The inaugural Augmented World Expo (#AWE2018) just concluded in Santa Clara, California (after 9 years of @ARealityEvent programming), and judging form the flurry of activity, the Augmented Reality (AR) scene is getting hotter and hotter. On top of the blockbuster early 2018 release of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, it really feels like AR has gone mainstream.

We’re mindful of course of the intellectual and technological debt that everyone owes to early pioneers like GoogleGlass & Oculus & Snapchat’s Spectacles, and so on over the past five-ten years, and we’re grateful that the field isn’t dominated by one major player: perhaps this is why AR hardware and software seem to be primed for major breakouts.

Live-tweeting AWE2018, Jake Steinerman made a number of keen observations about AR today:

In AR, “Dull is Good”

We agree 100%.  There’s nothing more dull and boring and mundane than reporting playground litter or noting the spilled cat food next to the sink that you’d love to have some robot respond to.  And this is precisely why CleanApp tasks like this should be delegated to autonomous cleaning systems.

We were thrilled to see AR thought leaders realizing this point, and we jumped at the chance to engage with these ideas on Twitter.  Those conversations are continuing, and are very fun, so please do join in.  If you’re reading this, you’re clearly concerned about the future, so please help us develop it along cleaner and safer lines.

Going back to “dull” and “boring” use cases, our idea for CleanApp is as “dull and boring” as it gets.

In its simplest embodiment, CleanApp has no app, no interface, no friction.  It sits on an AR platform as a “skill” does on Alexa, inconspicuous until invoked.  And then, when invoked by a voice or button CleanApp command, CleanApp shows an overlay, takes a geo-tagged photo of the object or condition in need of CleanApp, potentially does a shutter shudder to signal completion, and then, like Kaiser Soze, it’s gone.

Until the next time you need to CleanApp something, that is.

Describing CleanApp processes as dull may seem self-defeating, but really, “dullness” here is just a proxy for being inconspicuous — a service and a tool that’s not really designed to be a showstopper, but a service and a tool that one will probably use on a fairly regular basis (think of the flashlight tool on your mobile phone).

Nobody really knows the person who first had the insight to use the camera flash LED on an iPhone as a flashlight. But everyone uses that tool on a nearly daily basis. That’s the sort of utility CleanApp offers in an AR environment.

Moreover, in our view, that’s the sort of aesthetic and utility that many ‘productivity’ and IoT apps should aspire to in an AR environment.  In an age of max stimulation and information overload, the most successful AR “background apps” will focus less on visibility and far more on core utility.

We’re excited to be building a future where we use cutting edge technology for unprecedented experiences (like flying to the ISS to assist astronauts in AR). But we’re also excited by the potential of AR with respect to the seemingly more mundane day-to-day tasks of trash reporting and hazard reporting.

In AR, “Stories Matter”

This is a key point.

We can approach the “story” question on a meta-level, as in “What story is your product or service offering to the AR consumer?” But there’s another, more useful, way of thinking about “AR stories.” These stories are the answer to the question, “Why are you wearing that thing on your head 24/7; what goes on in there, in your AR world?”

So at this stage “AR stories” are also necessarily “AR adoption stories,” or, phrased in enterprise-speak, “AR utility stories.”

What does the technology actually offer users? What do AR users think the technology offers them? How has this particular AR “hardware/software & form-factor/usability” combination made the AR user’s life easier?

Here’s where CleanApp has the potential of becoming the AR adoption story, both in enterprise applications and in the popular imagination. Consider these as problem & solution propositions:

Now, let’s not forget what we said about “dullness” being a virtue. CleanApp isn’t positioning itself to be the “Killer App” that will drive AR adoption. Far from it:

Here is the story that CleanApp offers AR users and the field of AR as a whole:

“Yes, you can call me a Glasshole 2.0, ha ha ha; yes, you can be annoyed by my new tech addiction; yes, you can suspect that all I’m doing with my HoloLens is gaming all day long; but take a look at my CleanApp log!  I’ve also CleanApp-ed a ton of trash around the house and around the neighborhood.  All tech can be used for good and ill, and this CleanApp feature is just surprisingly useful.  I’m sending CleanApp reports to my supermarket every time I see spills or hazards in the aisles; just last week, I CleanApped a bunch of cigarette butts next to the gas pump, and already there’s a brand new non-smoking sign, with a photo of Derek Zoolander reminding idiots who smoke at gas stations that these things can really go Kabooom!  So, yeah, call me what you want, but there’s a ton of hidden utility in this HoloLens, and I’m jazzed because I realize we’re only scratching the surface!”

In on-the-go, more-or-less-continuous AR usage, there aren’t that many existing (e.g., easily recognizable) use cases where AR clearly beats out the mobile form factor in the popular imaginary.  “Social,” “content consumption,” “interactive gaming,” “AR-assisted design,” etc. — AR will reign supreme in many of these spheres of connectivity.  But to displace phablets and their “apps” as the default “mobile” form-factor, AR will need to show that it can offer far more recognizable (apples-to-apples) utility than our current tech allows.

