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Blippar builds computer vision solution to improve AR in cities

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Pokémon Go introduced smartphone augmented reality to millions of people, capturing new fans by overlaying gameplay on the real world. Blippar has been working with the technology for years though, developing AR apps that display information about the places around you.

Augmented reality startup Blippar has announced a prototype app that makes augmented reality in cities faster and more precise. The company intends to make future augmented reality apps, like the next Pokémon Go, more responsive and visually accurate.

AR on smartphones faces two related challenges: it’s often slightly sluggish and it tends to look slightly out of place. Because AR apps have to continuously work out your location using a combination of GPS, accelerometer and compass data, performance can be lacking.

When the GPS signal is weak, such as in a city, responsiveness can be further degraded and measurement inaccuracies occur. The result is the virtual objects don’t quite move with the phone and can seem to be mis-aligned with the edges of the real world.

Blippar’s now working to solve these problems using a new approach. The MIT Technology Review reports the company is licensing street-level imagery from services such as Google Street View. It’s then indexing the images and matching them with their real positions. When a smartphone user points their device at the location, the image in the camera viewfinder should match one of the indexed reference shots.

By using computer vision technology, Blippar can determine the phone’s position using the feed from the camera alone. The app continually matches the image from the camera with its set of indexed photos. The dataset contains photos of buildings and public places from different angles, directions and distances, accounting for every possible position of the phone.

Blippar claims the technology is accurate to within eight meters. In a best case scenario, it could be accurate to three meters. This compares favourably with the typical five metre range of GPS, especially as GPS becomes notoriously less accurate in built-up areas.

prototype video created by Blippar demonstrates the technology in action. Although the graphics are obviously basic, they do seem to respond quickly and move smoothly through the scene. Blippar intends to rollout iOS and Android apps later this year that will offer public demonstrations.

Blippar’s approach to AR positioning is innovative but not without its own fault. Because it relies wholly on previously captured imaging data, it only works in locations that have been indexed by the app. So far, it’s limited to select areas of London in the UK, and Mountain View and San Francisco in California.

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Looking to the cloud for digital transformation success

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A recent report from Infosys Knowledge Institute identifies the cloud as the “true key” to successful digital transformation (DX).

Surveying 853 senior executives, representing firms from 12 industries across the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the IKI’s global market research report on the current cloud application landscape — titled Behind the scenes of an intelligent enterprise: moving enterprise applications to the cloud — found that more than half (54%) said that cloud applications are the foundation of their DX.

According to Infosys Knowledge Institute’s press release, the report “highlights drivers and objectives for enterprises to adopt cloud applications, their methods and extent of adoption, along with implementation approaches, strategy and pain points.”

Additional key findings in the report include:

1.) 75% of enterprises have either deployed cloud applications or are in the process of deploying one with high-tech and telecom industries leading in the space.

2.) Nearly 40% of enterprises are looking at standardization of enterprise cloud applications stack versus best-of-breed solutions.

3.) The top four drivers for moving enterprise applications to cloud are:

  • Data security (55%)
  • Increased resilience and availability (51%)
  • Reduced capital costs (49%)
  • Enhanced scalability (47%)

“As digital disruption impacts incumbents across industries, the responsiveness of their operating models is what differentiates the best from the rest,” explains Dinesh Rao, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Enterprise Application Services for Infosys. 

“However, enterprises face many challenges as they navigate the path towards being more sentient, ‘live’ enterprises – including choosing the right cloud approach, technology investments to repurpose and keeping up with data security. We believe the insights from this research can help enterprises with legacy landscapes to accelerate their digital journeys.”

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United Nations Development Programme looks to digital transformation to drive global development

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It’s a “first of its kind” for the United Nations system, but the UN Development Programme’s new digital strategy is looking to “leverage digital tools as drivers of development” as they work toward the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals, explains Senior Reporter Catherine Chaney, who took a closer look at the UNDP’s digital transformation for Devex.

As UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner explained, “we’re trying to make that which UNDP can offer to a country highly relevant. In other words, we have to become ourselves digitally literate and understand how development and this digital future intersect.” 

