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Friday, April 15, 2011

The coolest technology you've never seen

A new visual recognition technology by Autonomy maps video and other content into real-life smartphone video images in real time

By Eric Knorr | InfoWorld
Here's one you have to see to believe. Autonomy, the largest British software company -- best known for its enterprise search and compliance technology -- has applied its intellectual horsepower in meaning-based computing to visual recognition for smartphones. Soon you'll be able to download its Aurasma iPhone/iPad app, which enables you to point your camera at static real-world objects that, once recognized, magically come to life on the smartphone screen, similar to the way pictures in the Daily Prophet newspaper animated themselves in Harry Potter.

Check the video demo. The amazing thing is that the video mapped into the real-world scene stays within the bounds of the recognized object, even as you pan the camera around. One example shows a movie poster coming to life; another demonstrates a video inserted into a static newspaper photo; the last is a cereal box with a TV commercial mapped in. The advertising and publishing opportunities are pretty obvious, but the company says anyone will be able to tag reality with messages or images or even interactive games of their own that pop up. Just capture the real-world image, load it into the database, and attach what you want to overlay.

According to Autonomy, the app will be able to recognize up to half a million images. Autonomy's business customers are expected to establish channels loaded with recognition files for the real world. The app will be available at no charge, and even on the back end, in a rough approximation of the Web commercial publishing model, Autonomy will charge businesses only when advertisements are delivered.

The technology has its limitations. As Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch says, the iPhone 4 has "barely enough processing power" to run the Aurasma app. Recognition takes a second or so, so forget about images that, say, flit by as you pass them in a car. Nor can faces be recognized, because that would require the construction of a 3D model currently beyond the technology's capabilities. Aurasma can only recognize images or scenes -- such as a building facade -- that are roughly 2D in character.

But think of the possibilities. You could have a channel for shopping that recognizes thousands of storefronts and links to retailer websites. Computer games could become outdoor affairs that conjure up monsters raging around your neighborhood. My guess is that, like everyone else who has seen the demo, you have your own ideas for applying the technology. This is the beginning of a new medium and the prospects are endless.

The Aurasma app will be available for free download in the App Store next month. Autonomy says it also has an Android version of the app running that will be available in the same timeframe.