Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hardware. Software. Eyeware.

To anybody viewing this through facebook, you'll need to go to the original post to see the videos.

I've been saying for years that electronics will migrate from the desktop, to the laptop, to the pocket, to the glasses, to the body. Sorry, I'm jumping ahead, let me explain.

Technological progress seems pretty fast today, right? If it seems faster than when you were a kid, that's because it is. The rate of progress is increasing; progress is accelerating. The classic example of this is Moore's Law.

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. But there are other examples of technological acceleration. Flash memory declines in price by %40 annually, which is why four years ago, I was excited to get a 64KB flash drive, and next year I'll likely be able to buy a 64GB drive for not all that much more. That's a thousand times the capacity, folks. If you want to see some numbers and trends that will really blow your mind, check out what Ray Kurtzweil said at TED. To call him a genuine genius prodigy is an understatement. He was smarter as a teenager than I may ever be as an adult.

So we see devices getting smaller and cheaper at a consistent, predictable rate. We see devices converging, so that your phone isn't just a phone anymore, it's a camera, multimedia player, and web-enabled device.

What am I getting at? Remember what I first said, all too eagerly. Electronics (if it's easier, think "my computer") will get smaller, migrating from the desktop, to the laptop, to the pocket, to the glasses, to the body.

NOTE: Really I've skipped steps, glossing over the mainframe computer that took up a whole building, and other predecessors.

We've already seen the first two steps (desktop to laptop), we're in the midst of the third (see my recent posts on the T-Mobile G1), and soon it will move from the pocket to the glasses.

The primary form of data input for humans is visual. If we were more like dogs, maybe we'd communicate with smell. But we're not, we're visual creatures. Our devices will move from the pocket (essentially a storage area) to the front of the eye, where a device needs to be anyway for it to be usable.

If this isn't making much sense, watch this video. It may help.

Now imagine the following scenario.

Twenty years down the line, you've just got your new EyeWare© brand specs. On campus, you run into somebody you haven't seen since freshman year. "What was her name" you think, "I had such a crush on her!" Luckily, you have your Visual ID program turned on. The EyeWare, ostensibly a plain pair of glasses (indistinguishable if you'd like), kick in. The cameras on either side of the lenses find the subject. The retinal scanners sense that you are looking at her. She is identified against a ID database of students who voluntary submitted their facial and vocal ID. Think "student directory" born of the 21st century. Her name appears just under her head in your field of vision. This has all happened within a single second. Before anyone has time to pause, you say "Hey, Jane! Haven't seen you since we took stats together!"

That, to be honest is the simplest scenario. There are literally countless applications for information overlay on your vision, not to mention the audio that would also come with it. This could all fall under the heading of augmented reality, a nascent field of interface and display study. I've mentioned it before. If you want to ride the wave of the next big thing, this probably isn't it. It's more like the next, next, next big thing. But it will be big, as big as any consumer device can be. They'll be as common as cell phones and iPods today. It's going to make our early attempts at headwear convergence seem silly. Who am I kidding? Those already look ridiculous. There are a few noble successes, though. Johnny Lee did a simple, elegant, awesome hack on the Nintendo Wii. The world could use a few more minds like Johnny. They had him over at TED, too.

Next step? To the body. Images projected directly onto your retina, or further, wired into the brain. And if you can send images, then why not any and every sensation? Maybe science could even invent a few new ones.

Sound uncomfortable? Ya, I'm right there with you. As much as I love robotics (you know I do) I'm not sure I'm willing to go all out and become one.

Get ready, folks. The future is about to get right up in your face.

NOTE: My phone has one of (if not the first) widely available augmented reality program around, Wikitude. Check it out.


pam said...

I thought of you when I saw a picture of a contact lens that when worn would display data, maps etc. as if in thin air in front of the wearer.

D Smith said...

well that johnny Lee Just blew my mind, I've often thought that, that type of thing would be possible, but I could never figure out how, My hat's off to that man.

D. Manning said...

you're giving away your fortune-making secrets!

Justin said...

well done austin craig. Whatever it is you are selling, sign me up. I'll take seven.

Austin said...

Mom, THANKS, part of what spawned this post was my inability to convey to Dad what I was talking about the other day.

dave, Johnny Lee continues to blow my mind.

d.manning, the writing is on the wall, I don't think I'm saying anything that an observant technophile couldn't already see.

Justin, I'll be setting up shop as soon as I have the money and manpower. I'll shoot you a message when that happens. We'll be looking for good industrial designers.

Angela said...

I saw some eyewear to connect to your I-pod last night at best buy. Not exactly sure what for, but thought of your post.