HumanEdgeTech presents: Contact Augmented - Interview with Tom Sjogren

Posted: Aug 11, 2010 12:00 am EDT

In the future, a personal drone will hover above as you climb Mount Everest. The unit will shoot videos, record sounds, and collect data from sensors attached to your body. Monitoring your blood pressure, oxygen saturation, pulse and other details, the information will be transmitted to medical locations where it will be processed and sent back to you.

The drone will trace your climbing (or skiing) speed, pinpoint it on a virtual map inside your goggles, and read the environment. Back home, your family and fans will feel as if they are walking right beside you; down to feeling the cold wind on their skin.

This is augmented reality, a merge between the real and the digital world. All components exist already; we are now merely putting them together for the final cut.

The first live dispatches arrived from Everest high camps in 1999 and the polar areas a few years later. It's not that long ago. Making lightweight satellite communication possible for explorers, CONTACT was featured (on the front page) of New York Times Circuit, awarded Best of Backpacker Magazine (the only software to be granted this recognition) and is since used by thousands of explorers.

Contact Augmented is the next step. In this interview, Tom Sjogren at HumanEdgeTech explains what it's all about.

ExWeb: Only 6 months after the CONTACT 5 update, what's up with the Augmented add-on?

Tom: Augmented reality blends real-world environment with virtual reality features to enhance the experience. One day we will have tiny sensors recording images, video and weather in real time. People back home will use 3D eye pieces and sensors to literally feel the wind on their skin. We are not there yet, but getting closer by the day.

With Contact A, the explorer becomes an avatar who moves around in a world with layers of information. It's a visual experience so check out the link to the demo and try the Fly-In.

ExWeb: The maps look amazing...

Tom: We did our first satellite mapping systems in 2003. This was a year before Google launched Google Earth.

At that time Google used mainly Landsat data with low resolution, and it didn't look good, especially not in the mountains. But now, following huge investments and the introduction of 2.5 meter resolution SPOTImage data, the maps are awesome. So we created features to integrate the Google maps with CONTACT, features that Google did not supply.

ExWeb: Such as?

Tom: Our challenge was to make the 3D layers come "alive" with tracks, routes and live updates of multimedia. And to make it simple for others to use.

For that we built the CONTACT Route Maker (CRM) tool where the explorer can upload KML files (latitude, longitude data) from a GPS or by clicking on a 3D map.

I used the tool to create the route up Everest South Col in the demo mock-up. It's very easy to do and absolutely unique. To get something similar you'd need to buy the $400 Google Earth Pro and still it wouldn't do what the Contact CRM does.

ExWeb: The Fly-In is too cool - how is that done?

Tom: From the CRM as well. Basically, the CRM will automatically create a fly-in once the route is made. You can add points with information such as images, short descriptions, links and videos, plus a voice or music track. It's a lot of fun and I personally spent more time than I should have with it. Again, the feature is unique to CONTACT.

ExWeb: Any negatives?

Tom: This is an advanced web application and requires high bandwidth. More than 2/3 of Americans now have high speed internet, but some users will experience fly-ins that are a little out of sync. Also the 3D will not work on Safari right now. This affects only 5% of all users but we hope Jobs will work on that.

First time users might be asked to download the Google Earth Plug in.

ExWeb: What is the difference between a track and a route?

Tom: The route is what you plan. It's set up before you leave on the trip.

The track is formed by your actual positions updated live from an automatic satellite tracker such as SPOT or SOLARA and/or manually with each dispatch.

ExWeb: What's next?

Tom: The 1992 Sci-Fi novel Snow Crash describes an utopian virtual reality environment some of which is already here, less than twenty years later. Software and hardware are evolving at an increasing speed, also for travelers and explorers. Cheaper, faster, smaller and visual is the mantra.

The software trend is towards creating applications and making them work together. At HumanEdgeTech we have a great team of programmers continuously working on this. That's why for instance CONTACT 5.0 allows updates to various social media with one click.

5 years ago we created all our software from the first line of code. Today we increasingly integrate external applications such as Twitter, Facebook and Google. Web presence has become exceedingly diverse and our job is to fuse as many of the technologies as possible and create applications that are easy to use for folks on the move.

In the pipe for later this year, our next major update will be MOSAIC, a networking portal for explorers.

HumanEdgeTech.com is a unique, no-nonsense virtual expedition tech warehouse for satellite communications and edge technology. Created by explorers for explorers, the store is user-friendly with no-hassle pricing, expedition-tested gear, expedition-ready hardware, fast delivery and payments. HumanEdgeTech.com accepts most international credit cards, and delivers worldwide within 72 hours.




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The CONTACT Route Maker (CRM) tool allows you plot a route and to upload latitude and longitude data from a GPS. The CRM will automatically create a fly-in once the route is made. You can add points with information such as images, short descriptions, links and videos, plus a voice or music track. The explorer becomes an avatar who moves around in a world with layers of information. It's a visual experience so check out the link to the demo and try the Fly-In. The CRM feature is unique ..
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