Augmented Reality Becomes Useful, Real

The state of augmented reality is terrible. Despite everyone having handheld, portable computers with high-resolution cameras, no one has yet built ‘Minecraft with digital blocks in real life’, and the most exciting upcoming use for augmented reality is 3D Dungeons and Dragons. There are plenty of interesting things that can be done with augmented reality, the problem is someone needs to figure out what those things are. Lucky for us, the MIT Media Lab knocked it out of the park with the ability to program anything through augmented reality.

The Reality Editor is a simple idea, but one that is extraordinarily interesting. Objects all around you are marked with a design that can be easily read by a smartphone running a computer vision application. In augmented reality, these objects have buttons and dials that can be used to turn on a lamp, open a car’s window, or any other function that can be controlled over the Internet. It’s augmented reality buttons for everything.

This basic idea is simple, but by combining it by another oft-forgotten technology from the 90s, we get something really, really cool. The buttons on each of the objects can be connected together with a sort of graphical programming language. Scan a button, connect the button to a lamp, and you’re able to program the lamp with augmented reality.

The Reality Editor is already available on the Apple app store, and there are a number of examples available for people to start tinkering with this weird yet interesting means of interacting with the world. If you’ve ever wondered how we’re going to interact with the Internet of Things, there you have it. Video below.

Continue reading “Augmented Reality Becomes Useful, Real”

Resistance is… There’s an Augmented Reality App for That!

Like many engineers of a certain age I learned the resistor color code using a mnemonic device that is so politically incorrect, only Tosh might venture to utter it in public today. When teaching kids, I have to resort to the old Radio Shack standby: Big Boys Race Our Young Girls But Violet Generally Wins. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue or beg to be remembered. Maybe: Bad Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well. But again, when teaching kids that’s probably not ideal either.

Maybe you can forget all those old memory crutches. For one thing, the world’s going surface mount and color coded resistors are becoming a thing of the past. However, if you really need to read the color code, there’s at least three apps on the Google Play Store that try to do the job. The latest one is ScanR, although there is also Resistor Scanner and Resistor Scan. If you use an iPhone, you might try this app, although not being an Apple guy, I can’t give you my feedback on that one.

Continue reading “Resistance is… There’s an Augmented Reality App for That!”

Augmented Reality Sandbox Using a Kinect

Want to make all your 5 year old son’s friends jealous? What if he told them he could make REAL volcanoes in his sandbox? Will this be the future of sandboxes, digitally enhanced with augmented reality?

It’s not actually that hard to set up! The system consists of a good computer running Linux, a Kinect, a projector, a sandbox, and sand. And that’s it! The University of California (UC Davis) has setup a few of these systems now to teach children about geography, which is a really cool demonstration of both 3D scanning and projection mapping. As you can see in the animated gif above, the Kinect can track the topography of the sand, and then project its “reality” onto it. In this case, a mini volcano.

Continue reading “Augmented Reality Sandbox Using a Kinect”

Open Hybrid Gives you the Knobs and Buttons to your Digital Kingdom

With a sweeping wave of complexity that comes with using your new appliance tech, it’s easy to start grumbling over having to pull your phone out every time you want to turn the kitchen lights on. [Valentin] realized that our new interfaces aren’t making our lives much simpler, and both he and the folks at MIT Media Labs have developed a solution.

open-hybrid-light-color-pickerOpen Hybrid takes the interface out of the phone app and superimposes it directly onto the items we want to operate in real life. The Open Hybrid Interface is viewed through the lense of a tablet or smart mobile device. With a real time video stream, an interactive set of knobs and buttons superimpose themselves on the objects they control. In one example, holding a tablet up to a light brings up a color palette for color control. In another, sliders superimposed on a Mindstorms tank-drive toy become the control panel for driving the vehicle around the floor. Object behaviors can even be tied together so that applying an action to one object, such as turning off one light, will apply to other objects, in this case, putting all other lights out.

Beneath the surface, Open Hybrid is developed on OpenFrameworks with a hardware interface handled by the Arduino Yún running custom firmware. Creating a new application, though, has been simplified to be achievable with web-friendly languages (HTML, Javascript, and CSS). The net result is that their toolchain cuts out a heavy need for extensive graphics knowledge to develop a new control panel.

If you can spare a few minutes, check out [Valentin’s] SolidCon talk on the drive to design new digital interfaces that echo those we’ve already been using for hundreds of years.

