Thursday, April 06, 2006

GPS Helps Predators Find your Kids

The title sounds scary, huh? It makes for great headlines which is what I initially thought was the intent of Robin Raskin's syndicated column topic called "Worst Hi Tech Gifts" last November. I initially discovered the topic from John Matarese's column called "Don't waste your money" and kicked off an email letting him know of the correction regarding the now-defunct Gizmondo device:
The Gizmondo does not have a feature for predators to find your child. GPS receivers are receivers and not transmitters. I'm sure any gaming element within the unit will protect the child from broadcasting his or her location to others. The only game I'm aware of that even uses GPS is Colors and it hasn't been released yet. There is a GPS element but it is not in real time and most likely does not broadcast your child's position to others. That would be a stupid thing for a company to do.

In fact, the Gizmondo device can be set up by parents to allow them to monitor their children. So in essence it provides a feature for parents to protect their children - not the other way around.

Hope this correction helps. It's kind of damaging material for a new concept like GPS in handheld games, especially with misinformation flowing about.
Mr. Materese was kind enough to respond the same day:
I am going to refer you to robinraskin. com. She is the Computer Columnist who was the source for that story.

She and DS Simon Productions (the video feed service) offered that story to HUNDREDS of TV stations in every city in the USA. My guess is that dozens of TV stations are airing the clip saying the Gizmondo could lure sexual predators.

Since it came from a feed, and not from us, I'm not in a position to contradict what came from the feed service. You may be 100% correct....but I wish you would contact Robin Raskin.
I kicked off a similar email to Robin and never received a response. Mr. Materese also adjusted his text on his own site noted on the "Worst Hi Tech Gifts" link, much to his credit.

It's not unusual to be ignored via email so I shrugged it off and assumed it was just ignorance, or laziniess, or both that caused such a poorly penned article. Today, however, the Google news alert kicked out a newer article about the very same program. Coming from a biased newssource you have to take this with a grain of salt, but it does sound inticingly juicy:
By itself, this VNR is little more than a tri-company infomercial that plugs numerous products while trashing its competitors. And yet when laundered through credibility of TV journalism, viewers are deceived into thinking they're watching an independent news report with an impartial consumer expert.
Based on the comments regarding GPS technology in the Gizmondo device being used by sexual predators it's outright fraud, in my opinion. The damage done by articles like these sets back the widespread adoption of GPS technology. Sadly I doubt this kind of material would be picked up by the larger media organizations.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sony Keynote Mentions Geocaching

In the Playstation 3 keynote address at the Game Developer Conference in San Jose today, Phil Harrison mentioned geocaching:
Harrison also mentioned that GPS functionality will soon come on board, noting that, “Although geocaching is as underground as it gets, who can't see potential?”.
Geocaching isn't exactly an underground activity, though admittedly it has been called "the most popular outdoor activity no one knows about." There have been literally thousands of articles written about the activity, radio interviews with geocachers, and it's even listed as one of the top "treasures" on a repeating show on the Discovery Channel. So what does Harrison, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment's Worldwide Studios mean exactly?

My interpretation is that if it isn't mainstream it is underground, at least for the larger game development companies. Geocaching doesn't fit well into any of the standard genres like first person shooters, adventure games, sport or activities like golf or kayaking. It combines technology and the outdoors and is hard to put your finger on.

It does have a worldwide following but no real statistics have been reported on how popular it really is. Perhaps if that information was available it would change some minds on the subject. Or maybe it is still underground. I kind of like it that way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Augmented Reality Gaming

In the office we've been playing with names to call the new activity of Augmented Reality Gaming (or until recently, Geolocational Gaming). What came out of it was a fun term called auging or ogging. I prefer ogging though it does go a bit abstract.

What is auging? (pronounced ogging)

Auging is short for Augmented Reality Gaming. Unlike virtual reality that immerses your senses in an alternate world, augmented reality takes virtual information and overlays it on top of real space. This means instead of being in some kind of Matrix-style goo with implants stuck in your head you are using your own eyes and ears to interact in the real world. The only difference is you have additional sounds and images that you can view and interact with via headsets and/or handheld devices. No goo is necessary.
What is a typical auging experience?

There's nothing really typical about an auging experience, but the best comparison would be an adventure games in the real world. This genre started with games like Zork from Infocom and more recently through various LucasArts games like Secret of Monkey Island and Sam and Max Hit the Road. Remember Myst? Riven? These are all good examples of adventure games.

In the real world you can go on your own adventures while auging. Using a handheld device and GPS technology (which pinpoints your location) the device creates a gaming environment that reacts with your movements. For example at a zoo, If you're at the monkey cage you can "talk" to a monkey with your handheld computer because the handheld knows where you are and the game has a virtual monkey that "lives" at that location. In your handheld you may even have a virtual banana that you have in your inventory. Or, you may have to visit somewhere within the zoo to find the virtual banana that "lives" at another location. Although the monkey and banana doesn't exist in the real world you can easily imagine they do as part of your game.

What makes auging so exciting is that you are no longer chained to your home entertainment system or computer to play adventure games.

Is this Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) like I Love Bees?

I Love Bees was an online promotion for Halo2 that involved going to phone booths in the real world to answer phone calls from in-game characters. Though there are similarities between ARGs and auging there is far less online interaction and more physical exertion involved. As popularity in auging increases the more likely that you will see the two activities blend together.

That's what I have so far.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Batteries Suck

This is a half-generated thought after some frustration with a GPS enabled cell phone and its poor battery life. It also reminded me to bookmark of a recent article on battery innovation (or lack thereof).

Perhaps it goes without saying, but battery technology has lagged too far behind in comparison to computing technology. It's literally ancient. Take any electronic device made today, remove the battery, and feel the heft of the device. Now imagine a world where power can be supplied without that added bulk and weight.

