Jun 28, 2017

Google unveils Advr, an experimental Area 120 project for advertising in VR

Google today is more formally taking the wraps off its internal incubator, Area 120, with the launch of a dedicated website, alongside the launch of one of the program’s more interesting projects to date: a way to advertise within VR. The new experiment, which is simply called Advr, involves a cube-like ad format which allows video ads to run in a 3D/VR environment.

Area 120 was launched at Google in March, 2016, as a way to retain entrepreneurial-minded talent at the company, as well as give teams the ability to test new ideas that could eventually become Google products, or be integrated with existing products.

That hasn’t happened yet, as the R&D program is still fairly new.

Much is already known about Area 120, whose name references a famous aspect of Google culture – allowing employees to work on passion projects on the side, using 20 percent of their time. It was often more an idea, than policy though.

Area 120, however, refocuses the concept into a more structured, formal program.

Google isn’t the only major tech giant to run its own internal incubator these days. Microsoft today has its Garage program; while Apple in 2012 tried something similar with Blue Sky.

Google’s Area 120 works a lot like a startup accelerator inside the company. Employees apply to the program during a set period, then Google selects a handful of teams to join. Each “class,” so to speak, has roughly 15 teams who work to prove out their ideas over the course of the next six months. During this time, the employees no longer work their day jobs – they exclusively focus on their Area 120 projects instead.

If projects are successful, Googlers will be allowed to continue to work on them; if not, they’re invited to return to work at Google, in a different role.

Two classes have already been invited into Area 120 since its launch, and Google is taking applications for its third now.

The program is so new that even Google itself doesn’t yet know what the fate of its Area 120 projects will be, or even, more broadly, if the program is worth the investment. It’s possible that some might actually become standalone Google products one day, or be merged with existing ones. Many more will likely be closed, after failing to find traction – as is common with startups, too.

Not all Area 120 projects are public-facing. Some are used internally, or only with select testers on an invite-only basis. Only a few have seen any media coverage. Of those available publicly, Uptime is the most promising. The app, which officially launched this month as the invite requirement was dropped, allows for a YouTube co-watching experience among friends.

Other Area 120 projects include personal stylist Tailor; learn to code app Grasshopper; emoji messenger Supersonic (which is closing down). There are also some projects that aren’t broadly available, like a job-matching service in Bangalore, and a yet-to-launch booking tool called Appointments. Google hasn’t promoted any of the projects until now, however.

But it’s giving Advr a push, with an announcement on the Google Developer blog today.

Advr: Video Advertising in VR

The new project is an experiment focused on figuring out if video ads could work in VR, and if so, how they would function.

The team has developed a plug-in for Unity that can show ads in VR environments. Explains the post, developers aren’t interested in disruptive or hard-to-implement ad experiences in VR, which is how the Advr team came up with the idea for a simple cube.

VR users can optionally engage with the cube either by tapping on it or gazing at it for a few seconds, which then pops open a video player to display the ad. The user can choose to watch the ad or close the player at this point.

The goal is to enable this functionality across a variety of VR platforms, including Google’s own Daydream, Cardboard, and Samsung’s Gear VR, for starters.

This launch doesn’t mean that Advr is how Google thinks advertising in VR should work, it’s just an idea at this point. But it’s not the only tech company with plans for this space – Adobe, too, has been developing VR ad solutions, as have several others.  If Advr were to be successful, though, it would be an example of an Area 120 project that could translate directly to Google’s bottom line.

Advr has already begun running tests with some VR game developers, but Google isn’t disclosing which ones. It is today inviting other VR developers to apply to try out the ad format through an invite-only program that will provide access to the early-stage SDK for Advr.

Interested developers can sign up here.

from TechCrunch http://my.onmedic.com/2smEDeA

Jun 19, 2017

IKEA plans to improve AR shopping tools with help from Apple

In the first version, customers will take photos of their homes and use the app to place images of IKEA products wherever they might want them. Valdsgaard said users will be able to position products with millimeter precision and sizing of the products will be to scale. Eventually, customers may be able to try out products and then order them through the app.

The IKEA catalog app sort of lets you do this now, but not with much accuracy. In it, you can click on a piece of furniture and see it superimposed over whatever your camera is pointed towards. You can drag the furniture around and get an idea of what it might look like in your home and you can even use the app to make sure the size is accurate. But Valdsgaard says the new app will be better with the help of Apple's technology and experience with AR.

IKEA isn't the only retail company with AR shopping experiences. Both Lowe's and Pottery Barn have apps that let you get an idea of how furniture and appliances will look in your home. Lowe's even uses AR to help customers navigate their stores and VR to give lessons on how to successfully complete certain home improvement projects.

Valdsgaard says they would like to have the app available by the iOS 11 debut, but that it may not be possible. IKEA expects to have 500-600 products available on the app at launch.

from Engadget http://my.onmedic.com/2sI1WmR

Jun 18, 2017

Texas explicitly allows driverless car tests

All self-driving cars have to obey existing traffic laws and carry insurance. They also have to record video, and the manufacturer has to accept liability as long as the self-driving tech remains unmodified. These aren't exactly radical departures (many autonomous cars already have cameras, for one thing), but they establish a baseline. Critics are worried they're too lenient, however. There's no clear requirement that a human operator should be inside, and groups like AAA want a higher minimum insurance coverage than you'd see with conventional cars.

Even so, the new law is important. While it's not going to change minds at Waymo and other companies that were already inclined to test in Texas, it could encourage others to set up shop if they were previously skittish. And testing in Texas is particularly important -- numerous tech giants have offices in the state (particularly in the Austin area), and its warm climate makes it a good testing ground for vehicles that might not be ready to handle snowy roads.

from The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) http://my.onmedic.com/2sGrvW5

Jun 15, 2017

This self-driving grocery store has no employees

In order to shop at Moby, you first have to download an app to your phone. That's what gets you through the door, which is otherwise kept locked. You then walk through the store -- which is very small, fitting a maximum of four people at once -- and place your purchases into a smart basket. When you're ready, you simply walk out the door. You're automatically charged for the food you purchased. It's a concept that Amazon has been working on, but Wheelys may beat the retail giant to market. What's more, the solar-powered Moby is designed to restock itself automatically, driving to a warehouse, while another identical unit takes its place.

While Wheelys is testing its first Moby store in the bustling city of Shanghai, these autonomous, unmanned stores could also prove very useful in small, rural towns where grocery shops have closed, as well as urban food deserts. "I grew up in the countryside in Northern Sweden," said Tomas Mazetti, one of Wheelys' founders, to Fast Company. "The last store closed there in the 1980s sometime, and after that, everyone just commuted into the city, but that takes an hour. A little piece of the village died. Now, suddenly, in a place like that, the village can team up and buy one of these stores. If the village is really small, [the store] can move around to different villages."

The company is hoping to make these mobile markets affordable for small groups of people. They estimate a community could purchase a Moby store for around $30,000, with an additional fee for logistical support. Eventually, the company wants to expand beyond groceries, as well as test the home delivery services.

from The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) http://my.onmedic.com/2rAATWo