If you are a regular user of our collection database you might have noticed some very minor tweaks recently. One of the most obvious is a change to how we show object images.
For objects with small and low-quality images we’ve turned off zooming (example). Instead these images now explain why they are not available at higher resolution (because they haven’t been moved and rephotographed in recent times).
For those that do zoom, we’ve popped them up in a larger overlay allowing for bigger views, partially in response to the ever increasing trend we are noticing in our analytics for bigger screen sizes.
We’ve also moved away from using Zoomify. As a result we now can support full screen zooms – just click the full screen icon once you’re in the zoomer. (Shortly we will have 3D objects views too!). The full screen is a lovely effect and is going to, eventually, force us to up the resolution of a lot of the images in the collection!
On Saturday night at our (very rainy) Common Ground meetup in Sydney, Rob Manson and Alex Young from BuildAR demonstrated the first version of their augmented reality mobile toolkit using images from the Powerhouse’s geocoded photographs in the Commons on Flickr.
But then makes it mobile – replacing the Street View with the actual view through the camera of your mobile phone.
I asked Rob a few questions –
F&N – What is this Augmented Reality thing you’ve built? What does it do?
The first service is BuildAR and it is a service built upon the Mobile Reality Browser called Layar.
Layar uses the GPS on your mobile to work out where in the world you are, then it uses the digital compass to work out which direction you’re facing (e.g. your orientation). From this it can build a model of the objects and places around you. Then as you hold up your mobile and pan around, it can overlay information on the live video from your camera that you see to highlight where these objects and places are.
BuildAR let’s you quickly and easily add, search and manage your own
collection of Points of Interest (POIs) to create your own Augmented Reality layer. You can do this via a standard PC web browser, or you can do it via your mobile phone. You can create a free personal account and get started straight away creating your own private POIs or you can make public POIs that other people can view too. All it takes is a few clicks and they are shared or published in real-time.
You can also use the service to create fully branded and customised layers.
We’re constantly releasing new features including groups so you can share private POIs with others, rich graphs so you can view when and how people are using your POIs and custom mobile websites that each of the POIs can link to. We can even customise layers to make them really interactive so the POIs you see are based on where you’ve been, other POIs you’ve interacted with, the time of day or any range of options. Treasure hunts are a great example of this.
How did you use the Powerhouse data?
We’re in the process of creating layers for a lot of people at the moment and another great example is with the Powerhouse images that were released into the Flickr Commons. We loaded over 400 of these images as public POIs so now you can wander around Sydney with your phone and see beautiful historic images of the local area around you. You can then just tap on the POI/photo and you get the option to go directly to the Flickr page for that image, or even better straight to the Powerhouse page with all the historic information and the original image.
I spent the afternoon with my son the other day wandering around looking at images of our local area. Neither of us knew that Bondi/Tamarama used to have an Aquarium and it has opened up a whole new world for us to explore.
How easy was it to use Layar? What are the benefits?
It was reasonably straight forward, but it was a very technical process.
That’s largely why we created BuildAR – so other people can create and manage their own POIs by just pointing and clicking, or wandering around and using their mobile.
The benefits are that it is a great system with quite an open API. They’re gaining a lot of traction and I think the “browser with layers” approach is much better than creating dedicated applications.
This is much more along the lines of how the web works.
If you want to create something then you just create a website that uses standards based HTML/CSS. It just wouldn’t make sense for you to also have to create your own browser too. That’s the old model from before the 90’s and we’ve all learned a lot and come a long way since then.
Layar are releasing some great new features soon too, like supporting 3D models and animations and support for more mobile device types. They can focus on that and we can just focus on creating great layers and tools that make it easy to create and manage layers.
What data sets were you looking to use? How easy was it to use etc?
We’re looking for either content that’s compelling or data that’s useful. The Powerhouse images are a great example of compelling information and the team at the Powerhouse made it really easy to integrate into our application (thanks Luke and Paula!).
Very soon we’ll be releasing an option that lets you upload a batch file of POIs or just point it to a GeoRSS feed and you’ll be done. Couldn’t get much easier than that!
Another great example of compelling content we’re currently working on is with Sculpture by the Sea. This is a beautiful outdoor experience and is a perfect fit for mobile Augmented Reality.
