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I’ve long maintained that it would be Augmented Reality, not Virtual Reality, that would capture the hearts and minds of the general public as people would naturally prefer the idea of seeing useful information overlaid onto the real world instead of being entirely transported into a standalone virtual world.  The logistics made more sense too.  Instead of being tethered to a bulky headset or requiring the use of special gadgets, AR would likely be powered by smartphones, something all of us already have.

But now comes an exciting new approach from a company that just came out of stealth mode: Augmented Reality contact lenses, so advanced, they appear to give us superpowers.

Mark Sullivan at Fast Company explains:

“When I looked into the user interface of Mojo Vision’s augmented reality contact lenses, I didn’t see anything at first except the real world in front of me. Only when I peeked over toward the periphery did a small yellow weather icon appear. When I examined it more closely, I could see the local temperature, the current weather, and some forecast information. I looked over to the 9 o’clock position and saw a traffic icon that gave way to a frontal graphic showing potential driving routes on a simple map. At 12 o’clock, I found my calendar and to-do information. At the bottom of my view was a simple music controller.

Rather than wearing Mojo’s contact lenses—which aren’t yet ready to demo—I was looking at a mock-up of a future, consumer version of their interface through a VR headset. But the point was made. Instead of offering the pretty holograms of the Magic Leap and HoloLens headsets, Mojo aims to place useful data and imagery over your world—and boost your natural vision—using tech that can barely be seen. The startup named the lenses ‘Mojo’ because it wants to build something that’s like getting superpowers for your eyes.”

The superpower part comes from the idea that these lenses will do more than just add useful information to our field of views.  They’ll fix and even enhance our vision entirely.  According to Fast Company, “The Mojo lenses, for example, can detect the text on a road sign in the distance and display it clearly. They can magnify objects or project them onto the part of the person’s retina that can still see well. The lenses can help people detect objects in front of them by increasing the contrast between the shades or colors of the objects. The lenses can also superimpose graphic lines over the hard-to-see edges of objects within the wearer’s view.”

But it’s worth noting that AR is still going to be the driving force behind Mojo’s mass appeal.  Just think about all of the potential use-cases, from military personnel seeing up to date battlefield information to party guests being able to put names to faces on the fly.  Adds Fast Company, “if you’re leaving the airport—perhaps with your hands full of luggage—the lenses might display arrows pointing the way to your car in the parking lot. They might put a pointer over your Uber ride as it arrives, and display the license plate number and other information. If someone rings your doorbell at home, the lenses might display a video of the person standing on the porch.”

In a way, it’s almost like putting the entire Internet inside your vision.  Instead of having to take out your phone or tablet to look up information, everything you need will now be accessible via a quick glance.  It’s a paradigm shifting technology.  Something that could be more transformative than mobile phones ever were.

And considering Mojo’s AI and AR infused capabilities it’s possible that the technology could scale all the way up to a Black Mirroresque level where these lenses capture and record everything we look at – people, products, places – at first to better serve us relevant information and targeted ads – but then to possibly keep tabs on what we’re doing, where we’re going, who we’re interacting with, and what we’re looking at.

So, while on the one hand it may be the best of both worlds (the real and the virtual) it may on the other hand be more of a curse than a blessing because like any useful technology, it could ultimately be used for good or bad, for altruistic or nefarious purposes.

It’s going to be up to us, the end user, to determine what we’re comfortable with and how far the technology goes.  But either way, it’s clear that AR is here to stay and that we’re all about to get our Mojo back.

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Is Mojo the Greatest Idea Ever?

#1,599 – Xenobots

We’re only a few weeks into 2020 and already have an early idea of the year contender: Xenobots, the world’s first ever living robots!  These remarkable organisms are both alive (made of living cells) and entirely programmable by researchers.  Giving them the ability to do tasks that no one/nothing else is capable of.

Dezeen explains:

“A team of scientists at Tufts University in the US have created xenobots, tiny robots made from frog skin and heart cells that can walk, work together and heal themselves.  Algorithms define the configurations of [these] frog cells, which are then constructed by humans to create a living robot that the scientists have called a xenobot, after the Xenopus laevis species of frog they are made from.  These aquatic organisms live for up to seven days, and the team hopes that in future they can be used to deliver drugs into people’s bloodstreams, clean up microplastics from the ocean, or manage radioactive waste spills.”

