Commentary

The Future Is Here: Get Ready To Be Augmented

Last week, Interpublic's vaunted Emerging Media Lab announced a partnership with a promising new "augmented reality" technology that will enable marketers to integrate their brands by merging virtual, 3D elements into real, on-the-fly video programming. The deal with augmented reality application developer Total Immersion initially is intended to explore ways of integrating the technology into digital out-of-home media, but as TI CEO Bruno Uzzan explains in the following Q&A, the plan ultimately is to take augmented reality into every screen, and any form of content -- from marketing and entertainment to healthcare, education and maybe even pornography.

Digital Outsider: What's so special about this deal with Interpublic's Emerging Media Lab?. How does it work?

Bruno Uzzan: Basically we are working together to create more interaction between brands and consumers. I met with (lab director) Lori Schwartz some time ago, and we discussed how the application could work for advertisers, and she has a lab showcasing new technologies like that in Los Angeles, so they're going to help me facilitate that.

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That is the first step of Interpublic helping to promote the solution that we have. The second step, is that this relationship leads us to some business relationships with the Interpublic Emerging Media Lab that also benefit Interpublic. As soon as we have revenue coming from a company that saw the application at the lab first, part of that revenue is being sent back to the lab.

DO: So you have some kind of commission arrangement with Interpublic?

Uzzan: It's a success fees relationship that we have together. If they introduce us to a client who is interested in using the application, we give them some of the money that was generated by that relationship, so it's like a commission fee, in the sense that the more business that we have thanks to their work, the more revenue they get from it. We call it commission success fees. It's a win/win for both of us. I want them to get involved in the process, and if they didn't get money back, they wouldn't support us just because we are here. And for us to be part of this lab, and have a relationship with the Interpublic Group, gives us credibility.

D.O.: Are you worried that by partnering with one big agency holding company, you might turn off other non-IPG agencies from working with you? You know, the not-invented-here-first-syndrome?

Uzzan: We are working with Omnicom also. I'm not worried, because the software is being showcased by the IPG media lab, but we are doing our own sales and promotion.

D.O.: Give us a real example of how the Total Immersion technology would work to connect a brand with a consumer.

Uzzan: We are currently working with clients like Infiniti and Nissan for some augmented reality applications for their showrooms, where a customer can hold a brochure and then, as if by magic, see themselves holding the brochure on a screen. You see yourself reflected on the screen at the same time. It's like a magical mirror.

D.O.: So what is 'augmented reality'? Is it like 'virtual,' virtual reality?

Uzzan: In simple words, it's a way to combine 3D objects into a live video. Think of Steven Spielberg working with virtual 3D dinosaurs in the 'Jurassic Park' movie. The people weren't really acting with dinosaurs. That was added later. It's almost the same thing, but the big difference is that the merger of the dinosaurs into the movies can be done in real time, while you are shooting the movie. You can integrate a 3D object in real time. That's what augmented reality is. It's a way to bridge reality with 3D. It's virtual reality combined with reality.

D.O.: Do you think we'll see an example installed in a major media market like New York any time soon?

Uzzan: If you go to this link and have a Web camera connected to your computer, you can have your own augmented reality experience.

D.O.: So augmented reality video isn't just for out-of-home screens? It can be distributed over the Internet, too?

Uzzan: The combination of the real and the virtual is the key part of the success in the product. It's not just a 3D image. It's grabbing an image on a video and merging the two together. It could be a projected image, it could be a Jumbotron. We even have some Goggle applications.

We have been pretty successful in the entertainment industry. We are developing some toy applications that can transform some physical, real-world toys into an augmented magical toy. You can use your imagination.

D.O.: Well, I imagine this could have all sorts of applications in pornography. Is that something you're exploring?

Uzzan: We have had some requests for some cell phone pornography applications, but we haven't done anything so far. We are backed by a VC that is not willing to go in that direction so far. I say, so far, because we still have interest in doing it, and it definitely makes sense. But it's a board decision not to go forward at this point.

D.O.: What are some other natural progressions for this application? Are you exploring the health industry? Education? Anything else?

Uzzan: It is something that could be used in a large number of industries: health, education, industrial design, etc. Right now we are concentrating our job on the entertainment industry and the advertising and media industry. Those are our key markets right now. We are concentrating on making our technologies as easy to use as possible.

We now have the ability of applying this on a browser on the Web, and that opens up a number of applications, such as education, where kids at home can see a book with 3D information that helps them understand the information in the book: a diagram illustrating what a mathematical equation is all about, for example.

D.O.: So the technology can be applied to any screen, including out-of-home screens, online video, TV, you name it?

Uzzan: Yes. The only limitation is your imagination. This began by working on some very complex hardware solutions. Now we are targeting some mass0market applications that can help a brand augment its experience with a consumer at home, on a computer, with a toy, or on a public screen.

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