Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Geobrowsing is Green. As an Apple.

Finally! Since I started this blog and started writing about the possibilities of a GPS-enabled iPhone, I have been patiently waiting for something big to happen. With "big" I mean an approach that is standardized or has enough support from a big player that it enables an explosive growth in the sharing and browsing of geolocated information. With the iPhone compass a very firm rumor and the exciting augmented reality applications this promises to deliver apparently becoming a reality with the new iPhone, I feel remarkably invigorated. With a new spring in my step I entered out into the forest nearby my home for a walk, and I was again inspired and excited by the possible applications of this kind of technology. Not only in the sense that we will get an even cooler gadget to play around with. As the earth is covered with layers of user-generated information, I think we will get a new chance to blow life into a stagnating interest among our children for the natural world and the great outdoors as well as history and other seemingly less exciting subjects in our fast-paced world.

This is sorely needed. If new generations care less and less about these things, there will no-one left to protest when large corporations continue to ravage what is left of the world. No-one who cares when parts of the ecosystem collapses. No-one to mourn the loss of our living seas when the sum of the concentrating bio-accumulative toxins finally overwhelm life in the oceans, turning them into the perfect dumping ground for all waste.

Fish? We already can't eat most of the species of fat fish without ingesting PCB, mercury and dioxins at dangerous levels.

Thank you Monsanto.

There is no good way of getting rid of these toxins and we continue to increase the output of some of them such as mercury. The increased use of coal-fueled power plants ensure far more children will suffer developmental damages from the ever increasing mercury levels. The light-bulb glows with an eery light.

Is it all worth it? Is there anyone that really cares? As long as we have entertainment in the form of mind-numbing TV-shows, there will be very little protest as the last of the giant mammals in the seas succumb. Our homes will be aglow with the flickering lights from TV-screens and computer screens.

But when we can have a tool for information sharing and social interaction like the iPhone or other devices that brings computing out into the real world, when there is a possibility for citizen-journalism providing local and global geolocated news, free from influence from corporate giants and political interests, we will have the power to turn the tide.

If we want to.

Reporting from war zones will not be filtered through large news organizations with vested interests. You will hear about and be able to react to the slaughter of women and children in wars run by your own government. Truth and integrity will have a chance to make a difference. And I really think this is what we want.

I have joined a new website were some of my posts will appear in the future, it is centered around this notion, to be an alternative to corporately run media. I hope you will join me there.

I also hope the lights from our cities will continue to be reflected in the surface of a living sea, and that this sea that connects all continents, can continue to be a source of nourishing food and that its globe-encompassing electronic cousin, the internet, can help us along the way by nourishing our minds and sharing our most noble ideals.

I think there are a few parallel revolutions that can help us along: the green revolution, solar power, a revolution in health, and last but not least, a revolution in truth and integrity.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Do No Evil, At Least For a While

Has Google dropped the ball or are they no longer interested? 

I have stopped using Google Earth for a number of reasons. One reason is that I don't appreciate being forced to have processes running in the background, phoning home to Google. The new version of Google earth requires some kind of update agent to run all the time. 

Another reason is that the resolution of the satellite images still is abysmally low for my country. There are a number of online maps services using high resolution aerial photographs that completely blow away Google's satellite images, and the maps are much better as well.

Another reason is I am starting to feel uncomfortable using Google for everything. "Do No Evil" sounds like a very good principle, but even if this principle still permeates Google operations, it is just a matter of time until this principle will be corrupted or abused. Why?

Money rules and when the unscrupulous powers behind industries like the pharmaceutical industry realizes the potential in the treasure trove of information that sits there waiting for them, they are going to make use of it in some way or another. Just think what they could do if they have access to Google Health, for instance.

When this happens, information is really going to start to leak from Google. The connections between Big Pharma and certain intelligence agencies will cause some of this information to be diverted that way.

Do I really want Googles background processes running on my computer all time in this kind of situation?

So, could the tepid interest from Google to capitalize from various parts of their technology, like Google Earth, be explained along those lines? Maybe their primary interest isn't revenues from ads anymore. Perhaps the executives at Google are set up to get their main flow of money from completely different directions these days.

The tin-foil hat is firmly glued to my head today. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The iPhone - A Pointing Device for the Real World?

Will Google use the snapshots you take with the iPhone for automatically adding 3D building detail and for increasing the resolution of Google Earth imagery?

(Image - Courtesy of Apple)

- What on Earth makes you think that?

I started thinking about virtual annotation and information overlays on the real world while writing my previous post "Pulling Answers from Thin Air".

I wrote about sending geotagged images from a phone for automatic image recognition and data lookup services. A technology that the company Neven Vision have been developing. They were aquired by Google in 2006, which I find interesting.

You can use the geographic position of an image to help identify known buildings depicted in that image. Then you also can calculate the exact position and the exact orientation of the phone in relation to the real world if you know the focal length and sensor specifications of the camera.

You will have the exact orientation at that instant, at least...

But doesn't the iPhone have an orientation sensor implemented using accelerometers? This means that the iPhone could keep track of its position and orientation in relation to the real world, even after the image was snapped, when you are moving around!

Maybe my mind is easily boggled, but this makes a lot of interesting things possible. You could envisage:
  • Extreme resolution enhancement for Google Earth - Use the images snapped by iPhone users all over the world to automatically get high resolution up-to-date map images and extremely good 3D building detail.
  • Information overlays on top of a live image of the real world on your iPhone.
  • Accessing mobile services and data by using the phone as a pointing device for the real world.
  • Orientation tagged images. Generate virtual tours where you seamlessly zoom into an image, blending with the virtual landscape. Build Quicklime VR panoramas of the globe. Orientation tagged movies and web cams. Moving images directly in the 3D view of Google Earth.
  • Historical overlays. Scrub a slider on the iPhone screen to change the point in time and see the scene in front of you change accordingly.
  • Scrub the same time slider and change the accumulated digital images that are mapping the area and you have instant animated history.

I just wish that this kind of device already had been around for about four billion years. I would love to be able to see the same kind of animation for an area using a geological time scale.

Highly accurate GPS and orientation data is needed to make something like this work. To make it useful, I guess you roughly would need to have a position that is accurate within a few meters and an angular error that not much higher than one degree. Is that possible?

That would depend on the accuracy of the accelerometer in the iPhone. It could be the same type as the accelerometer in the MacBook, which is pretty accurate, but I have no idea if that is accurate enough for this kind of application. An electronic magnetic compass combined with accelerometers and image recognition of known landmarks sounds like a workable solution.

I'll admit that this is a little speculative. It relies on the premise that the iPhone has or will have a GPS chip and a method for acquiring accurate 3D orientation data. But, is it difficult to put together such a contraption?

No. It has already been done (pdf).

What will Google have to gain from something like this? Besides getting ahead of competitors in the ongoing battle of more resolution and 3D detail, the possibilities for very effective advertising can not be ignored. I would not pass on something like this. Would you, Google?

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