Computer Science and Technology

Estimote Stickers and the crumbs 2.0 of Tom Thumb

beaconsUp until now, our connection with internet has been active and receptive: we are the ones who decide when to connect, what to look for, whom to contact or simply when to check the news. We are active resources who use a global virtual system.
Internet is, from the interactive point of view, similar to our home phone. We contact or decide to answer to stimuli coming from other contacts, an autopoietic system whose confines have definite limits. It is necessary to use a device, an electronic device to be connected to internet, otherwise you cannot enter.
At the beginning such connection was possible only through a personal computer, a tool which still requires today, waiting times for power on and network connection. Subsequently, other devices came on the market, more immediate, such as smartphones and tablets, which can be activated in an instant and can be carried around in the pocket or purse allowing us to be often connected online during the day as many times as we want.
These devices represent only the first step to innovation, in the years to come new tools will permit us to mix, more and more, the real world with the cyber space.
The first tools which belong to this new generation are the already mentioned glasses. These glasses will increase our perception of reality adding helpful information such as: road signs, traffic data, medical information, other cybernauts’ comments on the restaurant or the hotel which we are interested in, danger alert or just the presence of one of our friends taking a walk in the vicinity and so on…
The reality will soon become a composition of real and virtual stimuli and situations.
The technology Bluetooth Smart or its natural evolution, it does not matter, will facilitate this interchange of information between our two universes, the real one and the virtual one.
In every shopping center, municipal office, school, library, coffee bar, cinema, etc, we will easily find small tools not only in condition to reveal our position GPS but also in condition to give us, immediately and consequently, potentially useful information.
The devices which have fulfilled this function up till now are the so-called iBeacon. The iBeacons are already active in all the American Apple stores; they are equipped to send to our own smart phone information concerning the device next to us, a kind of virtual salesclerk always to our disposal capable of explaining us the characteristics of the object of our interest.
Their use is even more important, although on an experimental basis, in San Francisco airport, in this case, the detectors intercept the passenger’s position and suggest to the blind and partially-sighted persons the direction to follow and the gate to reach, through the “VoiceOver” reader.
There are analogous experimentations in action or in progress among other international airports as well as in some subways, such as the one of London.
In short, a real tool, a small detector, crosses virtual lines with our (real) steps in order to provide us in real time (virtual) information on the surrounding real world. Obviously the promiscuity between real and virtual makes thinner and thinner the boundary between the two universes.
It is no coincidence that the literary translation of the term “beacon” it is “lighthouse”, because of the potential light that these tools can throw illuminating some aspects of our daily life.
This new technology reveals itself rather economical both in terms of installation and activation, around 20 dollars per location, as well as in terms of energetic consumptions for the devices that receive the information, for the time being smartphones and tablets, in the future smartwatches, digital glasses and who knows what else.
The last frontier is that of the “Estimote Stickers“, small sticky beacons, almost imperceptible which can be placed anywhere in order to allow the construction of uncountable virtual paths, unlimited situations in which our smartphones, smartwatches, google glasses,… receive additional information from internet.
The telepass, the ATM, the GPS receiver, the road signs on the highway, are all the precursors of this new symbiotic generation of tools. A surplus of digital information in a position to follow us step by step which is to be added to our social network. System that for some years already mixes real friendships with virtual friends met online.
Will we succeed in gaining from this jungle of virtual information?
Providing today useful information to blind persons is certainly an excellent result. Contrariwise, it is more difficult to hypothesize the effects of this bombardment of digital information on the next generations. There is a possible risk after all, useless to deny it, and that is ending up focusing a great part of our attention on digital contents, distracting it from concrete natural events.
But what I am sure of is that this technology will make enormous strides in the coming years because stimulated by the trading world which sees in the possibility of monitoring closely the consumer/user, the best way to incentivize a purchase.
We will become many Tom Thumbs 2.0 and in the deep forest we will switch on our smartphones and, thanks to the estimotes stickers positioned on every tree, we will easily find our way back home…

