Tish Shute - Augmented Reality, ARWave, and the industry

Shuteeeee Tish Shute is a visual effects designer, technologist, and social ethnographer. She explores the world of augmented reality through her blog, Ugotrade, featuring interviews with many of the leading minds in the emerging AR industry. She recently co-chaired the Augmented Reality Event 2010 in Santa Clara, Ca., recognized as the first major augmented reality conference.

I recently asked her some questions about her background and interests in AR, the ARE2010 event, the Google Wave Federation protocol, and the possible future of augmented reality...

Would you tell us a bit about your background? How did you become so interested in Augmented Reality?

My interest in augmented reality began with doing visual effects for film and television. We used robotically controlled cameras, and models, to create augmentations for movies with multi-pass photography back then. There are several key people involved in the emerging industry of augmented reality today that have a background in special effects, flight simulation, theme park rides, and virtual reality. This work is part of the family of technologies that includes augmented reality and virtual reality. But Bruce Sterling nails it when he says,"VR is the gothic sister of AR."

I have a lot of enthusiasm for the young AR industry, partly, because, I feel we have shrugged off virtual reality's fatal flaw - all that over the top expensive equipment we had to flog with it. My current interest is in social augmented experiences. This not a vision of a AR that requires AR goggles. Goggles may actually detract from the social augmented experience, by isolating the user. In his keynote at ARE2010, Bruce pointed out, "if you get the head mounted goggles, your gothic sister, virtual reality, is going to come out of her coffin."

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ARE2010 co-chair of are2010, Ori Inbar, CEO of Ogmento

Your blog, Ugotrade, has been a huge resource for AR and has really helped promote the larger community of developers and innovators. Recently you co-founded and produced the ARE2010 conference in Santa Clara, Ca. What were the motivations behind this event? Do you feel it was successful?

Ugotrade expresses my interest in ethnography and participant observation as cool ways to follow the advice of Alan Kay, that "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." My most recent interview is with Bruce Sterling on his experience at Augmented Reality Event.

There are a lot of interesting intersections to explore in what Bruce calls, the "glocal" atmosphere of emerging technologies today. The AR industry is exemplary of the "glocal," as Bruce points out, with both a strong global community, unusual for such a young industry, and, true to its hyperlocal nature, distinctive local flavors - "Augmented Dutch Reality," "Augmented Japanese Reality," and so forth.

I co-founded and produced the ARE2010 conference in Santa Clara, Ca. because the speed with which an augmented reality industry emerged last year convinced me that this was a conversation that could be writ large in a trade conference. Before the event, many people thought it too early for a large conference. But I think anyone who was there will tell you it was a great success. AR start ups from around the globe, brimming with a business savvy and AR hipster style, mingled with innovators and thinkers of the stature of Bruce Sterling, "the prophet of AR," "videogame god" Will Wright, the brilliant "Gamepocalypse" visionary Jesse Schell, and 3D mapping genius Blaise Aguera Y Arcas. Bruce Sterling was omnipresent, hanging out with Rudy Rucker. It was interesting to hear AR artists asking Bruce what AR means for artistic practice. Will Wright could be found hacking the parrot AR drone in the hallways. And with over 400 minds coming together to figure out how AR will change the way we communicate, isn't that pretty much as good as it gets for an emerging tech conference?

I think the success of are2010 tells you we are in new era for start up culture, one which has moved out from garages in Sillcon Valley and Silicon Alley into a global internet garage. But the global AR community is still eager to meet and share a maximum bandwidth experience. As Bruce noted, when we talked at length after the event, "It was interesting to see so many people from so many different nations in such a collegial atmosphere."

The AR community makes for a fun conference because it is very diverse. The gang was all there; mobile developers, artists, game developers, "geowankers", VRML fanatics, social network gurus, UX experts, mobile advert people, cloud computing and hardcore gis experts, computer vision ubergeeks, urban planners. ARE2010 had a whiff of the euphoria of internet bubbles of times past. There were "meetings" everywhere, a big fat check from Qualcomm for the best AR start up, and Hollywood execs were hovering in the wings.

The American idol style commentary from Bruce Sterling, Jesse Schell, and Mark Billinghurst during the Auggies - the competition for the best AR demo, is a primer for anyone interested in making their mark with an AR app. It is also great entertainment - a critique, in the form of humorous and brilliant repartee.

Who are the most advanced and invested players?

Well first, hats off to Qualcomm - our presenting sponsor for are2010. We couldn't have done it without them. Qualcomm obviously seem to have commercialization plans for their AR technology, and to be actively scouting and acquiring talent, and ways to deliver new AR experiences. Big players - Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia will make many important moves in the next year which could change the game for the creative young start ups. Google, I think, has the most pieces in hand for making AR a mainstream phenomena. That is, if they can get over what Bruce calls the "spiders mating" problem and put it all together. Also, the iphone 4.0 will offer some interesting opportunities for AR developers. But, I think, AR innovation will continue to come from the edges. Although, AR games could soon become so ubiquitous we don't bother to call them AR games anymore.

How do you see the Google Wave federation model as a platform for augmented reality? What's the status of your research in this area?

