A framework for developers to make the world their canvas.
History tells us that human beings are incredible toolmakers. From the hammerstones that helped our ancestors hunt great mammoths, to the mobile devices that you and I use to tell us when the next train will arrive. Throughout this span of time, one thing about these tools is clear: we use them to augment our everyday lives.
Less than a century ago, we invented the computer — arguably one the greatest tools created in our existence. The Personal Computing (PC) revolution made this technology available to everyone in 1980s with the desktop computer. Soon after, computers were no longer tools, but a widespread medium.
Then came the mobile revolution, and today all the world’s information is accessible through a smartphone that you and I carry in our pockets. As a consumer, the novelty with these devices is not about hardware. The glass-metal sandwich acts only as an empty shell to host what truly makes this technology so great: the plethora of software apps that augment our everyday lives.
To put this into context, you are not dependent on your Snapdragon processors or OLED Displays. You care about what it does for you… How would you get around without your favourite navigation app? How would you reach out to your loved ones without instant messaging? How else do you search for the nearest coffee shop when you’re stranded in the rain?
Entering the Spatial Computing revolution, this concept is amplified to the point where applications are the only thing we interact with. The technologies of this decade strip away hardware almost entirely from distraction and leave only software to be graciously spilled onto our world. Spatial Computing is a new paradigm, where computing is no longer bound to small screens and static devices. Instead, applications co-exist and understand our real-world.
The magical part of this revolution is going to be Augmented Reality (AR). A technology where real-world objects and environments are enhanced with computer-generated perceptual information. AR is largely related to the synonymous term mixed reality (MR). This is where the digital world is blended with our perception of the physical world, through visual, auditory, haptic, and other sensory modalities.
However, the core value of AR arises when we try to not think about it simply as a display mechanism, but rather the integration of immersive sensations, which are perceived as natural parts of an environment. Imagine holograms being sprinkled onto our world. All information that exists on the internet will surface in our environments when needed and become more real than ever before. This is how we will interact with information. It is the interface for Spatial Computing applications.
AR is to Spatial Computing what GUI was for Personal Computing.
AR is as significant as GUI was for simplifying how we interacted with desktop computers. It gave power to regular people and subsequently made the world more connected. AR will pull us away from staring downwards at the small screens of our smartphones and liberate our physical selves. The world becomes the playground for users and the canvas for developers.
…But currently, AR lacks beauty, uniformity and simplicity. Just like GUI, it will take some time before appropriate design principles are envisioned and standardised. However, as we wait for big tech companies to release the promised smart glasses (the only hardware you will ever need), we need to improve the application experience for this era of tech consumers. If we want AR to truly “augment” reality, the applications need to first have a better understanding of reality. You can’t enhance something you don’t understand, and neither can computers.
Without being too existential, we want the systems of tomorrow to understand reality like us human beings… and we as human beings tend to derive a lot of meaning from context.
Let me explain…
What do I mean by context? And how does context help us with deriving meaning? Let’s try a thought experiment: If I wanted to meet you in person tomorrow (pandemic aside), we would need to agree on 3 key components:
Where, When and Why?
Without an agreed place, we could never meet. Even if we arrived at the agreed location; without an agreed time, we would miss each other completely. Think “where” = “space” and “when” = “time”. We require both to converge for us to meet. Now, this is where things get interesting… The question that most people don’t ask, but is probably the most important for our meeting in the first place, is “Why?”. Without a purpose, what is the point of meeting at all?
Let’s bring that back to AR. The applications of our digital world understand spaces through geo-location and glorious computer vision algorithms. They also understand time quite well. However, they do not understand why we carry out certain actions. In contrast, human beings are incredibly good at understanding the context of their day in relation to their purpose or goal. Therefore, think of “why” = “goal”.
Space, Time, and Goal: the Fundamentals of Spatial Computing.
We at Phantom Tech envision this era of computing to be more purpose driven. We believe that machines should understand the real world, not just through space-time, but also the goals of every individual. Henceforth, they should be more aware of the contexts that emerge in our daily activities.
How do we solve this practically?
We’re building an engine. A framework for AR applications to understand contexts better.
Imagine walking through a street with a pair of smart glasses, waiting for a friend to meet you at the monumental roundabout. 10 minutes before it rains, your digital assistant locates 3 coffee shops in your street and highlights them on the displays of your eyewear. You meet your friend and you have a great time at the coffee shop together. Later that afternoon, you decide to take a different route home, and you ask your friend to join you. You suggest walking through a beautiful forest that you’ve always wanted to visit. The two of you enter the emerald paradise, still wearing your smart glasses. You ask your friend if they fancy exploring the forest.
You both launch a treasure hunt app on your smart glasses and begin to look for clues. As you continue to explore, your friend catches a glimpse of a man running behind an ancient tree. This was no ordinary man; he was a virtual AR character, a member of the tribe who inhabited this forest a thousand years ago. You and your friend look to each other and both realise the game has begun. Through this gaming experience, you learn about the lives of the tribe members who once lived amongst these woods.
Spatial Computing is less about computing, and more about our world. Our desires, dreams and goals. It’s about adapting to our human needs when we want to explore. It’s a tool for when we want to construct, a medium for when we want to teach, and an extension of ourselves when we transcend.
We want this tool to be in the hands of researchers, developers and creators of this computing paradigm, so that they make the world their canvas. We want people to philosophise, create and innovate… Because ultimately, we are toolmakers, and tools are for us to use.