Welcoming the Physical Web
by Kate Enright
The future is here and it’s breaking down the barriers between what we see as the “real world”, and the web. From augmented reality to wearable technology, it won’t be long before the lines of reality are well and truly blurred and full integration between your online offline worlds becomes the norm.
We have all heard about Project Glass by Google, the project that caused a massive online stir earlier this year. The headset and inset eyeglass will provide users with the ability to see online data in their line of vision, simply by looking through them. Data will be over-laid onto the physical world using Augmented Reality technology, meaning that accessing the web via your phone or PC will no longer be a necessity. Now, just by wearing a slim line headset, you can say “Show me the nearest Pharmacy” and in front of your eyes you will be shown content and be guided to the location you desire, without taking your phone from your pocket. The next level of this is purely gesture based interfaces, i.e. Products like the Microsoft Kinect which allow for a gaming experience without peripherals. Without touching any physical objects users can interact with a virtual world as their body is being tracked. This is integrating very nicely with the world of augmented reality, at with the release of the Kinect for developers SDK early in 2012, a host of exciting applications are flying our way.
Developers have been producing augmented reality applications fast and furiously over the past 2 years and they are getting more and more impressive all the time, especially within the last 12 months. One of the biggest movements in the retail industry currently, for example, is the “Magic Mirror”, as they have come to be known. These can come in a few forms: some are webcam applications that overlay images of clothing onto your computer screen so that you can position yourself correctly to view the shape and colour against your figure. The other, more complex version, are ones that use motion tracking and depth sensor technology such as the Microsoft Kinect to track your body and its movements in order to correctly fit clothing to the frame. It is believed that through the use of these types of platforms, high-street retailers will be able to compete more easily with online stores.
And what about gaming? It is and always has been one of the largest online industries, and now it is also one of the largest for augmented reality applications. There are an ever growing number games released, both for children and adults that allow for virtual objects to appear in the physical world, and also that require the user to physically wear an item to enhance their gaming experience – like helmets and eyewear. There are mobile games that allow kids to perform treasure hunts in the park using their IPhones/Ipads with maps overlaid, guiding the way, and require them to dodge scary monsters visible around corners. Gaming is a huge space for bringing online to offline and it’s a very exciting one to watch.
Wearable tech is the name given to the array of gadgets that can be physically worn by the user in order to solve a technical requirement. It has also exploded in the last 12 months with designers coming out with new prototypes on a weekly basis. One area in which the idea of wearable tech is really taking off is within the healthcare industry, with many entrepreneurs coming up with exciting solutions that could solve serious issues in the market.
The below is an example from MHS technologies, who came up with an innovative idea for monitoring the absorption of UVB rays into the skin when outside in the sun over long periods. The ring will alert the wearer when dangerous levels are reached. It also links the info to your doctor’s database, to make sure you’re not cheating. It is far from the only application but it is a particularly interesting one, and a great example of how wearable technology can have serious and positive implications in the world of health care.
The Pebble Watch is a Kickstarter entry that shattered all of their own expectations after raising nearly $8 million just 3 weeks in, and $10.3 million to date. It broke all previous kickstarter records and went instantly viral, wearable tech is clearly a popular industry. The watch connects with your iphone or android phone using Bluetooth, alerting you with a silent vibration to incoming calls, emails and messages, as well as having its own internet connected apps.
So where does the physical web and wearable technology fit into the future of fashion? A company called Electric Foxy has integrated technology into clothing as a means of investigating on-body experiences and connecting clothing to software and services.
One of their most unique and interesting pieces is this Mix:DJ through Dance range.
The clothing allows the wearer to track their dance moves in order to to become their own dj, start a band, and create custom music tracks. It includes a portable wireless gesture-based mixing device that you wear as an accessory and a web-based community that teens can get involved with. It is a very interesting application in the world of the physical web, and their hope and belief with this particular product is that it will encourage young people in the UK to get active.
We will be seeing more and more applications like this coming at us in the future. Pulling data from the web for use in our everyday lives and connecting online and offline to improve our quality of life has thousands of people working on exciting projects day and night. Our desire for instant knowledge and information has the industry bursting at the seams. We want to know how to get somewhere, what something means in our language, the best places to visit, the nicest restaurants and the coolest bars and we want a minimal number of steps between us and that information. So enter the technology we are discussing here, the kind of technology that makes the web part of our very existence, part of the real world.