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The opening of Nokia’s Palo Alto research center last week was a good event to see a lot of experimental mobile ideas and projects — most which will likely never see the light of production. One that we really hope does make the cut is a […]

The opening of Nokia’s Palo Alto research center last week was a good event to see a lot of experimental mobile ideas and projects — most which will likely never see the light of production. One that we really hope does make the cut is a project called “mobile augmented reality,” which uses a video camera phone, combined with orientation sensors, a compass, bluetooth, and GPS to tag and ad information to the images viewed on the screen.

Nokia research engineer David Murphy, who has been working on the project for a couple years now, showed off a demo of a tricked-out video-enabled smart phone (see photo) that tags and adds information to the incoming video feed. Point the video phone at a landscape and the application uses location and orientation technology to identify and add information to the real time image.

The device uses an accelerometer to determine orientation, a compass for direction, a GPS for location, and connects to a database over cellular to identify objects. The result is that when you aim the video phone at, say, a restaurant on the corner, you can pull up and display information like the name and phone number of the business.

Or that’s the idea at least. It’s still just a tiny demo in Helsinki. Obvious difficulties will be figuring out how to run the application without immediately crushing the battery life, as well as getting all the additional sensor hardware into a device that isn’t too big or expensive. But the application already has consumer-friendly features like when the device is flat (the screen pointed up) a map with your location appears.

Murphy isn’t sure if the project will ever make it into production, but has high hopes that it will. We do too.

  1. It’s very exciting to see Nokia make these aggressive moves to accelerate mobile augmented reality technologies — one of the things that will really help them take the next step is a revolution in the display on the handset.

    A 2″ conventional LCD panel is not appropriate as an augmented reality device since the user can not look at the device and the real world at the same time. Real mobile augmented reality applications require see-through eyewear display companions to the mobile phone.

    My company, Microvision, is developing Color Eyewear as a see-through companion display for mobile phones. Analogous to a Bluetooth earbud for audio, Color Eyewear extends the video capabilities of your phone, allowing you to access your personal content and applications while walking around and engaging with the world.

    To achieve this, we’re developing a disruptive optical technology that’s extremely thin and lightweight and will help us overcome the really stringent fashion and ergonomic constraints that have been inhibitive to adoption of other head-worn displays. Likewise, our laser-based technology enables a see-through, daylight readable image with brilliant color that competitors will be hard-pressed to match.

    We feel that with the increased adoption of 3G networks and the emergence of new mobile applications such as location-based services, that the display interface to the handset will need a revolution — the 2″ LCD display just can’t deliver the kinds of digital experiences that these new networks can accomodate.

    As a result, we’re designing our embedded laser projector module (called PicoP) to enable a big-screen shared experience for viewing mobile multimedia, and our Color Eyewear platform for personal viewing and enhanced mobility.

    There are some interesting synergies between these two platforms — I can imagine displaying a PowerPoint presentation on my phone’s laser projector while reading notes on my Eyewear, or receiving instant messages from a co-worker with (hopefully!) helpful suggestions.

    It’s really a limitless opportunity for Microvision — our miniature laser projection modules can enable some pretty disruptive new products, and we’re working hard with some very large, well-respected industry partners to bring these to market.

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  2. GeoVector has launched a similar service with KDDI in Japan, leveraging a compass and GPS to determine direction and be able to “Point and Click” to retrieve info on a business, store, etc.

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