One of the questions that I have entertained in the past year has been what comes after mobile. Not that everyone is getting in deep with mobile, but because some feel they have missed the boat and want to make sure that for the next thing, they are ahead of the curve. Well, I will give you one hint as to what will come next:
AR (Augmented Reality)
Those people who study media and communications have determined that there are 7 iterations of mass media communications which has occurred already in the course of human history. The 7th of these is mobile, the 8th was discovered not too long ago, and Tomi Ahonen describes it nicely.
AR is something that is coming. You can be forgiven in part for holding off on it before looking at getting into it with products such as Layar, Vuforia, and Aurasma. Or, you could be on the list for Google’s Project Glass, just waiting for it to get into your hands before you figure out what exactly it is that you can do with it in order to point people to some aspect of the Gospel that you expressly engage this world.
But, if you wait until it gets here, how do you react to a situation such as the one proposed in the concept video Sight. If social situations could be attended to like a game, or intuition and social savvy reduced to how much someone is willing to share or dig up from a database, or that life’s art and decoration are nothing more than something in our singular eyes alone… could you stand to wait until it gets here before you begin addressing the core components of its implications?
One of the complaints that I have with church bulletins is that they are passive. There’s just text, maybe a few pieces of off-centered clip art, and more text. Its to the point that I can only get impressed when I see that a church has actually used a quality stock of paper and ink. And of course, those bulletins don’t last in my possession very long. I snap a picture of what’s important, and hope to be able to hand back to a member/usher/greeter the item so they can give it to someone who might keep it. That sounds horrible to some, but if Layar has anything to say about it, things just might change for the better for print bulletins and other static media efforts.
Some days ago, I read (at Engadget, Reuters) that Layar Creator is now available as an web-based augmented reality (AR) media enhancement platform. It works very simply, after creating an account, you upload a PDF, PNG, or JPG of a page or screen element (think: business card, letter, flyer, etc.), and then append to it a button, URL, or social media connector. Then save and that’s it. After that, when a person looks at that print media item with the Layar browser, they are able to see the digital content that you’ve “embedded” into that print page.
When seeing this, I immediately though of the QR-enabled business card that I’d been using until recently. To be able to do something additional such as add a AR snippet of the MMM Twitter feed, or an embedded YouTube video of one of our presentations would not just add to the information that a simple business card carries, but also endears people who interact with MMM to think in these mixed reality/mixed media intersections.
The second thought that came to mind was that of Bibles. I’ve many times said that if a mobile could be turned into a magnifying glass, that a print Bible would find renewed interest. Using Layar, a person could create an AR layer of their own notes on top of a print bible they own. Or, a publisher could encode pages or passages of a print Bible with videos, maps, commentaries, or even links to conversations happening around a part of the text (a modern day Tallmud). In this light, its more than simply having a QR code on each page that points to the content, but you don’t have anything at all, just the marker of the Layar icon on the page, or on the cover of the book noting that each page has augmented features.
This is the kind of engagement that mobile devices can open. And as soon as I get in front of a browser that’s able to do Layar Creator, I plan on adding this layer to as many relevant moments as possible. I’d recommend that you and your ministry seek to do the same; especially since Layar Creator is free only until August 1 (then its the normal costs for publishing layers). This could be some reality-redefining stuff. Visit the Layar website learn more and start your AR campaigns with Layar Creator.
One of the things that I like about many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches – that is, the really old ones – is the purity of form and function. Everything from the stained glass to the arrangement of the seating, to even the weight of the doors, conveys to you some sense that you aren’t in a normal space. And of course, I’m always smiling when I see a sign asking people to please put their mobiles on silent when even visiting. Sound carries, and its jarring to the environment when something breaks that experience of those forms and moments.
In much the same way, I look at augmented reality (AR) as a step towards reclaiming some of that purity of the forms and environments around us. AR is a technology that utilizes the camera, GPS, Internet connection, and sometimes even surrounding sounds, to augment the view in front of you with a digital layer. This layer could be something as simple as a compass point for directing you to a destination, or could be more involved such as a game board across which two people are playing a game that can only be seen through the screens on their mobiles. In any effect, there’s an attempt to not litter the visual space with marketing or other data, but to leave your ability to see it as part of the treasure.
Recently, a company that specializes in AR technologies – Layar – released a new product called Layar Vision. From their website:
Layar Vision allows the creation of layers and applications that recognize real world objects and display digital experiences on top of them… Layar Vision uses detection, tracking and computer vision techniques to augment objects in the physical world. It can tell which objects in the real world are augmented because the visual fingerprints of the objects are preloaded into the application based on the user’s layer selection.
So, you in effect get something that’s a step beyond what we’ve seen with QR codes and MS Tag – there’s a recognition of objects in the real world, and then on top of those objects is something additional, something digital. In just watching the video, it seems pretty neat and something that could come in handy in some situations (though, if I had a computer in my glasses, I’m sure that I’d be using this like a fighter pilot uses their heads-up-display).
Now, about those churches and environments. Some more modern churches (than what I referenced earlier) have a different simplicity to their designs. Sure, there is this “Apple-like ethos” about the with gradients, lighting effects, and the occasional whiteboard with something scribbled on it near an office door. But, generally speaking, the worship space looks cluttered. Could AR technologies like Layar Vision point to a different using of the space than what we do now?
For example, imagine that there was a small group that wanted to meet on the beach for a concert. However, the performer was actually doing the concert overseas. Those who had the URL would be able to enjoy the concert as many would a YouTube video now, passively watching. Or, they could take a route with Layar Vision where they’d go to a specific spot on the beach and then the concert would be “projected” in front of them seen only through their mobile’s cameras, but able also to be listened to through their headphones. And depending on where they were standing, they’d experience the concert differently. When a certain number of people congregated to the same spot for this, a digital sign would appear over their heads, again, only viewable by Layar Vision or something similar. You’d have people enjoying a “silent” concert, but a means for people to find out what’s going on and even join them.
Now, I could imagine the reaction to this scene. It would probably look a lot like the reaction that the apostles received after that incident with the flaming tongues and them talking a bit differently than normal (Acts 2).
AR, at least how it can be looked at, gives us the ability to see things differently, and probably get back to appreciating environments and forms that we would normally find littered with much visual distractions. We might be a ways away from a scenario like the above being normal, but I do wonder what we’ll see when we do get there.