Last but not least, Open Hybrid may have been born in the Labs, but its evolution is up to the community as the entire project is both platform independent and open source.

Sure, it’s not mustaches, but it’s definitely more user-friendly.

Continue reading “Open Hybrid Gives you the Knobs and Buttons to your Digital Kingdom”

An Introduction To Valve’s Tracking Hardware

[Alan Yates] brought a demo of Valve’s new VR tech that’s the basis of the HTC Vive system to Maker Faire this year. It’s exceptionally clever, and compared to existing VR headsets it’s probably one of the best headtracking solutions out there.

With VR headsets, the problem isn’t putting two displays in front of the user’s eyes. The problem is determining where the user is looking quickly and accurately. IMUs and image processing techniques can be used with varying degrees of success, but to do it right, it needs to be really fast and really cheap.

[Alan] and [Valve]’s ‘Lighthouse’ tracking unit does this by placing a dozen or so IR photodiodes on the headset itself. On the tracking base station, IR lasers scan in the X and Y axes. By scanning these IR lasers across the VR headset, the angle of the headset to the base station can be computed in just a few cycles of a microcontroller. For a bunch of one cent photodiodes, absolute angles and the orientation to a base station can be determined very easily, something that has some pretty incredible applications for everything from VR to robotics.

Remember all of the position tracking hacks that came out as a result of the Nintendo Wii using IR beacons and a tracking camera? This seems like an evolutionary leap forward but in the same realm and can’t wait to see people hacking on this tech!

Direction Projection is a beacon in the night

Navigating with your phone can be a hassle: the phone displays a tiny map that you’re never supposed to look at while driving, but of course you do. [Mikeasaurus] has the ultimate solution: Direction Projection! Mike has created an augmented reality system with no glass heads-up display, and no goggles ala Microsoft Hololens. The road ahead is his canvas. A standard projector mounted atop his car displays maps and turn indicators, all from his phone. Linking the phone and projection system would normally involve HDMI or analog video cables strung through the roof. [Mikeasaurus] simplifies that by using a Chromecast, which allows him to stream his phone’s screen over WiFi.

rooftop2The projector itself is the HD25-LV, a 3500 Lumen model from Optima. the HD25-LV is capable of 1080p, though in this situation, brightness is much more important than resolution. [Mikeasaurus] mounted the projector along with a gel cell battery and 900 watt DC to AC  inverter to power it. A mobile WiFi hotspot fills out the rooftop kit. Leaving an expensive setup like that on top of a car is a recipe for disaster – be it from rain, rocks, or theft. [Mikeasaurus] thought ahead and strapped his setup down inside a roof mounted cargo box. A plastic covered hole in the front of the box allows the projector to shoot down on the road while protecting its lens. We’d want to add a vent and fan to ensure that projector gets a bit of airflow as well.

On the road, the system actually works. Understandably, it’s not going to work very well during the day, but at night the system really shines! Just don’t tailgate – you wouldn’t want the driver in front of you to know exactly where you’re going, would you?

Continue reading “Direction Projection is a beacon in the night”

CastAR Teardown

A little more than a year ago, castAR, the augmented reality glasses with projectors and retro-reflective surfaces made it to Kickstarter. Since then we’ve seen it at Maker Faire, seen it used for visualizing 3D prints, and sat down with the latest version of the hardware. Now, one of the two people we trust to do a proper teardown finally got his developer version of the castAR.

Before [Mike] digs into the hardware, a quick refresher of how the castAR works: inside the glasses are two 720p projectors that shine an image on a piece of retroreflective fabric. This image reflects directly back to the glasses, where a pair of polarized glasses (like the kind you’ll find from a 3D TV), separate the image into left and right for each eye. Add some head tracking capabilities to the glasses, and you have a castAR.

The glasses come with a small bodypack that powers the glasses, adds two jacks for the accessory sockets, and switches the HDMI signal coming from the computer. The glasses are where the real fun starts with two cameras, two projectors, and a few very big chips. The projector itself is a huge innovation; [Jeri] is on record as saying the lens manufacturers told her the optical setup shouldn’t work.

As far as chips go, there’s an HDMI receiver and an Altera Cyclone FPGA. There’s also a neat little graphic from Asteroids on the board. Video below.

Continue reading “CastAR Teardown”