Augmented reality has so far been mostly a sci-fi vision that overlays information from the virtual world atop what we see in the real world. An Israeli startup called Infinity Augmented Reality, though, wants to make a business of it.
In three to six months, Infinity AR plans to launch its app, called the Brain, for Google Glass; devices running Android, iOS, and Windows Phone; Microsoft Sync in cars; and perhaps most notably Meta's 3D augmented-reality glasses. The last example is closest to the science fiction vision of AR, where translucent information is merged with your full field of vision; Google Glass uses only a small screen that's above your regular line of sight.
The app will link back to Infinity AR servers that will handle the computing grunt work to enable various services, said Chief Executive Elon Landenberg. And it'll be free, since Infinity AR plans to make money by supplying ads deemed relevant to a person's changing interests.
"We are trying to develop the platform that uses augmented reality in the front end [devices people carry like phones or glasses] but uses artificial intelligence technology on the back end [the company's servers] to try to anticipate and understand what you need and what you want and then present it when you need it," Landenberg said.
Key to the company's sales pitch is making services that are useful -- and that go beyond existing ones like calendar notifications and the Google Now service for prompting people with information Google anticipates you'll want.
So what are those services exactly? Landenberg has several in mind to start with:
Information about the mood of people you're talking to, based on their tone of voice.
Face recognition of those around you, based on information those people have shared publicly already. Recognition isn't instant -- it takes about 30 seconds for a complete stranger and 5 seconds if only searching through a limited set of people such as a few hundred conference attendees. Depending on your mood, the software can tailor what it shows you.
A navigation assistant that offers to help you drive not to your ultimate destination but instead to the nearest parking lot, with adjustments made in timing if traffic is bad. The software hands off the turn-by-turn directions aspect of the actual trip to a person's preferred navigation system, such as a smartphone app or car sat-nav system.
A calorie counter that can estimate how many calories are in food that you photograph.
Weather advice that tells you what to wear based on factors such as the elements, temperature, and activities on your schedule.
For an idea of what the company has in mind, Landenberg promises that at launch time, Infinity AR will be able to offer 90 percent of the features described in its promotional video (also embedded above). It's a sort of bachelor fantasy in which a man gets AR help from his smart glasses to pick his wardrobe, drive his Ferrari to an upscale pool hall, get advice on his pool shooting, and impress the attractive bartender with the knowledge that she's a Gemini.
The company also plans to let third-party companies add their own services -- though not for free. Infinity AR will charge for use of its software development kit (SDK). "Through SDK licensing fees, Infinity AR can allow developers to target their users by age, gender, preferences, and location," Landenberg said.
But the main revenue will come from money-generating suggestions. Here's how Landenberg explains it for a person who typically gets coffee at about 10:30 a.m. each day:
The Google Glass or other digital devices will present a recommendation from the user's favorite coffee house at 10:30. But the process doesn't end there. Unlike regular advertising formats, the Brain knows its user and provides a coupon to go along with the recommendation, GPS location and directions to the merchant, and various formats for paying from the digital device. The merchant is charged for the recommendation and is happy to pay for the loyalty this technology generates.
Thus, Infinity AR's technology involves a fair amount of probing into people's lives -- the access you grant it combined with what Infinity AR's servers can find publicly about other people.
"There is a big debate now on privacy. I can't do anything about privacy. People update where they are all the time. They update pictures of themselves. The government has pictures of you. If you don't tag yourself, your friends tag you," Landenberg said.
"I can't do anything about the information," he said. "I access it for you when you really need it."
Another common refrain among those anxious about lives increasingly mediated by digital devices is that people will submerge themselves more in their gadgetry and have fewer authentic human interactions. Landenberg is unworried here, too.
"I think today i'm interacting with more people than I interacted with 10 years ago thanks to Facebook and Twitter, though I'm not meeting them face to face," he said.
The company is based in Tel Aviv and has 35 employees, though it's also got a single-employee Silicon Valley presence that technically is its base of operations. It's working on partnerships with hardware makers, Landenberg added.
Absent something like a multibillion acquisition from Google -- "that's how they buy companies right now" -- Landenberg plans to stay independent.
"With us not being a Google company, we can develop our platform to work on other platforms, including Google. This is a big benefit we have they don't," he said. "We have the possibility to be connected to Facebook and much more platforms than they have."