The first thing we do, let’s kill all the MoCaps.

I had a great conversation today with a colleague who is designing an app that will turn your iPhone into an augmented reality device in a new and interesting way. Which got me thinking.

Back in 2010 I was very excited about the augmented reality possibilities of phones and tablets. In the last few years I’ve contributed to some technical papers that take those possibilities in various directions. But now I’ve lost my taste for it.

My worry is that the enormous (and very attractive) pull to have a forward thinking interface on an existing consumer device — one with an installed base of many millions of users — could cloud my judgement. I will end up designing for the device, rather than for the inherent possibilities in the ideas themselves.

In a way it’s frustrating to retreat back to an expensive motion capture lab. My students and I know that what we do in that lab can only be experienced by a relatively small number of people. Yet working in such a space frees us to ask not “What can have an impact this year?” but the more primal question: “What can have an impact?”

Being of a practical bent, one of my first instincts in finding myself in a high tech Motion Capture lab is to start to use the lab to figure out ways that I can get rid of the lab. Having a high quality measuring device to know the position and orientation of everything (which is essentially what a MoCap lab is), means that our research group can readily test out lower cost alternatives, knowing that we have the MoCap lab itself as ground truth to tell us how well we are doing.

Yes, ultimately the future must reside in inexpensive hardware — the bicycle of the future, as it were — that will be easily available to all. But sometimes you need to drive a Ferrari to get to the bike shop.