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Blog: ARspiration

The Birth of The Digital Eye

Rhymo April 21, 2011

Last week I spoke at Mobile Convention Amsterdam. This time I did not talk about Layar and its vision for Augmented Reality, but about my personal vision on mobile and where this is all going. It was the first time that I shared these thoughts publicly, and it was pretty exciting to see the reactions!

And here’s an easier-to-view version of the presentation:


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Layar co-founder Claire Boonstra Joins European Commissioner Neelie Kroes’s Young Advisors Team

Claire Boonstra April 20, 2011

Being a founder of a startup-in-the-spotlight has some interesting side effects - one of them is the opportunity to meet people I’d normally only read about in newspapers or watch on TV. Even better, I get the chance to interact with national and world leaders and see how decision making works at the highest levels. This year I’ve had the honor of attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, speaking on stage with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and just last week I joined the board of Young Advisors for Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda.

Young Advisors: bridging the gap Mrs. Kroes put together this team of Young Advisors (which she calls her “Digital Angels“) to bridge several gaps. For example, she and her own senior advisors are very aware of the fact that the European Commission is an institution which, by nature, moves slowly, and its employees are mostly older men in grey suits who don’t have regular contact with the people they are solving problems for. Additionally, she wants to make sure that she’s asking and responding to the right questions.

The “Digital Angels” have crucial backgrounds for Mrs. Kroes’s digital agenda, extending her reach into a demographic that she believes is pivotal in getting the right questions and issues on the table, building closer contact with younger age groups, and getting direct feedback from the rest of the “Digital Generation.”

The group is an unusually diverse and incredibly inspiring mix of people, which includes members from Malta, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Austria and The Netherlands. Not all were entrepreneurs like me, however. The group also included a lawyer, journalist, biomedics researcher and a filmmaker, among others.

EU: Quite aware of the “why,” seeks concrete advise and help on the “how” In preparation for, and during, the session, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of understanding in terms of the major challenges facing society involving the ever-increasing speed of technological innovations, necessity of changes in our educational system, and the need for all our systems to adapt to this ever-changing context. What she and her team are looking for is concrete advice on how to do this.

We had very good discussions on several subjects, and Mrs. Kroes and her team took a good deal of advice and feedback from us. You can read Mrs. Kroes’s full blogpost here, but I’ve included a summary of the take-aways from the first session:
What did I learn?

First, we in the Commission need to get our communications right: more clear and compelling stories to tell, less bureaucratic-speak.

Second, we can and should reach out to the citizen, not the other way round, and we have to make sure we are supporting people to become digitally competent citizens.

Third, we should “co-design.” The public can help us define the problem, then help us design solutions for it.

Fourth, we talked about issues of privacy and cyber-security, and how the law should find the right balance. There are clearly risks online, as there are out there in the real world, but if we over-regulate in response then we risk losing what is most precious about the internet—its openness and freedom. For me, the best way to tackle security and privacy issues is to inform and empower digital citizens so they are aware of, and can deal with, those risks—just like they would in the off-line world.

Lastly, we talked about EU funding for research and innovation and how well this fit with the needs of digitial innovators. It’s a sector where new projects need to be implemented quickly to avoid becoming outdated. Many of those with bright ideas are small-scale SMEs and research teams who may have relatively small financing needs, but also have a low tolerance for bureaucracy and form-filling. Also, in many cases private financing can complement or replace public funding.

I took the point that EU funding doesn’t match up well to this environment; it can be exceptionally cumbersome, bureaucratic and time-consuming to access, and the many different funding streams can be confusing for non-experts. The taxpayer rightly expects us to be careful and responsible in managing public funds, and that imposes certain obligations on us. But equally, if we want to support the sector and compete globally, we have to adapt to the needs of its bright young star performers.
One of the other participants, Ewan McIntosh from NoTosh, also wrote a very nice blogpost on his impressions of the session.

Mrs. Kroes: an exceptional person Every time I see Mrs. Kroes, whether on TV or in real life, I am struck by her natural leadership and graciousness. She is like a fish in the water in conservative male environments and operates with such flair, openness and authenticity that she receives instant respect from her entire audience. Being able to move things forward in such environments requires exceptional personality and skill. A few times during our session, she told her own team not to defend the way things are right now, but to listen and absorb. “If things need to change, because we’ll be of no use otherwise,” she said, “then we’ll need to change. These people help us to understand how we can do this.”

Regardless of her age (she was born in 1941), she is, in my eyes, a very modern leader: inclusive, authentic, respectful, empowering and humble, who is not afraid of chaos and not driven by power and control. She is also energetic and passionate in everything she does.

Apart for my late grandmother, I don’t have very many role models, but Mrs. Kroes surely is one.

