Why Augmented Reality Instead of Robots?

One point missing from last week’s post on how a network of community groups could influence the direction of Augmented Reality (AR): why start with AR? Why not start with robots?

The answer is simple: robots aren’t ready for ordinary folks to do real work. The tech is still too primitive; it’s too difficult to do anything useful with robots unless you’re a pro. Here’s Roomba inventor Joe Jones on how far robots have to go:

Robots are deceptively hard. My co-founder at Harvest, Clara Vu, likes to say, “A robot application that a technology grad student thinks they can easily do in a couple of weeks has an outside chance of actually being practical. Anything harder is impossible.”

In contrast, AR is good to go. In the next few years it’ll get easier to do development in AR, but even today there’s plenty of room for community based efforts to do interesting work in AR.

In doing so, this network of community groups would lay the technical groundwork needed for the coming robot revolution. Augmented reality and robots don’t use exactly the same tech. But if you know how to do advanced AR coding, picking up how to program robots shouldn’t be too big of a stretch — especially since a lot of the programming languages for machine learning/AI that will eventually play a critical role with robots can be picked up today.

Similarly, once this network’s trainers have figured out the techniques, processes, metaphors, etc. to make the coding concepts behind AR much more accessible, they’ve got a blueprint for doing so with robots much more quickly. Having already proven out these techniques with AR, it’ll be much easier to convince the designers of robot software to incorporate some of the techniques from the get-go.

More importantly, the work around AR will help build the networks of relationships and trust within and across communities. As anyone who’s been involved in multi-community organizing can tell you, building this kind of social infrastructure takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and time (not to mention repeatedly banging your head against the wall). But once those relationships and trust have been built, they can easily be reused when the robot tech is ready.

As a result, by the time robots had developed to the point where, for example, it was clear that in a year or two we would start to see robot app stores, there should be more than enough of the community infrastructure these groups would need to successfully win a seat at the table.

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