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Hacking Space and Time

Gene Becker April 19, 2011

In my recent Ignite talk Hijacking the Here and Now: Adventures in Augmented Reality, I showed examples of how creative people are using AR in ways that modify our perceptions about time and space. Now, Ignite talks are only 5 minutes long and I think this is a big idea that’s worth a deeper look. So here’s my claim: I assert that one of the most natural and important uses of AR as a creative medium is hacking space and time to explore and make sense of the emerging physical+digital world.

When you look at who the true AR enthusiasts are, who is doing the cutting edge creative work in AR today, it’s artists, activists and digital humanities geeks. Their projects explore and challenge the ideas of ownership and exclusivity of physical space, and the flowing irreversibility of time. They are starting to see AR as the emergence of a new construction of reality, where the physical and digital are no longer distinct but instead are irreversibly blended. Artist Sander Veenhof is attracted to the “infinite dimensions” of AR. Stanford Knight Fellow Adriano Farano sees AR ushering in an era of “multi-layer journalism”. Archivist Rick Prelinger says “History should be like air,” immersive, omnipresent and free. And in their recent paper Augmented Reality and the Museum Experience, Schavemaker et al write:

In the 21st century the media are going ambient. TV, as Anna McCarthy pointed out in Ambient Television (2001), started this great escape from domesticity via the manifold urban screens and the endless flat screens in shops and public transportation. Currently the Internet is going through a similar phase as GPS technology and our mobile devices offer via the digital highway a move from the purely virtual domain to the ‘real’ world. We can collect our data everywhere we desire, and thus at any given moment transform the world around us into a sort of media hybrid, or ‘augmented reality’. [emphasis mine]

When the team behind augments the city of Philadelphia with nearly 90,000 historical photographs in AR, they are actively modifying our experience of the city’s space and connecting us to moments in time long past. With its ambitious scope and scale, this seems a particularly apt example of transforming the world into a media hybrid.

In their AR piece US/Iraq War Memorial (pictured below), artists Mark Skwarek and John Craig Freeman transpose the locative datascape of casualties in the Iraq War from Wikileaks onto the northeastern United States, with the location of Baghdad mapped onto the coordinates of Washington DC. In addition to spatial hackery evocative of Situationist psychogeographic play, this work makes a strong political statement about control of information, nationalist perspectives and the cultural abstraction of war.


Now let’s talk about this word, ‘hacking’. Actually, you’ll note that I used the term ‘hijacking’ as well, so let’s include that too. My intent is to evoke the tension of multiple meanings: Hacking in the sense of gaining deep understanding and mastery of a system in order to modify and improve it, and as a visible demonstration of a high degree of proficiency. Also, hacking in the sense of making unauthorized intrusions into a system, including both white hat and black hat variations. I use ‘hijacking’ in the sense of a mock takeover, like the Black Eyed Peas playfully hijacking the website for publicity purposes, but also hijacking as an antagonistic, possibly malign, and potentially unlawful attack. In the physical+digital augmented world, I expect we will see a wide variety of hacking and hijacking behaviors, with both positive and negative effects. For example, in Skwarek’s piece with Joseph Hocking, the leak in your hometown, the corporate logo of BP becomes the trigger for an animated re-creation of the iconic broken pipe at the Macondo wellhead, spewing AR oil into your location. It is possible to see this as an inspired spatial hack and a biting social commentary, but I have no doubt BP executives would consider it a hijacking of their brand in the worst way.

In his book Smart Things, ubicomp experience designer Mike Kuniavsky asks us to think of digital media about physical entities as ‘information shadows’; I believe the work of these AR pioneers points us toward a future where digital information is not a subordinate ‘shadow’ of the physical, but rather a first-class element of our experience of the world. Even at this early stage in the development of the underlying technology, AR is a consequential medium of expression that is being used to tell meaningful stories, make critical statements, and explore the new dimensionality of a blended physical+digital world. Something important is happening here, and hacking space and time through AR is how we’re going to understand and make sense of it.


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Microsoft Demos Layar on Windows 7 Phone at MIX11

Adriane Goetz April 15, 2011

This week Layar attended Microsoft’s MIX11 event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, where the corporate vice president of Windows Phone, Joe Belfiore, showed a demo of the Layar app running on Windows Phone 7 during his keynote, making Layar quite possibly the first Augmented Reality application to run on the Windows Phone 7 platform!

The demo was shown to support Windows Phone 7’s new “Mango” update’s features, which support Augmented Reality applications by allowing developers to access motion sensors (namely the accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and location sensors) as well as the camera.

To demonstrate Mango’s new AR capabilities, Microsoft’s implementation of the Layar browser showed a layer called “Tweets @ MIX11” that displayed tweets from the conference. While no official plans to offer Layar in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace have been put into motion yet, the demo shows that the platform is now well-suited to support sensor-intensive applications like Layar.

