Sunday, September 8, 2013

Qualcomm’s Sixth Sense & the Personal Internet of Everything

I wanted to launch my fall media diet with enough of a technical protein mix to get me through what is bound to be a very meaty season.  I was right to start with the tantalizing menu items offered at Uplinq, Qualcomm’s annual event in San Diego for developers.  Admittedly, I have a soft spot for QC because I consulted there for a spell and received a substantial and necessary tutorial on what the world will look like when all 8 billion of its mobile inhabitants are posting “selfies” with both hands to the nearest friendly wall within reach.

To play my part, I watched the keynote, given by Chairman Dr. Paul Jacobs, on my mobile, safely removed from the opening pyrotechnics, which I imagined as a 22nd century DJ making music out of the bits and bytes that grew organically from his digital reach, nimble enough to bring down the hemisphere.  This was a technical conference after all and Dr. Jacobs needed this kind of kick-off orchestration; surround sound, surrounded.

For a company that spends a whopping $4 billion a year on R&D, this was not a bad opening gambit that played nicely into one of Dr. Jacobs’ major themes:  a digital 6th sense in our “personal Internet of everything.” If, as Dr. Jacobs remarks, there will be 25 billion mobile devices by 2020, his emphasis on connectivity, context and control seemed spot on.   So does the QC effort to filter out all that digital noise and provide “what’s important to me.”  Proximity is the operative word with devices and apps within my space becoming my own personal map and my cloud.   Qualcomm’s Alljoyn provides the software and core framework that lets compatible smart things around us, whether television, home, or automobile, recognize each other and share resources, data and information.

Jacobs, with an assist from Rhapsody CEO Jon Irwin, announced a wireless audio streaming platform, AllPlay, based on the open-source AllJoyn that can wirelessly stream different music tracks to any room or speaker in the house.  You can also stream music from other sources, including apps.  Rhapsody has integrated AllPlay into its app, underscoring the commercial viability of this audio streaming platform.

Vuforia, an augmented reality platform, was one of the most interesting products mentioned in the keynote.  It literally enables apps to see, bringing them to life with 3D graphic, touch, video and audio.  This can give sexy movement to magazine brands like Maxim and help make the Guinness Book of World Records a living 3D experience.  But the greatest application is probably games.  Start with a table top populated with utilitarian items such as a vase and a tissue box, and through the magic of Vuforia, these objects will soon become stone pillars and castles with all the necessary mythological players battling it out.  Even in this wonderful world, there is some respect for natural law: characters walk around and not through objects.  The bad guys are getting the upper hand until the friendly dragon (as in the QC Snapdragon chipset) seizes the day, provides the extra juice and banishes the interlopers from the table-top kingdom.  Qualcomm calls this particular application Smart Terrain, and it just that because the world of objects becomes a potential video game or some other imaginative expression.  Everything in the living room is in play.

Jacobs discussed many other interesting projects including Gimbal, a robust geo-fencing platform and the new smartwatch Toq, but it was the discussion of “Smarter Objects,” led by Pattie Maes, Professor at the MIT Media Lab, that really gave life to what “Sixth Sense Interaction” meant in practice.  Professor Maes had given an earlier presentation on the subject at TED.   She then demonstrated how a person wearing a camera, projector, mirror and phone could use any surface to interact with data that is projected.  Through various forms of image and marker recognition, a person can get this relevant “sixth sense” information right in front of her.  A book can have an Amazon rating projected on the cover, reader annotations, or critical remarks.   A reader of The New York Times can “add” video to an article on a particular subject.  If you want the time, simply draw a watch on your wrist and the time will appear.

According to Professor Maes, researchers at MIT have developed ways to impose software functionality on everyday objects such as a lamp or radio.  The program called “Smarter Objects” uses augmented reality software to give the household product a virtual programming interface.   Overlaying Vuforia on everyday objects and linking through the AllJoyn platform, the professor’s assistant switched on lamps, turned on the radio and changed settings.  Through a simple tablet command you can drop a new song into the radio.

What surprised me about Jacobs’ presentation is that most of the products he mentioned appear to have an immediate commercial application.  That hasn’t always been the case.

Media companies and advertising agencies should take notice.

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