Thursday, 08 January 2015 08:33

Australian researchers bringing situated analytics to shoppers

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Researchers at Australian universities are working on ways to combine analytics and augmented reality, an area known as situated analytics.

A research project is exploring how situated analytics can be applied to shopping. The team comprises Neven Elsayed (PhD researcher at the University of South Australia), Professor Bruce Thomas (Wearable Computer Lab director, Advanced Computing Research Centre deputy director and NICTA fellow at the School of Computer and Information Science, The University of South Australia), Ross Smith (Wearable Computer Lab deputy director), Professor Kim Marriott (Caulfield School of IT, Monash University), and Tim Dwyer (senior lecturer and Larkins Fellow, Monash University).

"It seem like a really natural fit" between researchers specialising in augmented reality and in analytics, Prof Marriott told iTWire.

The idea is to provide context-dependent information about the products the user is looking at. This might reflect dietary issues, perhaps blanking out products containing ingredients that the user is allergic to as an obvious hint that they should be ignored. Or as Prof Thomas pointed out, certain cold and flu treatments are unsuitable for those with high blood pressure.

Or it might be possible to generate recommendations for similar products with certain different ingredients that are acceptable from a dietary or health perspective.

Other ideas are to display friends' relevant social media comments (such as "product X makes me drowsy"), explanations of country of origin labelling, any social responsibility or ethical issues associated with particular products or companies, recipe suggestions for fruit and vegetables (eg, "the eggplant looks good, you could make X with it"), or warn of compatibility issues (eg, "if you buy that game, you'll need to purchase a new graphics card").

The power of augmented reality is that it can deliver the right information about a physical object at the right time, Prof Thomas said. But "you have to make the interactions very lightweight," as they need to be as quick as possible.

"And the interaction has to be natural," said Prof Marriott.

For example, moving an object closer could mean 'get more information,' while holding two objects could mean 'compare.'

An initial implementation was done using an Android tablet, and attention has now moved to Epson Moverio BT-200 smart glasses (illustrated).

Because the BT-200 is Android based, porting the software was "no big problem," according to Prof Thomas. Calibration (so that the retrieved information is attached to the right object) took a while, but "the basic app was working very quickly," said Prof Marriott.

Practically any Android augmented reality app can be used with hardly any modifications on the BT-200, he said. The BT-200 is "clearly superior to any other optical see-through display I've ever used," he added.

Once the human interface is right, the focus of the research will shift to the back-end analytics and data sources. Potentially, "anything that's available on the web" could be used as inputs, said Prof Marriott.

"There are databases that describe virtually everything in the supermarket," said Prof Thomas, but the trick is to put all the information together in a usable way.

"This is a great collaboration between the University of South Australia and Monash University," he said, one that "brings together world-leading experts."

Other researchers using or planning to use the BT-200 can be found at CSIRO, the University of Western Sydney, Griffith University and Monash University, an Epson spokesperson said.

More head-mounted displays are coming onto the market, said Prof Thomas, including Laforge Optical's Icis which is designed to resemble normal spectacles.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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