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Are you ready for WebAR?

Using your smartphone as a lens merging atoms and bits will become THE WAY to use it. Image credit: Medium

Two days ago the  COMPSAC 2019 panel organised by FDC-IEEE on the topic of the Convergence and Transformation of Data Digitally via AI, ML Autonomous Systems was an opportunity to discuss the relation between the Digital Transformation and Extended Reality.

Quite a few of us are already using their smartphone as a tool to project bits onto atoms: we click on an app supporting augmented reality -AR- our smartphone camera is activated and relays the image of an object, of the ambient, to the app that in turns overlay bits, information, on the image displayed on the screen et le voilà, we are taken to a different world where atoms and bits are merging. A number of software libraries, provided by the operating systems (Android: ARCore, IoS: ARKit), ease the development of such apps.

The problem, for us, lay user, is that we need to activate those apps, and one apps can work for shoes -as in the photo, another for plants, another for restaurants in a specific city and so on. That is not really convenient, nor seamless. What would you say if you were to use a different web browser depending on what type of information you are looking for?

This is going to change with the advent of WebAR, something that may start later this year or early in the next one.

Hundreds of researchers are now at work to create and release software that can be embedded in your web browser to suppor seamless AR as you search for information.  The problem with today’s browsers is that they are not aware of where you are and what the camera is “looking at”, they are not -in general- contextualising your search to the ambient you happen to be in (this is not so with apps like google maps that gets the gps coordinates to show you the location you are when you activate the app).

WebAR will provide a seamless fusion of atoms and bits, when using your browser you will be recognised by the software also as a person located in a specific place that is “looking at” something (information retrieved from the camera).  This requires more than getting the GPS data and the images from the camera, it requires a change of paradigm. What happens today is that you are connected to the web by activating your browser search, you introduce some text (or voice some sentences) and that is converted into a query by the browser to the web. It is a demand based interaction. Not so in the future. The “query” will become implicit, derived from the awareness of where you are and what you are looking at. This generates a number of queries relevant to your situation and will result in the overlay of bits (information) on the objects around you (in the short term via an overlay on the information on the screen displaying the images picked up by your phone camera, but in the future through a superposition on your eyes…).

Notice that the Digital Transformation is preparing the groundwork to grow AR into any business area and in any interaction we can have, as lay person, with our environment since the Digital Transformation is not just creating meaningful bits out of atoms, it is keeping those connected to the atoms and the value is no longer in the atoms nor in the bits but in their ensemble,

This is not just about technology (even though there is plenty of it) it is also about the way of perceiving the ambient, no longer as made solely by atoms but also as made of bits (and down the lane, of semantics). This is going to change both our perception, turning AR into Reality, and the way several business will connect to us.

It is also going to affect web traffic, multiplying it, since everywhere and at anytime we will be connected and bits will be flowing to us, whether we are interested in them or not. This is going to multiply the GB into TB and it is just good that 5G will become available and pervasive to support such a traffic. Will all this be free? My bet is that we will multiply our bit consumption and still pay the same connectivity price (all you can eat) but it is clear that telecom operators will need to be part of the new game and monetise this traffic explosion. The risk for them, of course, is that the monetisation could end up to service providers (mediated by browsers providers) rather than ending up, at least in part, in the coffers of those providing the connectivity.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.