This video is a short clip of the 2-hour keynote, but you can watch the presentation it its entirety via Channel 9.

Would you like to see Layar on Windows Phone 7? Leave a comment!


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Layar Co-founder Claire Boonstra and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Debate on the Renewal of the Educational System

Claire Boonstra April 13, 2011

You don’t get to stand next to your Prime Minister every day - let alone be able to debate with him in front of 300 fellow entrepreneurs in a majestic theatre.

Last Wednesday, I had the chance to do so during the ‘Meet the Government’ event in the Royal Theatre in The Hague. The event was organized by the leading Dutch business media: FD (the Dutch Financial Times) and BNR (Business News Radio). You can see a photo slideshow of the event here.

Dutch entrepreneurs, ranging from freelancers and directors of small businesses to CEO’s of some of the biggest Dutch companies (such as Stork and Randstad), were able to discuss and debate with our Prime Minister Mark Rutte. After his speech (which can be read here, in Dutch), four entrepreneurs in two teams were asked to debate with the PM on one of the two given themes of the night:

1) The Netherlands needs to attract more foreign talents and businesses 2) The Netherlands needs to ensure it better develops its own talents

I was debating on the last theme. During the introduction by the facilitator, the audience was asked if they knew about Augmented Reality. Mark Rutte immediately showed he knew perfectly well what Layar was by holding up his hands as if he was looking through his mobile, and said he really liked the technology. Now that’s a good start!

Here’s a summary in English of my speech (originally in Dutch):
“In the less than two years of the existence of our company, the context in which we operate has changed tremendously. We are continuously re-inventing ourselves - what we introduced less than a year ago is already completely outdated.

But not only my reality is changing. As we know from recent history, technical innovations which have a large impact on the way we interact, live, consume and produce are coming at us at an ever increasing speed. This change is a given.

But as human beings are not all by nature capable of coping with rapid changes - and the systems and processes we create usually aren’t either, these are big challenges our modern society is facing.

As this is a very broad theme and I have only 3 minutes, I will focus on one aspect: Knowledge.

There is a lot to do about knowledge, and the ‘Knowledge Economy’ [Kenniseconomie]. But in a world where knowledge is being transported to and shared with the other side of the globe in less than seconds, and is outdated the moment it has been invented, I dare to say that the term “Knowledge Economy” should be replaced.

Having or consuming knowledge is not of much value. Value and a leading position can be achieved in an environment where new and unique knowledge can be created, shared, built upon and applied. So it’s all about Thought Leadership and Innovation.

How can we optimize the creation, sharing, evolution and application of unique knowledge?

Unique knowledge is being created by unique people with unique talents. However, in our Dutch culture where ‘please act normal - that’s already crazy enough’ [Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg] is deep in our genes, this is easier said than done. We tend to spend a lot of energy on behaving to ‘the norm’. Look around you - also here today, everybody is wearing dark grey suits. Even I put on my black dress. The only things that distinguishes me from you are perhaps my high heels and my big pregnant tummy.

And regarding knowledge sharing. Our current educational systems are set up in a very traditional way: the teacher teaches and the pupil or student listens. Knowledge is being transferred and being tested in exams. When you are able to reproduce the knowledge, you get high marks and eventually your diploma.

But where does this system leave us when knowledge is outdated almost the moment it is being transferred? Why don’t we put students in the place of the teachers at school - and let everybody discuss and build upon the lecture material? Great new insights can be created!

Now I’d like to come to my two pieces of advice to our Prime Minister, as stated on the screen.

1) Learn how to speak in public. It is still possible to graduate from University, without having been trained in any public speaking. Super-smart students who get a 9 at their final exam but who are not even capable of bringing their message across verbally, in a human-to-human interaction, are pretty useless to society. Usually at international conferences, the Dutch are pretty much blown away by Americans with their speaking skills. Everybody, from primary school until university and beyond, should be stimulated to sharing thoughts, and develop both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

2) Embrace unique talents We should emphasize much more on what is unique and different and embrace these - instead of (and now I am looking especially at you, media and journalists!) criticizing, just for the sake of being critical. When our company had raised 10 million EUR in funding and we already had 40 employees, a not-to-be-named leading Dutch newspaper was referring to us as ‘The little Amsterdam software company’ [softwarebedrijfje] and ‘Boonstra’s little company…’.

I am rushing to say that this complaint is not about us, but in general about the ‘Calimero-thinking’ in Dutch media. ‘If it is from Holland it can’t be big’.

Show that it pays off to be unique! Put unique people in the spotlights and serve them as great examples for others to be inspired by.

Thank you very much!”
Here’s the radio version of the speech (in Dutch). You can also listen to the entire event on April 9 via livestreaming on BNR, starting at 8h35 (my speech starts at 10h04).