Augmented Reality and Google glass, how our visual perception will change

google_glass2We are about to come in to the AUSL (Italian hospital) offices of your area and probably already from the first step we will notice the presence of a sign that indicates us the services. Shortly after, we will find another sign with schedules and “toll-free numbers”, a manifesto with this year’s events, one for the pre-natal courses, one for the no smoking day and so on…
A few more steps and we are in the main hall. Here to each counter correspond a sign that specifies the type of provided service, the alphabetical initials of the last name operated by that counter and a fantastic display “spaceship enterprise” style with the progressive number that identifies the citizen that currently benefits of the service.
The reality we perceive in the hall grows bigger and bigger, enriched by the presence of various informative messages. We begin to perceive not only the counter’s employees but also which counter interests us, when it will be our turn and so on…
In fact, often elderly citizens, before such an excess of information, not always simple to read without a pair of glasses and sometimes even tiresome to decode, struggle to understand which counter they have to go and when is their turn.
Our perceptual ability, our senses, allow us to give an added value to the context we are living by taking in consideration “in real time” further informative contents useful to us.
As the matter of fact, the AUSL hall where we have just been, it’s a real, simplistic example of “Augmented Reality”, in this case with the help of papery material and some numerical digital displays.
Now, let’s imagine that before going in AUSL hall, we put on some special glasses that, in total absence of signs and display, allow us to see the same information as mentioned above, indicating us our counter and letting us know when it should be our turn. Basically we see the same counters AUSL but our sight is enriched with digital information for instance sideways or above the counters themselves. Not only, with the help of our voice we can ask our special glasses further details, confirm the ticket’s payment, visualize previous prescriptions, identify the employee that has previously followed our practice and so on…
Our glasses are augmenting our reality enriching it with useful details and on-line services.
The model is that made popular by science fiction movie “Terminator“, directed by James Cameron with the highly decorated bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as protagonist whose performance in the role of a cyborg killer has probably contributed decisively to his following election as governor of California.
The cyborg in question sees the reality enriched by a lot of textual and numerical information that allow him to make always, or almost always, the most suitable and logical choice.
Once again the science fiction succeeds in representing, at least partly, tools and technologies present in the near future.
At the matter of fact the near future is closer than we think! A discreet number of APP able to enrich what we see is already on the market. With the camera of our tablet or smartphone we can identify a building, an object, a panorama and receive further information. We can see Coliseum or other important monuments as they were in the past, completed by the details corroded by time.
These applications are quickly evolving, they propose more and more intuitive and interactive interfaces, as well as an increasing number of additional “real” contents.
The following short video enriches the “wood” where we are walking with announcements and promotional messages.
But the decisive qualitative leap could take place with tools similar to “Google Glass“, the first example of interactive glasses, able to increase our sensorial perception, therefore the reality, with services and information.
Let us be clear, that of google is only the first step in this direction, for now the applications are a few but the commercial diffusion will gain currency in 2014. The costs in this initial phase are not affordable to all, there is however a high attention to this type of tools, and often where there is a demand technology makes giant steps in short time.
In a few years we will wear glasses that will tell us when we are not respecting the safety distance or the limits of speed while we are driving or if a friend of ours is in the neighbourhood or what has on the menu the restaurant across the street or if the suit we see in the shop window is also available in our size.
Obviously we can share what we see on internet, we can film it, store it and keep it aside on our cloud, send it, post it, tweet it, email it and who knows what else to our friends only by using our new glasses.
Creating new applications for our glasses could revolutionise different areas! Just visualize a doctor wearing the glasses during a visit or a surgery and receiving from them precious information about the critical points where to operate on or a worker during the evaluation of a risk regarding his work or a police officer during the identification of a potential suspect and so on…
I know that for you who read this article, as well as for me, the idea of giving the sight, a meaningful part of our own senses, in exchange for virtual services, is quite destabilizing.
It does not matter, in the next decade even the most conservatives will be forced to conform themselves. The diffusion of Augmented Reality’s tools will be fast and widespread (the same as  cash dispenser one; do you remember when it was necessary to go to the counter for withdrawing money?).
Before this presentation of new contents, reality will suddenly become insufficient .
Without your “new glasses” you will find no sign in the AUSL hall, not even an operator and of course you will not know when it should be your turn.


How the Cloud will change our lives: the relocation of our cultural heritage


Few days ago I read the following lines “it is clear that the new technologies are nothing new, there is nothing that can really be called a novelty,” it is not true. It ‘s obvious, blatantly obvious, that the tools and devices invented and circulated in the twenty-first century are a strong element of innovation, they provide a new way to use technology.
Over the past decade, software programming has made great strides and application frameworks have been refined. In plain English, application frameworks mean infrastructures necessary to govern and regulate the software development. Sharing protocols have evolved, lightweight, standardized. API “application program interface”, add-ons and plug-ins have greatly increased, in other words, the software engineer has at his disposal different types of tools and services.
For  user, the direct consequence of these changes is a more friendly realization of navigation interfaces, much more interactive, fast, dynamic and easy to use. In technical terms the application of new customs, standards-based paradigms and tools has certainly improved software for portability, maintainability, responsiveness, ease of installation and configuration. Not bad, absolutely not bad at all.
Even the devices have had in the last five years an extraordinary acceleration, how many of you in 1999 could even imagine a tool like the tablet I’m using now to write this article? Devices at your finger tip, used by all, that provide essential services, useful and less useful but above all which allow us to live in every moment of the day, wherever we are, our many different network personalities, through social networks, blogs and portals.
All these instruments were absent before … all these instruments are based on new technological features use.
Let’s not forget  HD camcorders and digital cameras that allow us to create a small multimedia heritage to be shared on  network, for example on YouTube, portal founded in the recent 2005 or on our smart television.
But the real novelty is Cloud Computing , a cloud with spaces and services available to user. The “Cloud” combined with recent devices will have a significant impact on our habits.
Our files will be no longer placed on our PC, or rather on his disks, but “elsewhere” on a cloud, easily accessible via our tablets, our smartphones, our office PC, our home PC and even via the PC present in the hotel where we are spending our holidays …
Our precious files will be placed elsewhere, easily accessible, properly stored, handled by the provider that offers the service of cloud, in order to avoid the loss of information, common in home personal computer.
To be more precise the Cloud is already available.
The cloud, which is a set of spaces and services, is expected to trigger new risks in terms of security and privacy. I do not think this kind of risks can slow down its spread, after all, none of us knows how our bank invests our money to guarantee investments made by others. We content ourselves with a little number, and that is the balance.
The relocation of our heritage is probably the main effect due to a large number of innovative technological elements came out during the last decade: these new devices are always at our side, such as: new technological standards, new and more streamlined communication protocols, new services faster and more collaborative, “smart”, often available at no extra cost, or at least with minimal cost within everybody’s means.
Within a decade all your books, favorite movies, music, personal and business documents, your avatar, your blogs, comments posts on social networks, bibliographies and so on, will be on a cloud and all you’ll have to do is fly inside it whenever you consider it necessary.
Not everyone knows that Daedalus, father of Icarus, was an inventor