The End of Billboards

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Augmented reality, the process of overlaying digital information atop real life vision, seems inevitable to me given the recent direction and pace of technology – the proliferation of smartphones, location-based services, 3D TVs, etc.

Actually, it’s already here. Layar (fig. 1) is a crazy augmented reality browser, available on Android and iPhone, that uses a phone’s camera and superimposes dynamic, sortable content in real time.  Another example comes from the Museum of London, which launched a free iPhone app (fig. 2) that blankets its historical art and photography library atop your view.

[fig. 1: Layar, via Mobile Crunch]

[fig. 2: Museum of London app, via LikeCool]

I recently started to think about how this would play out for driving. I don’t think it’s that far off before GPS augmentation becomes a feature in cars, with special touchscreen windshields capable of displaying semi-transparent turn-by-turn directions on top of the road as you drive.

It’s not hard to imagine what comes next: superimposed ads, like a McDonald’s logo that grows progressively larger as you approach the store. One might even be able to tap out an order a mile in advance to speed up the drive-thru process.

It may sound scary, but I tend to be one to look for the upside of these things. In this case, I feel this could at long last mark the death of the billboard. With ads streaming directly into cars, there would presumably no longer be a need to have those clunky eyesores blocking the view across cities and along interstates. We could at last tear those suckers down.

But at the end of the day we’ll just be trading a physical eyesore for a virtual one. My jury is still deliberating over whether or not that is any better.  What do you think? Is it worth it to rid skylines of physical billboards, or will it make no difference once the ads are permanently beamed into our line of sight?

Artist Keiichi Matsuda provides an awesome, but dreary picture of what this future might look like, taken to its logical extreme:

[Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo]

Cool or scary?

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Posted on June 2nd 2010 in ideas, news, OrgWatch

Biking with Android

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Android finally brought me bicycling directions on Google Maps.  I let it take me on a tour across Brooklyn today.  It works quite nicely for stop, check where I am, and move on, but I’m yearning for the day it becomes my perfect biking GPS.  It’s not quite there yet.

First, you can’t navigate with bike directions in the way you can with driving directions, which is unfortunate.  I can’t imagine it would be that difficult to replicate that functionality, so I suspect it won’t be too long, perhaps in the Android 2.2 update, code-named Froyo.  In the meantime, I’m gonna be ready.  Project: $5 Handlebar phone mount, courtesy of Lifehacker.

[this is crucial, as texting while biking is set to become a problem.  Last summer, I watched a kid texting on his bike run right into a parked car and clip off the rear view mirror.  Dude just kept going]

It also won’t be a complete experience until I can drag and drop points on the route, like you can on the web, with real-time adjustments to the route.  When that hits, I’ll be ready to roll, phone strapped to the handlebar, grabbin’ speaker phone conversations as the street names pass under me on the navigator.  Sweet.

One cool thing now is that you can add the terrain layer on your directions and check out where the hills are around you.  But it doesn’t do much for me; it basically had all of Brooklyn flat.  Park slopes don’t count.

All in all, though, I am just pleased to have it.  It is pretty on-point with choosing routes and finding all the bike lanes around the city, miles of which have emerged over the past couple years and bumped NYC up to the second-most bike friendly city in states, according to National Geographic.  Loving it.

Posted on May 13th 2010 in news
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