Evangelizing Mainframe
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IBM and Augmented Reality

Sometimes, customers can ask for all kinds of strange information. For example, I spent a chunk of last week searching for the best way to run a Windows application on a Mac—but that’s another story, and perhaps another blog post! Other times, people can say the most outrageous things, like “IBM is a living fossil and just surviving on its past glory.” But how can that be true when the company can be so bang up-to-date, like last week when it announced an augmented reality (AR) app for smartphones?

What is augmented reality? It’s basically a way of viewing the real physical world with some extra information added to it. You’ve seen it in sci-fi movies and TV shows where someone looks around, and they can see text telling them who’s a baddy or where the explosives are, etc.

Well, IBM’s research lab in Haifa, Israel, has announced a shopping AR app that enables people to use their smartphone cameras to identify products that meet specific criteria they may have specified—for example, dietary requirements, as well as budget items, items on sale, and in-store promotions, etc.

The announcement didn’t say which family of smartphone the app runs on—Apple’s proprietary iPhone and iPad, or Android—and it’s still a prototype. But they were quick to point out that it offers an advantage over other AR apps in that it doesn’t rely on QR codes or RFID tags. The app compares an image that it “sees” (using the camera) with an image it has in its database. The comparison uses the kind of image-processing technologies found in facial-recognition software, as well as color and shape matching, and comparison to nearby products.

Once the app has identified the product, it adds information on top of the picture. The user can then make a better-informed choice about what products to buy. It seems that it’s possible to scan multiple products at the same time, and the app can process more than one product in an image.

The hard work still has to be done before the first shopping expedition takes place. The user has to enter the data that the app can use to select suitable products—for example low-fat, allergy-free, pricing, etc. Retailers can encourage potential customers to use the app by providing loyalty programs and digital coupons to the app users.

As this is an IBM product, you’d expect analytics to be in there somewhere—and it is. This is the bonus for retailers. They can see, in real time, what their customers prefer to buy. And, like Amazon.com does already, they could suggest similar products that people like to buy, in the expectation of increasing sales!

Other AR-based products are out there. You might have come across Google’s Project Glass, which augments the view through a pair of glasses with a user’s Facebook status, Twitter feed, maps, and lots of other information.

If you’ve got an Android smartphone, you may have come across AR apps such as Layar, which reveals hidden digital information in the world around you. There’s iOnRoad, which acts as a driving assistant—particularly a collision-warning device. The Wikitude world browser shows you places to stay, restaurants, special hotel offers, and more. Yelp, similarly, finds hotels, restaurants, etc., and Google skymap is another example. Satellite AR shows you which satellites are flying overhead. And there’s the amazing Google goggles, which will tell you about a piece of artwork or even a book you glance at.

For iPhone users wanting AR apps, there’s also Wikitude and Layar. There’s the brilliant Augmented Car Finder, so you never lose your car when you’ve parked in some massive car park. Golfscape is a must for golfers, telling them everything they need to know. And ARSoccer lets you kick a virtual football.

So augmented reality can be fun for users, and, with IBM’s new app, it can be useful for retailers. I’m still looking for a version that can tell me how full my DASDs are or at what percentage of capacity my processors are running. It would be so cool, just to hold up your phone or tablet and see how your mainframe is performing.

One day!

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 7/17/2012 4:07:30 AM by Trevor Eddolls | with 0 comments

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