Augmented Reality – Bigger than the Web: Second Interview with Robert Rice from Neogence Enterprises

Mon, Aug 3, 2009

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I first started talking to Robert Rice, CEO of Neogence Enterprises, Chairman of the AR Consortium, in 2008.  Robert was already actively working on creating the world’s first global augmented reality network.  But it took a few months before what Robert had said to me about impending explosion of  augmented reality into our lives really sunk in – “this is going to be much bigger than the Web!,” he extolled.

By January, 2009 I was convinced and I posted my first interview with Robert, “Is it OMG Finally for Augmented Reality?..” As I mentioned in the intro, I had recently tried out Wikitude and Nathan Freitas’s grafitti app on the streets of New York City and I was impressed.  Now, 7 months later, Augmented Reality has  not disappointed and there is an explosion of new applications, and the arrival of some of first commercial and practical toolsets, SDKs, and APIs for aspiring developers.

For more on this see my previous post, Augmented Reality’s Growth is Exponential: Ogmento – “Reality Reinvented,” talking with Ori Inbar, which is an introduction to my series of interviews with the key players in augmented reality and founding members of the ARConsortiumInt13, Metaio, Mobilizy, Neogence Enterprises, Ogmento, SPRXmobile, Tonchidot, and Total Immersion.

As I mentioned before, Maarten Lens-FitzGerald of SPRXmobile told me the other day that my first Interview with Robert Rice, in January of this year, was a key inspiration for SPRXmobile to get started on the development of Layar – a Mobile Augmented Reality Browser. Much more on Layar and Wikitude – world browser in my upcoming interviews with Maarten Lens-FitzGerald and Mark A. M. Kramer, respectively.

Recently, both Layar and Wikitude earned a mention in the white paper by Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle, Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On. Web Squared is essential reading not only because it covers the underlying technological shifts of “Web Meets World,” which augmented reality is a vital part of;  but, crucially, Web Squared focuses on how there is a new opportunity for us all:

“The new direction for the Web, its collision course with the physical world, opens enormous new possibilities for business, and enormous new possibilities to make a difference on the world’s most pressing problems.”

I am currently working on a post on Green Tech AR which is one of the areas augmented reality can play an important role “in solving the world’s most pressing problems.” Augmented Reality has a lot to offer Green Tech development.  As Gavin Starks of AMEE said at Euro Foo in 2006, “climate change would be much easier to solve if you could see CO2.”

But really useful Green Tech AR requires still hard to do markerless object recognition (going beyond feature tracking and modified marker recognition), and a tight alignment of media/graphics with physical objects, in addition to a quite a high level of instrumentation of the physical world.  And for Green Tech AR to really shine, we are going to need innovators like Robert Rice who are working on, and solving, multiple really hard problems like:

privacy, media persistence, spam, creating UI conventions, security, tagging and annotation standards, contextual search, intelligent agents, seamless integration and access of external sensors or data sources, telecom fragmentation, privilege and trust systems, and a variety of others.”

Recently Robert Rice presented at MoMo Amsterdam. Here is a drawing of him in action (picture below from wilgengebroed’s Flickr Stream).


In his Twitter feed Robert Rice ( @RobertRice ) Robert reminds us: “By the way folks, what you see out there now as “augmented reality” is not what it is going to be in two years.”   Robert plans to show the first public demo of his “platform for platforms” at  ISMAR 2009.

Robert is writing up a series of White Papers currently.  I got a preview of the first, “The Future of Mobile – Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality.”  Robert points out, “AR through the lens of the mobile industry and ubiquitous computing is almost overwhelming compared to AR as marker based marketing campaign.”

I asked Robert, “What are the key take-aways for investors interested in the augmented reality field at the moment:

“First, Mobile AR is going to be bigger than the web. Second, it is going to affect nearly every industry and aspect of life. Third, the emerging sector needs aggressive investment with long term returns. Get rich quick start ups in this space will blow through money and ultimately fail. We need smart VCs to jump in now and do it right. Fourth, AR has the potential to create a few hundred thousand jobs and entirely new professions. You want to kick start the economy or relive the golden days of 1990s innovation? Mobile AR is it.

Don’t be misguided by the gimmicky marketing applications now. Look ahead, and pay attention to what the visionaries are talking about right now. Find the right idea, help build the team, fund them, and then sit back and watch the world change. Also, AR has long term implications for smart cities, green tech, education, entertainment, and global industry. This is serious business, but it has to be done right. I’m more than happy to talk to any venture capitalist, angel investor, or company executive that wants to get a handle on what is out there, what is coming, and what the potential is. Understanding these is the first step to leveraging them for a competitive edge and building a new industry. Lastly, AR is not the same as last decade’s VR.”

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