  • Universal File Playback functionality

In addition, you will likely want to enhance this functionality like multimedia RSS and content sharing.

Universal File Conversion is not a trivial function. It needs to do the following:

  1. Support 95% of the CODECs in use today
  2. Quickly convert media files by type into a universally playable format (the usual is FLV)
  3. Compress files into a small enough footprint to prevent 14-year-olds from filling your data center with HD videos of skateboarding tricks
  4. Create multiple-sized thumbnails of each media to use for each type of preview mode your network supports
  5. Link all of these thumbnails to the original file
  6. Add any watermarks you want to maintain the branding of your community

By the way, you need to do this quickly, with low error rates, and at very high scale–and without breaking the bank!

This is why YouTube is a huge technical achievement

YouTube pioneered solving this problem at the highest scale yet seen in history. As much as I love Hulu for its elegance and utility (I would pay a subscription fee to watch more than the token five episodes for each show they feature), I have to give greater credit to YouTube’s technical achievement. I am amazed not only by the scale of this accomplishment but also how quickly and reliably YouTube converts videos.

However, technical achievements are not everything

YouTube is a huge technical achievement. However it will lose Google some $500m this year. The trick is applying this type of technology in ways that earns money (or advances your enterprise’s mission). I believe this will happen in two places:

  1. Internal Networks: Letting your staff share information and ideas with each other in multimedia to increase knowledge sharing and reduce training costs
  2. Ideation Networks: Letting your customers and constituents share ideas as to how you can serve them better in multimedia. This will reduce product research and focus group costs and increase customer loyalty. It can also be used in the media business to get ideas for new screenplays, videos, news stories, etc.

The next time we upload multimedia content to YouTube, Facebook, or a multimedia-driven social network, we should all give greater appreciation to the technical accomplishment. However, we should also ask ourselves how we can leverage this content to create enterprise value.