That’s quite a To Do list for something so small.  But then again Xenobots are pretty amazing.

As Wired puts it, “The frog cells aren’t special in and of themselves—it’s the emergent behavior they collectively produce that’s so remarkable.”

A behavior that could change life as we know it.  In fact, it could even change the very definition of what it means to be alive.

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Are Xenobots the Greatest Idea Ever?

#1,598 – Serendipity

Lately I’ve been reading a book (The Formula) about algorithms and all the ways they’ve changed our lives.  One of the biggest case studies in the book focuses on online dating.

I bring this up not to lament the fact that ALL of these various algorithms have failed me, but rather to point out one idea in particular.  Known as Serendipity, it was created by MIT’s Human Dynamics Group and was designed to make it easier to meet people in real life i.e. make it easier for serendipitous encounters to occur.  It would do this by having the phones of two potential love-birds automatically interact with one another when within range, exchanging information via Bluetooth when there’s a compatible person nearby.

Similarly I think we should use this technology i.e. the ability for phones to communicate with one another when in range to make driving safer.  The basic premise is that if your phone detects that another nearby phone is being used (and by nearby I mean within the car next to you) then your device will beep, casually alerting you to the fact that the other car in question may have a driver who is not paying as much attention to the road as they should be.  Thereby enabling you to give a wider berth to that car or steer clear entirely.

There are other potential use cases as well for the idea of phones being able to automatically transfer information to one another when within range of another person or entity with similar interests.  Business card information could be transferred in this manner as well.  As could alerts for people looking for players for a pickup basketball game or notifications of people interested in buying/selling various goods – buyers and sellers being matched up on the fly, making it so that you don’t have to bother people who aren’t interested at all in what you’re hawking.

Connecting strangers is just one potential use case.  Another could be re-connecting friends.  Such as alerts that you let you know when your friends or acquiescence are in the same public place as you, such as at a sporting event or concert.

These ideas aren’t necessarily new.  Bluetooth technology has been around for a while now.  Department stores make use of it to push coupons to you.  It’s how you pair your headphones to your mobile or your phone to your car’s speaker system.  But the idea of having phones communicate with one another automatically for the purposes of exchanging information when certain parameters are met still seems underutilized.  Perhaps we can change that.

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Was Serendipity the Greatest Idea Ever?

What’s old is new again.  At least when it comes to one new photo app, David’s Disposable (created by YouTuber David Dobrik) that’s been gaining popularity at a break-neck pace thanks to its old school approach: making people wait to see their photos as if they were waiting for the images from a disposal camera to be developed.

According to The Verge, “People who download the app can use it to take photos, but they have to wait until 9AM the following day for the photos to become available. The idea is to simulate the wait time it takes for disposable camera photos to be developed. Photos can also be ordered as prints directly from the app, and they take about three weeks to show up.”

On the surface this sounds like a dumb idea.  In today’s day and age of instant gratification who wants to wait around for hours and hours to see content?  Especially their own content.  We want our images to disappear in seconds not linger around in the digital ether.

But at the same time I kind of like the idea.  I can imagine how exciting it would be waiting for a new batch of photos to appear.  Similar to how exciting it can be to check the mailbox when you’re waiting for a college acceptance letter.  Especially if you were drunk the night before and can’t remember what happened.  Going through the batch at 9 am would be like viewing the end credit scene at the end of The Hangover where you finally get to see what really happened during the previous night’s exploits.  It may even be worth setting an alarm for when you’re hungover.

A friend of mine who was critical of the idea sarcastically blurted out, “What’s next? TVs that don’t come with remotes so that you’ll have to go back to standing up and walking over to the TV whenever you want to change the channel?!”  An idea that I would actually be on board with if the TV came along with a bunny ear antenna as well.  Similarly, if we could bring back rotatory phones that force us to painstakingly dial one number at a time I would be okay with that too.  Perhaps my opinion is watered down by the fact that I love collecting antiques but at the same time I think there’s something to be said for nostalgia, for slowing down and smelling the roses.  One photo at a time.

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Is David’s Disposable the Greatest Idea Ever?

We’ve all been there.  Wanting to blow something up to full screen mode, only to be denied by the limitations of our devices.  Thankfully, Samsung has a solution.  A TV specifically designed to view vertical content.