The speech was well received. Mr Rutte came to stand next to me and complimented me on the story. He acknowledges the need for better speaking skills: “… also our government would benefit from better speaking skills ….” :-)

Passionate Prime Minister Mark Rutte is remarkably passionate and energetic. He fully stands on the side of entrepreneurs. He even gave his cell phone number to some - emphasizing his personal commitment to entrepreneurship in the Netherlands, saying “Just call me if there is a problem I can personally help you with.”

Events like this always help me with the de-mystification of world leaders. They are tied with all hands to their context - coalition partners, social and cultural context, established systems and customs, etc. It is always so easy to complain from the sidelines and to know better. The best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to set a good example ourselves and show the world how things should be done.
Only scratching the surface of the subject Given the length of my speech and the audience, I couldn’t go very deep into the subject of education renewal. It is a subject which really resonates with me and my fellow Layar founders. We are very much inspired by this presentation on Social Learning by Tribal Cafe:
Social Learning
View more presentations from TribalCafe
All in all, it was a great experience. The big changes in society keep us busy every day. They influence us, and we want to pay a positive contribution to it - as a company, with our products and personally. In all these aspects, we’re only getting started…

Claire Boonstra Layar co-founder


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A Look Into Our User Testing Process

Chris Cameron April 12, 2011

Just recently we released our latest iteration, version 5.0, of the Layar Reality Browser. This version introduced a few new features to the browser, including social sharing and 3D animation effects, but also included many improvements to the overall look-and-feel of the app itself, namely, a simpler navigation and a cleaner look.

These changes aren’t pulled from a hat; here at Layar, we conduct surveys and tests with our users in order to create the best experience for them. Chiefly responsible for these tests is our user research lead and interaction (UX) designer Klasien van de Zandschulp, who you may remember from our profile of her last December.

Klasien conducted several user tests prior to the 5.0 launch. Before features were built into a working beta version of the app, clickable PDFs were created for testing using an iPad or an iPhone. While the users in these cases were merely clicking through rough sketches of interface ideas, the information gathered was invaluable to the overall production of the app.

“In user tests, the most important thing is to have the user feel comfortable,” she says. “It’s important not to have the person feel like you are testing their knowledge or skills. You are testing if the design and flow of the app are clear for the end-user.”

The focus of a test is usually about usability issues, like the meaning of an icon, the logic behind the navigation or whether the user is able to find what they want in the least number of steps possible. Other results we collect during the user tests include the user’s mobile device usage habits, their sharing and discovery habits and what they feel is missing from the app.

We have found user testing to be invaluable to the process of developing iterations of the Layar platform and apps. Klasien believes that it’s very important for a UX designer to be involved in the usability test in order to experience how the end-user responds to, and interacts with, the design. Going forward, we plan to conduct more tests in different environments and situations, including outdoor tests.

Participate in a user test
We are always looking for people who want to attend a user test! If you are interested, please send an e-mail to

Join Layar’s User Panel
Now you can help us create an even better Augmented Reality app! We created the Layar User Panel because we want your opinions and feedback. Participation in the User Panel includes responding to occasional online surveys and being among the first people to test the latest beta version of our Layar app. Fill out our user panel application form to join!


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Share Your Augmented Reality Experience With the New Layar 5.0

Chris Cameron April 11, 2011

Back in February, we released a beta version of the next iteration of the Layar Reality Browser. Today, thanks to the feedback from the beta, we are very excited to announce that Layar 5.0 is now available (in full-fledged non-beta form) for both Android and iPhone.

So what do we have for you in this version? I’m glad you asked. Layar 5.0 now features the ability to share content with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. The next time you find a really cool layer, gain achievements or even spot a cool 3D model you want to take a screenshot of, you can quickly and easily share it with the world.

“This year we are continuing to look for more ways to bring augmented reality into people’s everyday lives,” said Layar CEO Raimo Van der Klein. “With today’s new version, we’re able to take a huge step closer towards that goal by giving users the chance to discover exciting new content and share cool layers and augmented screenshots with friends.”

As Raimo said, with Layar 5.0 also comes the ability for more interactivity within layers thanks to our animation capabilities. Layers are no longer limited to static content; now icons and 3D models can come alive with animation, adding a new layer of engagement to augmented reality.

Additionally, thanks to the great user feedback we’ve received, some tweaks to the user interface have been implemented into the client. We have made it easier than ever to save your favorite layers, and now we keep track of your most recently viewed layers in the “Recent” tab.

Finally, for our Symbian users, don’t worry! We haven’t forgotten about you. In time our Symbian client will be updated to include all of the same features found on the Android and iPhone clients.

So if you haven’t yet, be sure to update to latest version of Layar. For iPhone users, Layar only supports iOS 4.0 and higher, so if you have yet to update, you will be prompted to do so.

For those that are new, to download Layar 5.0 on your mobile device, simply navigate to either the App Store or Android Market and search for Layar!


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