We’re also doing quite a bit of work in the Government 2.0 and Open Data movement and we’re currently working on a range of layers that utilise the really useful public data that’s being released. Our goal is to help this data become more “situated” and therefore hopefully more relevant . . . then on top of that we’re opening up layers of social interaction to add even more value.
This is a really interesting time with a lot of social change on the horizon. The combination of Augmented Reality and Open Data is something that is literally changing the way we see our world.
What platforms does it run on? Will it be easy to port to the iPhone?
At the backend BuildAR is simply a relatively open API and we implemented that all on our Linux based servers. On the Layar browser side it currently runs on Android based devices and will be released on the iPhone 3GS and some other platforms soon too. The Layar team are working hard to port and enhance this whole application and the goal is to support any phone that has GPS and a digital compass built-in.
I think in the near term future you’ll see GPS and digital compasses start to spread back onto netbooks and laptops and then the tablet computers that will be released soon.
You were demo-ing another AR application at the Web Week launch party. Tell me about it?
This was a “marker” based AR project, an ARt exhibition collaboration with Yiying Lu who created the “Fail Whale” for twitter. Basically you just hold up an illustration created by Yiying, on a postcard or a t-shirt, in front of a camera connected to an internet connected computer. The application we created then recognises the image and then projects a simple Fail Whale animation over the top of the marker.
This also loads that last 30 tweets with the #wds09 hashtag and randomly displays one of them every 45 seconds. It’s all kinda self-referential and tongue-in-cheek and is a great way to play with and interact with Yiying’s beautiful illustrations.
You can try this on your own computer too. All you need is an internet connected computer, Flash installed on your browser and a working webcam. Just visit the project website and have a play or just watch the video to see how it works.
It is still quite early days with this technology and the light levels can really impact how well it works, but AR is definitely something that has an impact when you experience it.
We are obviously in the early days of mobile phone AR. How do you see it developing?
Well, I’m working on a broader research project on Pervasive Computing and I think this is a core part of that evolution. The interfaces are still quite clunky and having to hold up and wave around your phone is still quite a clumsy experience.
I think quite soon we’ll see more immersive display devices start to spread. I’m running a session on this at Web Directions South and we use this underlying theory to inform most of our business/product strategy development.
Basically the distance between the network and the user is collapsing. The distance between the display and the user is collapsing. And the distance between the physical interface (e.g. think of gestures) and the user is also shrinking. This means our overall experience of space and even who we are is changing.
This all seems a bit futuristic, but glasses with displays built-into them should start to spread quite soon, all powered by mobile devices. And there’ll be even more interesting options too. Just think how quickly iPhones and Bluetooth headsets have become common everyday objects.
The opposite side of this is the spread of wireless digital cameras.
Combine the two and you open the door to rich and immersive Augmented Reality where you can shift your perspective constantly and freely.
I think this is the start of something really fascinating!
On October 2 & 3, depending on where you are in the world a group of institutions who have put photographs into the Commons on Flickr are having a ‘meet up’. The Powerhouse is hosting the Sydney one on Saturday October 3, 630-9pm.
What, who & why?
Common Ground began as an idea that was bounced around via email – “Could a global meetup happen that involves local communities, the global community around Commons on Flickr and be on at the same time in different locations around the world?”
Between Shelley Bernstein (Brooklyn Museum), Ryan Donahue (George Eastman House) and Paula Bray at the Powerhouse the notion took form. So the work on Common Ground formed as the idea of a projection onto the participating institutions’ buildings at night using a slideshow of content from all of the Commons on Flickr accounts and curated by the Flickr community.
Common Ground is a chance to say ‘thank you‘ to the community that has spent many hours devouring these collections online and giving them a new life outside the vaults of the institutions that they have been housed in for many years.
The meetup also provides an opportunity to get to know the online community face-to-face and engage in conversations that may not happen online – or are just best handled in face-to-face in meatspace.
We are also very interested in bringing the online community into the physical institution space and we were inspired by Kevin von Appen et al’s work at the Ontario Science Centre (documented at MW09).
The Commons is a very inclusive and global project and it didn’t seem quite right to do this in isolation at just one institution. Hence the attempt at making a global meetup that happens at the same time (albeit time differences).
Who is it for?
Common Ground is for and about community.
The Flickr community is curating the content that will make up the slideshow but the meetup is open to all.