As The Verge puts it, “There’s probably no clearer indication that vertical video is here to stay than Samsung making a TV designed to showcase it. And that’s exactly what has happened. The company has announced that the Sero, a 43-inch 4K TV that can switch from landscape mode (the default) to a portrait orientation, is coming to the US and other global markets. So you’ll be able to watch Instagram stories, TikTok videos, Snapchat content, and the portrait video recordings from your camera roll blown up on a relatively big screen — without heinous pillarboxing black bars on the left and right sides.”

But what about mobile devices? Well, that’s where Quibi comes in.  New technology that makes it possible for videos to seamlessly shift between portrait and landscape orientations on the fly.

Writes Engadget, “At the company’s CES keynote, we finally learned about its killer feature: Turnstyle, a patent-pending technology that lets you easily switch between portrait and landscape viewing modes, all the while keeping what matters in frame. Every Quibi show plays both formats at once, using their audio track to keep them in sync. Of course, this isn’t just a tech solution: The artists also have to keep the framing of both viewing modes in mind. But according to Katzenberg, that’s also a challenge many of the creators have embraced.”

I love that last point.  The idea that content has to be designed with the format in mind because it means that technology is actually profoundly changing the way that entertainment is designed and performed.  Other than the shift from silent films has their even been a similar instance of technology changing the way that performers act?  3D effects might change how certain scenes play out or necessitate the inclusion of certain props but that wouldn’t necessarily change the way an actor goes about their business.  Quibi seemingly will.  It’s with that in mind that I’m interested to see how this push towards vertical content plays out.  Will it prove to be a passing fad or does it have real staying power?

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Is Vertical TV the Greatest Idea Ever?

I recently got a 4K TV that doesn’t work as well as I had hoped since TV stations aren’t all broadcasting in 4K.  So when I first heard about 8K I thought, wait a second, let’s pump the breaks.  There’s no way we need that, nor would it work as well as desired.  But then I heard more about it.  And was immediately sold.  Thanks to the fact that we’re talking about a holographic display, not a regular TV.  One that would make it seem like images were literally jumping off the screen, far eclipsing what 3D was supposed to be.

Inspired by Back to the Future the technology comes to us from the group of people who started the company Looking Glass.  A group of people who are just like you and me.  Inspired by Science Fiction and hell-bent on turning their dreams into reality.  As they state on their website, “We’re fans of magic, invention, the future, and the 90s, and we’re committed to building the holographic future we were all promised growing up.”

It’s a future that’s just around the corner and nearly at our fingertips.  Both literally and figuratively.

According to Digital Trends, “The company has now announced that it is bringing to market the world’s first 8K holographic display: an astonishing 33.2 million pixel beast with a billion-count color depth. At 32-inches, it’s not just the world’s largest holographic display but its highest fidelity, too. Without any of the head tracking required for VR or AR headsets, the display is capable of showing three-dimensional holographic images that look as though they’re bursting from the screen — projected into what you might think of as a fish tank of pixels.”

Just to be clear – we’re talking about something that works without AR or VR accessories.  Meaning the effects can be seen by the naked eye.  A total game-changer when it comes to having holographic displays go mainstream.  In no time at all this technology could burst onto the scene and make an over-sized impact.  Right before our eyes.

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Is Looking Glass the Greatest Idea Ever?

When I attended CES a few years ago I was expecting to see displays for all of the major tech companies sharing off their latest wares.  And, sure, there was plenty of that from drones and devices to smart washing machines and wearables.  But I was surprised by how large of a presence car manufacturers had.  In hindsight it makes sense.  Cars are loaded with technology and futuristic displays and are becoming more and more sophisticated every year.

So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite innovations from this year’s CES involves a car and an often overlooked component: the humble sun visor.

As Engadget puts it, “Car sun visors are a double-edged sword. Yes, they stop annoying rays from shining directly into your eyeballs, which means you don’t have to squint or immediately grab a pair of sunglasses. But if you pull down that flappy bit of plastic, it also obscures at least some of the road that you’re driving on, which isn’t ideal from a safety perspective. Bosch might have a solution: a transparent liquid crystal display (LCD) that tracks your face and only blocks the *precise* section where the sun would blind you.”

This is an ingenious idea that provides a technological solution to an often overlooked problem and makes me wonder if there are any issues, transportation related or otherwise, that we can fix in this same manner.

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Is a Virtual Visor the Greatest Idea Ever?