GPS is one of those battery killers, though companies like Garmin are making their own hardware devices consume less and less power to determine your location. However if you tried to use a GPS on a standard GPS enabled cell phone you can expect maybe 2-3 hours on a charge. If we're going to do anything engaging with GPS and continue to make calls afterward, there will have to be some better power management features for these devices.

I expect that once GPS is actively used by more people on their cell phones that the battery consumption will be improved, but we still have to figure out a better way to power devices. We're still relying on chemical solutions which will only go so far.

Nuclear power anyone?

I'm not kidding. Nuclear power is actively being developed for use in pacemakers and other surgically implanted devices. Maybe even cell phones will use this technology some day.

Whatever the case something needs to be done about these ancient battery monstrosities. If we're going to make augmented technology useful and accessible this will be the single most important technology to improve.

Wheels of Zeus Shuts Down

Today I opened up my RSS feeds to discover that the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak closed shop on the Wheels of Zeus company before they launched a product. They did apparently license the technology to Motorola but nothing entered the marketplace. From that article I somehow made it to another article with some screenshots of the concept in action.

The concept of tracking individual objects with a localized GPS-type system is like shooting a fly with a cannon. The cost alone for the tags and central system was probably too cost prohibitive to be a reasonable product for the marketplace. I'm sure it would have gotten some legs but nothing necessarily disruptive as a technology.

What I'd like to see is Apple tackle a GPS unit design. In fact I speculate that within 5 years that Apple will get into this market.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Today I received a Boost Moble phone I ordered from Mologogo a few days ago. It's your standard candy bar model that contains GPS and the Mologogo software preloaded. I took the extra step of installing WebJal on my desktop and using the provided USB cable to install the application on several Motorola i860 phones we had in the office.

It's great that the cable was provided with the phone - it saved me a heck of a lot of time finding the correct elements to install software on the phone.

After creating an account on Mologogo I inserted my username and password (after some issues switching from predictive text to alpha text - the winning tip is to press the page button on the phone to switch typing methods) and I was running in no less than 5 minutes with my location shown on a Google map. At least I assume it is a Google map from the similarities between the online and mobile versions.

The software has some real potential and it's a good example of a simple but inexpensive and novel use of GPS technology on a mobile phone. It's also a great solution for having a GPS unit without paying a whole lot of money for one. Hopefully more of these mobile applications will have a Goto function similar to handheld units. This feature is the only thing keeping these devices back from being competent GPS unit replacements.

Here's hoping that we'll see some improvements of this product over time. If you have $100 to dabble I'd suggest trying out their Boost phone deal to play with the novelty of GPS tracking.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

PSP Future sees GPS attachment

Good job Sony! The PSP will finally get that GPS attachment it always wanted:
"The GPS Receiver features an update rate of once a second and takes at most 40 seconds to get a first fix from a cold start. Developers have taken delivery of a partial set of tools for making GPS-ready software. Kutaragi mentioned a few potential applications for the device, including portable navigation software."
Yes - we can't get enough of that portable navigation software.

The first possible game is, apparently, a GPS enabled golf game where you can putt virtual balls? (just guessing). It's actually a nice idea - I can expect people driving a ball on Denny and putting in the lobby of the Fisher Building. It is one of those general GPS concepts that big companies consider when they look at GPS since it matches the industry standard of "one game to one world."

For example, GPS enabled game concepts like MogiMogi generally have random objects that are overlayed on the earth's service for you to find. Games like these can be easily generated through random placement which means anyone anywhere can drop in and play the game.

In comparison, Geocaching is a game where physical objects are placed in the world and their coordinates are shared online. By placing these physical containers there was some consideration of placement. "Is it accessible" is kind of a no-brainer when placing physical containers compared to virtual placements of objects - which by a computer can be problematic - and its lack of thoughtfulness of placement can be irritating at the least and life-threatening at the most.

The benefit, however, far outweighs the drawbacks to large computer gaming companies who are used to creating a game like Halo and knowing that it will work in the world no matter where it is played. To create an engaging GPS game though, location should be far more important. Shouldn't it be that way?

Of course! Location is key and so should be the thoughtfulness of each and every location-based game. The hardest problem will solve is making location-based games adaptable to the location without sacrificing the experience. Novelty will only go so far in this genre.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Gizmondo - Two Steps Back

For those more "in the know" in the world of GPS, Gizmondo has been the most notorious company to come along in a while. We had high hopes that this little handheld device would have introduced a new evolution of gaming. For the first time it combined a GPS with a gaming platform but the company went bankrupt before it even released its first GPS enabled game called Colors.

Granted, a gun wielding gang warfare game set in the real world where you virtually fight for physical turf didn't seem like a very good idea, but at least it was a way to raise awareness of a new gaming genre.

Will this affect GPS gaming and force it two steps back? Not likely. There was so much wrong about the Gizmondo (lack of games, marketing, games, inventory and games) that they never really became known well enough to weaken the perception of location-based entertainment as a promising new industry. Fortunately the Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP were released around the same time which defeated the device soundly.

I actually have two Gizmondo devices in the office to play if there was something to play. Here's hoping that it'll go homebrew sooner than later.



I will not be writing about my cat.

What I will discuss is technology - but more often than not about the advancements of GPS or other location-based technologies. However I may, nay will, digress and poke fun at or otherwise vent about one technology or another. Do not be alarmed. I will eventually make it back to location-based technology.

Oh, and maybe a little about running a community-based web site.

The world speaks to us and it's intriquing to discover how technology will give it a voice. It sounds spiritual but - you'll find no druids here in this blog. Leave that to the million other blogs to write about their cats.