National Geographic Photo of the Day

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Augmented Reality, the Word (Lens) on the Street, and the (Delicious) Cloud Conundrum

Now this one's about 2 tech topics, one of them part social issue, recently in the news.

Augmented reality applications are all the rage these days. What is Augmented Reality you ask? If you're one of those technologically-challenged folks, well it's a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. Essentially, the computer adds virtual objects to your view of the world to help you gain information.

AR is commonplace in the military world with heads up displays (HUDs) showing a pilot or soldier target location, missile lock information, distance, altitude and other such details overlaid across his or her view. When they came to cellphones and mobile devices, it was first in the form of simple applications like the AR Tower defense game (you build laser towers and defend the center from invaders) on the Symbian-enabled (these days you'd be better off saying "Symbian-disabled") Nokia N95 smartphone. The game used the phone's camera feed as the environment, with the aid of fiduciary markers, or physical points of reference placed manually within the camera's view, and generated the "playing board".

Interest in AR was recently sparked by Star Wars : Falcon Gunner, an augmented reality game that lets you use the city (via your camera) as your background and simulate an actual window through which you can shoot at TIE fighters from the fictional Star Wars universe. Watch the video above. But it's not all fun and games.

Browsers like Wikitude brought forth a new genre of applications. Ones that let you see the world around you in more (useful) detail. Integrating itself with the GPS, accelerometer and compass on mobile devices running on Symbian, Android and iOS, the Wikitude World Browser and Wikitude Drive applications show you visually where you are, the history of the place, and what spots of interest lie around you from a ground level real-time view as you pan your camera. Feed wikitude an image of some product you find at a supermarket or department store and it'll return product details and where to find said item within your vicinity. A similar application exists by default on Samsung's Galaxy Tab too. There are others like Layar and TagWhat.

Now a new application for iOS has taken it to a whole new level. It's called Word Lens. What it does is take the video feed from your camera, recognize any foreign language words in the live video, and replace those words seamlessly with their translated version in real-time. Now that is just awesome! You don't need to take a picture and wait for it to translate. The processing is real-time. For now the app is free, but the dictionaries (right now you have only Spanish to English and English to Spanish available) are paid - the price is very reasonable though, around $5 a pop. It's not perfect, but it's a promising start in the right direction and makes you go "wow" the first time you try it.

While I'm on the topic of changing the view of the world around us, augmenting it, there's also the question of our own lives moving more into the virtual world. With facebook and orkut, picasa and flickr, dropbox and skydrive, to name a few, a good amount of our data is stored online. Enter the cloud. Wikipedia says that Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid. So all your data is not on your PC but on a server provided by a 3rd party on the internet. This offloads a great deal of stuff from your hard drive, helps you free up memory and lets you access your data from anywhere in the world. You can work on your documents on the move, collaborate with colleagues a 1000 miles away, share your vacation videos with friends without using any physical media and make backups to online services to preemptively counter any possible data loss on your hard drive. There's also a green side to things as it lets you pool computing resources.

This is all well and good but like some bright foresighted individual once said "No pain, no gain". Indeed, the risks are significant. All your data is on "the cloud". Your deepest personal secrets, your work details, family photos and what not. The companies hosting them don't "own" the data in a moral sense, but they do technically have control of said data. Lawfully or unlawfully this data can be accessed by them and used. All that separates your data and some creepy dude trying to get at it is a username and password in most cases.

We all know how often passwords can be leaked. The recent Gawker Media fiasco was evidence enough. The passwords, email IDs and usernames of nearly 1.5 million users of Gawker Media sites (, Fleshbot, Deadspin, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, io9, Kotaku, Jalopnik, Jezebel) were stolen by hackers who then posted the information publicly on the internet. Considering how many people use similar passwords on other accounts with similar usernames and email addresses on several other websites, you can guess how secure your data is.

Your access to cloud applications is dictated by internet connectivity. You have no real control over the bandwidth you possess and any disconnection hampers your work if you're dependent on those files in the cloud. Availability of your data and applications is a key issue, especially in the business world.

Any downtime on the service provider's end is your loss. What happens when your cloud service provider disappears altogether? A danger highlighted by Yahoo's recent disowning of "Delicious" - a social bookmarking service. With more than 5 and a half million users storing their bookmarks online, sharing them with people across the globe, it's not something you'd expect to shut shop in a jiffy. Those bookmarks could very well be built up over a few years. Yahoo, meanwhile, decided to 'sunset' Delicious and the blogosphere blew up with talk about Delicious shutting down and people losing all those bookmarks. It later turned out that Yahoo was letting go of Delicious but that the latter was looking for a new partner to pick it up. If this can happen to a bookmarking service, what happens when your favorite photo-sharing site goes down? Do you really want to be in the position of having a month to download and re-organize all 100GB worth of your files that you've racked up over 4 or 5 years? Or even worse, would you want to risk losing them all? One of the dangers of cloud storage is that you can never predict what can happen. There is also the problem of incompatibility between different cloud service providers. When one goes down, you can't just shift all your data to another without uploading each and every piece of it (provided you even have a physical copy of that information at that time).

The cloud is all the rage with people predicting that iTunes will one day offer a cloud service for your music too. All I know is, if I ever put my data on any cloud, I'll have both eyes firmly on the provider.


Anonymous said...

Issues like these are usually very vague, and some screen stickers wiki can be
the key element to making your pages look sloppy. They have some ear cartilage-producing
cells in that tissue, just not enough. They also said the location
of the file. Of stickers wiki course, you won't get the best paper for printing these calendars, first you have to remember that this was recognized last 1960's and still, it is
something easy to cut out the ballerinas.

my webpage: design stickers

Post a Comment