Steiner hopes the digital strategy, which launched in April 2019, will allow the UNDP to be in a better position to support programs like the flagship program of the Digital Bangladesh agenda. This initiative, in which the UNDP was a key partner, has allowed citizens to use digital access points for more than 150 services within 4 kilometers of where they live, whereas in the past, citizens were required to travel for days to access government services or documents like birth registration, land records, or life insurance.

The result? Bangladeshi citizens saved nearly 2 nearly billion days of time, more than $8 billion in costs, and more than 1 billion visits to government offices.

In developing the digital strategy, Steiner looked inward, at the organization itself: “Digital was a very abstract concept at the country level, where 95% of UNDP’s staff work across the world,” he said.

In one case, head of UNDP’s economic development unit in Ecuador Carlo Ruiz had tried numerous innovations, but scaling proved difficult. “It was not until he saw a call from the office of the administrator asking country offices to put forward proposals that he pitched his idea to headquarters,” Chaney writes.

Ruiz is now working on a project that uses blockchain technology for traceability — for example, of chocolate bars, their first use case. 

“He hopes this project will demonstrate to the private sector how blockchain technology for traceability can be leveraged for social outcomes and financial returns across many products and markets,” reports Chaney.

Also on the horizon for UNDP? Looking at how the digital era might bring new forms of financing — specifically, trying to strike a balance between short-term, on-demand consulting instead of long- term, project-based work.

“A centralized approach often fails because they don’t involve people from the beginning or the demand isn’t there,” said Robert Opp, who joined UNDP as chief digital officer in August 2019. “The “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach leads to fragmentation and duplication of resources,” Opp continued.

Recognizing the importance of people to digital transformation, the organization has started identifying “digital champions” within its ranks, creating a course staff can take, providing an organization-wide webinar on digital strategy, and supporting “digital lighthouse initiatives” — projects that show how tech can have a strong impact on their work. 

“We’re either going digital or we are going out of business,” Opp said. “The world is changing, the needs of our partners are changing, so if we’re going to serve them well and achieve the SDGs, we need to change as well.”

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Data-rich industries stand to thrive in the digital transformation age

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Automation. AI. Machine Learning. It’s all here, but which data-rich industries will thrive in the 24/7 connectivity of the digital transformation age? 

It’s a question asked by Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI, for Forbes.

He has outlined three areas that stand to gain from our data-rich future:

Internet of Things Security 

It might take years until we can see if the IoT “has fulfilled our expectations,” von Gravrock explains, but we’ve already moved from IoT to Internet of Everything, with hyper-connectivity between, well, everything — especially with respect to businesses and manufacturing and industry. An increase in IoT-related data breaches — 15% to 21% since 2017 has shown that we need to set our sights on higher standards. 

“Data science and AI will shape the next stage of IoT development,” theorizes van Gavrock. The sheer volume of data gathered from IoT means that users must be able to trust this connectivity. Anyone who can provide trustworthy, effective, and inexpensive coverage will win.

[More on the IoT and digital transformation]

Network Service and Telecommunications

Telecommunications companies have become like utility companies in the last 15 years, he explains. “You expect to receive clean, drinkable water from your water supply provider. You would also expect your network operator to provide a secure and private connection.”

This is especially important given the staggering amounts of data accessible by this industry.

“This shift can’t happen if the data generated by users isn’t anonymized, crunched, and analyzed by AI algorithms to ensure malicious connections are blocked before they can do harm to the end user.”

[More on telecom and digital transformation]

Creative Industries

Entire industries are about to radically change the way they work, he writes: “The future of work has an emphasis on constant learning, and AI will be there to help you, both as a teacher and as a tool.” 

Also empowering professionals to focus on bringing more value to their work? Automation — something already being noticed in the manufacturing sector. “Instead of heavy lifting, humans focus on managing AI-driven systems that power robotic forklifts.”

But within creative and social industries, for example, music is already being produced and eSports games are being won AI. von Gavrock uses a sports journalist to demonstrate the potential of AI and automation: Articles they write focus on hard facts and what happened. Automation could, in turn, “switch your focus to moderating discussions or exploring new mediums for creating content instead of trying to find a creative way to describe a game.”

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