Wave Federation Protocol is very interesting as it presents the first possibility for an open, federated standard, and a real time communications platform for Augmented Reality. But, typically, I have to expend quite a few words explaining that the ARWave, while built on Wave protocol, does NOT use the Google Wave web user interface (see my ARWave slide presentation at are2010 ).

ARWave has the potential to unleash the power of social augmented experiences and enable augmented reality game development in a big way. Also, very simply, it will allow anyone to attach data to their world view, and share it with others. Things will start getting really interesting when anyone can create AR content, an AR browser/client, or even set up one's own server. An open federated platform for AR, where people can share data and one login, will be a big step forward. I can't wait to see AR experiences move out of walled gardens!

The next step for ARWave is to create an API so browsers like Layar can use the platform for real time mobile social communications, at least. I mention Layar, in particular, because Layar co-founder, Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald, told me at are2010 that exploring ARWave integration is on their to do list. But ARWave will support as many browsers and data formats as possible. The new web standards based AR mobile architecture from Georgia Tech, Kharma, and powerful open source tools like ARToolworks are high on our list.

An open communications framework is vital for open AR. A group from ARE2010 is exploring how ARWave could be used as a standard for future AR eyewear. Personally, I am very interested in linking ARWave with eGov and open data efforts. AR is a great interface to the high concentration of people and information in cities, and some really cool AR demos could play a key role in encouraging government to open up data. Thomas Wrobel, who has led the development charge on ARWave, is an ARG game designer. I know he can't wait to get some AR Wave clients/browsers integrated to show off the potential of the ARWave platform.

In your mind, what are some of the most interesting and compelling possibilities of AR? Is there a dark side to AR?

I think, without doubt, social augmented experiences will underpin the most interesting and compelling possibilities of AR, and not not just in mobile augmented reality, but with marker based and projection AR. I would also like to see people continue to come up with unusual and quirky forms of AR like "."

Bruce debunks many of the current dire warnings about the dark side AR - see our conversation here - including the interpretation of the famous Roger Corman horror film, "X: the Man with the X-ray Eyes," that Jesse Schell so brilliantly presented at are2010. I think most of our current "dark side" imaginings for AR may miss the point, as we are so early on in our understanding of the potential and diversity of AR experiences.

What do you think the augmented future will look like in 10 years?

Well as I try to follow Alan Kay's advice to invent rather than predict the future, I may wriggle out of this question. My immediate goal is to focus on lowering the barriers of entry to creating AR experiences. I think AR will be diverse and omnipresent long before we are through with the twentyteens, and blended realities will be the norm before the end of the next decade. But, as I mentioned at the end of my Humanity + interview, reading Vernor Vinge, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, William Gibson, Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, Roger Zelazny, Jane Lindskold, Tad Williams, Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, and watching the great Japanese anime Dennō Coil (電脳コイル) will tell you much more about what to expect in 2020 than I.

[See also the article by IFTF's Mike Liebhold at Niemen Reports on Digital Immersion: Augmenting Places With Stories And Information.]

Images from chcameron's Flickr stream


  1. Dear technologists: thank you for not making the early 90’s visions of the internet come true. The goggles were stupid and I don’t have room in my den for one of those gyroscope thingies from “Lawnmower Man.”

    Love, Brainspore

  2. Really interesting. One of the big reasons that VR failed in the 90’s was not that you looked stupid in the goggles, or that it was so expensive, it was that there was a (slight) risk that you could damage your eyes using the eyeglasses/interfaces. This made the legal/financial risks too high.

    1. I think most of our current “dark side” imaginings for AR may miss the point, as we are so early on in our understanding of the potential and diversity of AR experiences.

      They’re going to involve an always-on Facebook-style invasion of privacy, with the only “opt out” being to leave your gizmos off and get by on regular reality. Like Rudy says:

      “AR is hoping to be a next big thing, a cozier and more commerce-driven cousin of the old VR, or virtual reality.”

      You don’t need new vocabulary like “glocal” to read the e-writing on the wall.

      1. Hi, you might be happy to know then that the ARWave project’s purpose is to prevent this dystopia from happening. We intent to create a protocol for AR that allows people complete choice over their AR feeds :)

        ARWave has many benefits, but for me the greatest benefit is that the wave-protocol gives you control over the spread of your data. Your data is not automatically available for all to see like we have with http now. Rather, like e-mail, people only see what you publish to them.

        The wave-protocol itself is also chosen because wave can be used and operated by everyone. This makes sure that there will be no one party in control of all the data, like we have with Facebook now.

        I too saw a future full of walled gardens and adverts and me and the others of the ARWave group agree that this should be prevented at all costs.

        РBertine van H̦vell

  3. A good thoughtful read on the subject might be Steve Mann’s (2001) book: “Cyborg”.

    The interesting part about AR not turning evil is being in control of your data / platform, as always.

  4. Now BoingBoingers know what the virtual world crowd has been aware of for quite some time: Tish is going to give digital innovation a thoughtful shake, wedding good sense with opensource. Read her meaty blogposts http://www.ugotrade.com/
    and you’ll learn more about the future faster.


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