Common Ground is challenging the notion of the museum professional selecting images to show the public. The aim of Common Ground is to have the community-curated slideshow seen by as many people as possible even after the event is over. We want this to be available for other purposes too – it will be able to be downloaded and used by teachers and others after Common Ground is finished.
Come celebrate this crowd-curated slideshow with a participating institution.
Or is this some kind of emergent co-collaborative net-art?
Even the Flickr community isn’t quite sure. Here’s a few comments from the image.
what a pity all that notes on it!
What made people decide to hijack this lovely/hilarious photo with notes? I love the effect, I just wonder how it happened.
Big Lion Head says:
Personally speaking the adding of multiple boxes and notes works marvelously on a number of levels. There’s the level of obvious frivolity and humor which ties in nicely with the original theme of the image itself ie. a bit of a laugh. There’s also a privacy factor in that eventually, the sheer volume of notes/boxes will render the image impossible to see and thus affording the subject a little privacy, dignity and respect because let’s face it, setting up a human skeleton in this way doesn’t exactly display a huge amount of respect for the dead. That is of course unless the ‘sitter’ knew well the ‘placer ‘ and indeed asked for that picture to be set up for him. (Doubtful but possible all the same)
There’s also the fact that the adding of notes is adding to the impact of the image from a contemporary artistic viewpoint. Some of the comments are very thoughtful and left-of-center, the massive volume of opinions somehow gives the image a whole new dimension otherwise forgotten, unseen and unimagined by the original creator. I personally would be ‘chuffed to bits’ if one of my own images took on such vibrant attention. (edited)
Personally I’m happy that this sort of interaction is able to take place on Flickr but doesn’t need to travel with the image everywhere else it goes. It is clearly part of Flickr culture and illustrates why an organisation might expect and tolerate different forms of interactions with their ‘assets’ in different environments.
Since April 8 last year we’ve uploaded 1,171 photos (382 geotagged) from four different archival photographic collections. These have been viewed 777,466 times! For photographs that had been either hidden away on our website (the original 270 Tyrrell photographs on our website were viewed around 37,000 times on our site in 2007), or not yet even catalogued and digitised this is a fantastic result. And that’s not even scratching the surface of the amazing extra information and identifications, mashups, new work and more that has come from the community participation.
The book was published using print-on-demand service Blurb and comes as a softcover or two different hardcovers – it is your choice! Inside there are a range of photographs alongside their individual statistics, user comments and some of the stories of discovery that have come from the first year in the Commons.
I’d personally like to thank everyone at the Powerhouse who have supported our involvement in the Commons and helped make available so many photographs. I’d also like to thank the enthusiastic Flickr community who have so enthusiastically embraced these historical images; Paul Hagon for his mashup;the staff at Flickr (esp George, Dan and Aaron); and the Indicommons crew.
Without all of you this would never have happened.
Today 20 February 2009 (Sydney time) the above image and five others were posted on the image sharing website Flickr here. Within a few minutes astrometry.net found the image and analysed it to provide full details such as the astronomical coordinates of the image centre, its scale, its orientation and marked the main objects visible on the image.
The removal of astrometry as a barrier to using legacy and badly archived (or not archived) data will greatly extend astronomical time baselines into the past, and greatly increase time sampling for sources all over the sky. It facilitates work with distributed, heterogeneous data sets. It also provides a channel for professional and amateur astronomers to collaborate, as the installation of correct WCS makes currently hard-to-access amateur imaging data interoperable with professional projects.
It is a quite amazing use of citizen-contributed data (via photographs of the night sky) to hard science. The use of Flickr as a data source is quite magical – read the interview with Christopher Stumm from the Astrometry project.
We’ve been experimenting with a few ways of showing up some of the amazing and often hidden details in some of the Tyrrell images we are putting up into the Commons.
Jean-Francois Lanzarone put this little test video together in an hour today. This one reveals the detail of ‘On the wallaby track’ that shows the high resolutions that we scan these glass plate negatives at.
The glass plate negatives in the Clyde photograph collection were taken at the Clyde works in Granville, and depict both the workers and the machinery they manufactured. Subjects covered include: railway locomotives and rolling stock; agricultural equipment; large engineering projects funded by Australian State and Federal governments; airplane maintenance and construction and Clyde’s contribution to the first and second World Wars. Some photographs date back to the 1880s but most were taken between 1898 and 1945 . . . The Clyde Engineering Company photograph collection was acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in December 1987.