Taking your input to a higher level Via Twitter, I asked for your input for Europe’s Digital Agenda. I got lots of great feedback and suggestions in my twitterstream, listed below. There is a desire to be in closer contact with Europe’s citizens and I expect to be discussing the way to do so in more detail soon. This list will therefore serve as a backlog for future sessions, as we didn’t manage to discuss all of them, but know that your ideas are being heard!

ZefanjaKleuters: @ClaireBoo I think EU as ICT mainport for #cloud with a focus on cross branch solutions, security/ID, IoT and stimulate collaboration

ArtLigthart: @ClaireBoo Hi Claire: ‘how2 stimulate govs to use innovative IT in policy-making and rule governance’?

Positief_Partij: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU Suggestion: how far does the individual can influence his own privacy?

Positief_Partij: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU Sure, please invite senior advisors as well. Young is not always better or more openminded

WoutdeNatris: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU. Combine #cyberawareness with a #cyber_responsibility and sense for community campaign. Program ideas anyone?

KarinStraus: @ClaireBoo @neeliekroeseu What could the EU Digital Agenda mean for women in rural areas? See recent discussion in EU parl.

futureidentity: @ClaireBoo ask what plans @NeelieKroesEU has to legislate for online anonymity/pseudonymity as a privacy protection measure…

Vrijschrift: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU Kill ACTA

Schliessler: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU Let everyone in the EU pay 10 euro’s a month to his provider and let them deal all the copy writes.

arno: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU abolishing the outrageous mobile international costs for roaming.

arno: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU reduce paperwork burden for entrepeneurs by enabling online connection between my bookkeeping and tax department

frankhilbrands: @claireboo sure, cheaper data roaming across Europe!

MvBodegom: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU Agenda suggestion: How to politically activate young Europeans by means of social media

NadineKarbach: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU incentives for quality online content,internet literacy in the curriculum,net neutrality,no geo-blocking thanks :)

Rarebit_: @ClaireBoo #EUDigitalAgenda: addressing the Digital divide, advancing culture & identity in an online age, agency & structure online…

kerryritz: @ClaireBoo eliminate all voip rules and licence fees charged by countries across europe.imagine benefit to small business

marcschoneveld: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU er kunnen veel nieuwe iteraties van #eu gebouwd worden op n infrastructuur van goedkoop, snel & draadloos internet

groenhart: @ClaireBoo public and open wifi provided by governments

PatrickBoonstra: @ClaireBoo en aanpakken sms abo diensten (3 berichten pd, à €1,50)

PatrickBoonstra: @ClaireBoo ja, aanpakken van de belachelijke kosten voor dataroaming in buitenland, zelfs bij eigen internationale providers

jfcaillard: @ClaireBoo for your session with @NeelieKroesEU on Digital Agenda: what plans to have consumer intimacy policy not dictated by US webgiants?

035SteveFarmer: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU IPv6 appears key to EU Digital strategy. But EU still behind AsiaPac. What is IPv6 Task Force doing to progress?

annelies34: @ClaireBoo @NeelieKroesEU legislation on cyber attacks….we seem to be spending money on protecting ourselves 1/2 / rather than looking at a solution to address the root cause…. 2/2

Arwin van Wermeskerken (via LinkedIn): Invest, invest, invest in infrastructure and education. We’re doing well on infrastructure, we’re legging on education. Connect futurologues with entrepeneurs like you. Try and catch technology of the future and take the lead.

Only the start As Mrs. Kroes intends to stay in her position for another 4 years, this meeting is only the start. We can all contribute (at least a little bit) to a better Europe. If you feel you have other points you wish to contribute, please do so in the comments. There will be other ways to interact in the future, but let’s take it one step at a time.



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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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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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Hijacking the Here and Now

Chris Cameron March 29, 2011

Ignite is a world-wide series of fast-paced talks that focus on just about everything. Cities all around the world wrangle up participants to speak for 5 minutes at a time about a topic they are passionate about, and each gathers a unique group of speakers.

In San Francisco, Ignite speakers tend to be of a techy/geeky persuasion, and this was the status quo Monday at the most recent gathering. You know how we know it was geeky? Layar’s own Gene Becker was one of the speakers, as he spread the good word about augmented reality.

The focus of Gene’s talk was “Hijacking the Here and Now: Adventures in Augmented Reality,” which featured examples of engaging augmented reality content. Here’s how Gene describes the talk in his own words:

“Augmented reality is all about webcam marketing gimmicks and filling the world with geotagged logos, right? Nope, wrong. Instead, we’re learning that the natural mode of expression for AR, is enabling people to *hack time and space*. In 5 minutes, I’ll show you ~20 solid examples of how artists, journalists, historians and citizen activists are using augmented reality to hijack the here and now.”

Videos of the Ignite speeches should be viewable online in a short amount of time, but we thought we’d help give you a head start in case you missed his talk. Embedded below are the slides from Gene’s talk, so have a look and see how augmented reality is helping us hijack our everyday lives.


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