How AR tools actually do this–whether through wearable form, frictionless process-optimization, both, something else entirely–is secondary to demonstrated productivity gains, smarter resource use, and overall greater efficiency.  These are the factors that doubtlessly militated in favor of winning the AWE2018 “Best in Show” Prize.  Upskill can actually show that adopting its AR solutions yields 40%+ productivity gains.  Now imagine firms like Wal-Mart and Target, mass transit operators, campus custodial staff, adopting Upskill (with CleanApp-type functions included in a large suite of background apps) to attain 40%+ cleanliness and workplace safety gains.  These are the “productivity”/”utility” adoption pathways that Upskill sales personnel are doubtlessly emphasizing to their Fortune 500 customers.  These are the productivity & utility functions — or stories — that the majority of the world will learn AR through.  This is why we want these pathways to be as well conceived and smooth as possible.

It’s important to get this story right when we move outside of the enterprise realm.  In our analysis, alongside AR-enabled “remote medicine” solutions, CleanApp-type apps will be the most accessible fully-scalable gateway/transition/pilot AR experiences for non-enterprise consumers who are learning about AR but “don’t yet see what all the fuss is about.”

CleanApp’s scalability narrative is especially cool here, as individuals who may have never submitted a 311 or Littergram report in the “real world” because, well, it was burdensome to do so, finally see that ease-of-use equals higher use.  From there, the scaled gains of global adoption become readily apparent.  If AmazonGlass makes it this easy to CleanApp your front porch and work warehouse, perhaps AR really can help us CleanApp the planet!

The overall AR narrative suddenly shifts from being the dreaded last step before we all become Surrogates to … AR as the ultimate in emancipatory tech tools.

In AR, “Interoperability is Air”

Our original heading to this section was, “In AR, Community is Everything,” emphasizing the incredible amount of collaboration and mindshare that has been going on for years to bring us today’s and tomorrow’s AR experiences.  But that’s to be expected.  What’s cool about this AWE2018 moment is that that the AR-developer community seems to be coalescing around a set of general guiding principles in stark opposition to particular, how shall we say, “countervailing forces.”

There’s a war brewing for primacy in AR, and interoperability is the central battlefront.

Among AR developers & enthusiasts, there seems to be clear consensus that the best overall user-experience & best overall systemic design is one where AR is built on, inter alia: (1) open standards; (2) platform choice; (3) functional interoperability.

Here’s how Tony Parisi (@auradeluxe), an early AR visionary, sees this moment:

For CleanApp to achieve its modest goal of global cleanup, there’s an additional factor that’s crucial for success (and not just for CleanApp): functional interoperability. Here’s what that means:

What can we do to assure that BigTech gives us the functional interoperability we all need to succeed in our individual and collective efforts? The answer’s very simple: we just need to bring the interoperability war to BigTech’s front door by emphasizing the truly staggering economic gains that flow from decentralized “open-source standardized” AI-enabled AR-actualized smart resource management processes. We know it’s a mouth-full, but it’s just another way of saying that people’s trash may turn out to be one of BigTech’s largest potential sources of treasure. 

In what may turn out to be one of humanity’s greatest ironies, perhaps the secret to sustainability in our material reality lies hidden in gameified enterprise-driven CleanApp AR/VR planes the likes of which we cannot yet fathom.

CleanApp–a tiny standard-setting nonprofit that serves as the “WiFi Alliance” & “Bluetooth Working Group” for emerging litter & hazard reporting technologies–is already fighting in the AR “interoperability war,” even if its AR-developer allies haven’t noted the campaign.

As stated above, CleanApp’s battle strategy is simple: we must explain to BigTech why interoperability is far more lucrative than silo-ed proprietary AR.  For CleanApp, that argument is very easy to make because CleanApp serves as a pass-through entity for far stronger constituencies, including retail giants who will pay for streaming CleanApp data feeds irrespective of whether a given CleanAppReport originates from an AmazonGlass, a GoogleGlass, or some GoPro wearable.  The retail giant cares about robust data, sourced from as many input streams as possible; robust data rests on open-source data standards; open-source data standards, in turn, serve as the DNA for functional interoperability methods & processes.

Long story short, it’s not CleanApp who’s asking Google & Apple to be cool and pragmatic with respect to anticipated GoogleCleanApp & SiriCleanApp processes, it’s Wal-Mart who needs Google & Apple to play cool.  When there’s spilled milk in Aisle 7 because Wal-Mart didn’t get a CleanApp Report from a user who tried to give notice but whose report got garbled by Google backend processes because it came in from an Apple device, Wal-Mart faces greater legal exposure.  On the other hand, harmonization/standardization are extremely effective mechanisms for limiting legal risk and exposure in these (and analogous) contexts.  Bottom line, interoperability = lower risk and higher gains.

We constantly strive to refine our thinking on functional interoperability for CleanApp processes and their analogues in allied spheres, like AI/ML, Robotics, and HumanMachine interfacing.  We invite you to share your thinking/proposals/feedback/critiques on our contact page or on Twitter @CleanApp.