Monthly Archives: May 2020

Google releases “Sodar,” visualizing social distancing via WebXR

It’s as much about testing/showcasing emerging standards as anything. Per The Verge:

If you’ve got an Android device, just open up the Chrome browser and go to to launch the tool, named SODAR. There’s no app required, though it won’t work on iOS or older Android devices. Your phone will use augmented reality to map the space around you, superimposing a two-meter radius circle on the view from your camera.

Garments strut on their own in a 3D fashion show

No models, no problem: Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba used software to show off her designs swaying in virtual space:

Cool context:

Inspired by her hometown in Congo, Anifa was intentional about shedding light on issues facing the Central African country with a short documentary at the start of the show. From mineral site conditions to the women and children who suffer as a result of these issues, Anifa’s mission was to educate before debuting any clothes. “Serving was a big part of who I am, and what I want to do,” she said in the short documentary.

Google Maps adds wheelchair accessibility info

Last year I mentioned the story of how my colleague Sasha Blair-Goldensohn has used his experience of using a wheelchair to make Maps help make the world easier to navigate. Now Sasha is sharing some good news:

People can now turn on an “Accessible Places” feature to have wheelchair accessibility information more prominently displayed in Google Maps. When Accessible Places is switched on, a wheelchair icon will indicate an accessible entrance and you’ll be able to see if a place has accessible seating, restrooms or parking. If it’s confirmed that a place does not have an accessible entrance, we’ll show that information on Maps as well.

It’s cool to see what a community-powered effort this is:

Today, Google Maps has wheelchair accessibility information for more than 15 million places around the world. That number has more than doubled since 2017 thanks to the dedication of more than 120 million Local Guides and others who’ve responded to our call to share accessibility information. In total, this community has contributed more than 500 million wheelchair accessibility updates to Google Maps. Store owners have also helped, using Google My Business to add accessibility information for their business profiles to help users needing stair-free access find them on Google Maps and Search.

Katy Perry live pushes the limits of mixed-reality storytelling

I can’t say I love the song, but props to the whole team who pulled off this ambitious set piece:

As VR Scout notes,

With the exception of a single yellow chair, it appears as though every visual shown during the performance was generated in post. What really sells the performance, however, is the choreography. Throughout the entirety of the performance, Perry reacts and responds to every visual element shown “on-stage”.

Action Blocks make tasks more accessible for those with cognitive impairments

I’ve long joked-not-joked that I want better parental controls on devices, not so that I can control my kids but so that I can help my parents. How great would it be to be able to configure something like this, then push it to the devices of those who need it (parents, kids, etc.)?

Google Photos enables more private album sharing

It’s always been easy to create a sharable link for your albums, but it wasn’t possible to prevent others from resharing that link. Now Photos offers more control:

Last December, we launched direct sharing to make it easy to share one-off photos and videos in Google Photos by adding them to an ongoing, private conversation in the app. Today, we’re bringing a similar experience to shared albums. Rolling out this week, when sharing an album, the default option will be to share with a specific person or people via their Google account. This gives you more control over who’s added to the album.

Copy your handwriting to your computer via Google Lens

“FM technology,” man—F’ing Magic. Check this out:

Now, when you select text with Lens, you can tap “copy to computer” to quickly paste it on another signed-in device with Chrome. This is great for quickly copying handwritten notes (if you write neatly!) and pasting it on your laptop without having to retype them all. Copying text to your computer requires the latest version of Chrome, and for both devices to be signed into the same Google account.

Cool multicolor painting tools arrive in Adobe Fresco

I’ve always been part of that weird little slice of the Adobe user population that gets really hyped about offbeat painting tools—from stretching vectors along splines & spraying out fish in Illustrator (yes, they’re both in your copy right now; no, you’ve never used them), to painting with slick features that got pulled from Photoshop before release & somehow have never returned. I still wish we’d been able to shoehorn GPU-powered watercolor into Photoshop’s, er, venerable compositing engine, but so it goes. (A 15-year-old demo still lives at one of my best URLs ever, )

In any event, the Adobe Fresco team has just unveiled a raft of new features, including some trippy multicolor painting capabilities. Check it out:

Uke gone wild

My wife has been using quarantine to teach herself to play the ukulele (and me teaching myself to spell it correctly for once!), so I was especially charmed this year to learn that 1) Google has a ukulele group, and 2) they recently performed together for Hawaii’s celebratory Lei Day (May 1). Group member Eva Depta was kind enough to share the positive vibes publicly:

Come learn & share in AR, right from Google search

So, this is what I do all day: I help shape the efforts of a bunch of smart people working to make Google better at answering questions, by making the results a lot richer & more interactive.

My subtle-not-subtle ambition is to help creative people (like those I served at Adobe) bring their beautiful, immersive work (3D & AR) to an enormous audience, by solving the last-mile problem much like Flash Player did back in the day. It’s all about my 20-year mission of standing out of creators’ light.

Recently the team has turned on some great new features & content. On both iOS & Android you can search for numerous subjects (animals, biology, anatomy, and more), then view the results in 3D or in your environment via AR. On Android you can also now navigate among search results, record videos, and share the results.

We’re partnering with BioDigital so that you can explore 11 human body systems with AR in Search on mobile. Search for circulatory system and tap “View in 3D” to see a heart up close or look up skeletal system to trace the bones in the human body and see how they connect. Read labels on each body part to learn more about it or view life-size images in AR to better understand its scale.

Spatial promises video chat in VR & AR

I can’t wait for my CrossFit-via-Zoom classes to go this way, so I’m surrounding by a bunch of glitchy avatars sweating through burpees. 🙃

Promised features:

  • “Join from a VR/AR headset or PC/Phone.
  • Create your lifelike avatar from a single 2D selfie in seconds.
  • Organize 3d models, videos, docs, images, notes and even your own screen.
  • Instantly set up rooms, scribble, search, pin information, save it, and access it anytime.
  • Easily share your room and invite anyone to join your meeting”

Photography: “Night Light”

Arthur Cauty has created an interesting “exercise in light painting and parallax displacement to create the illusion of 3D (or 2.5D) and motion in a series of still photographs captured after nightfall.”

This film is comprised entirely of still images. All motion achieved in post production. The only time lapse shots are the star trails. All other shots are typically comprised of between 3 and 5 exposures of the same subject, but with different lighting in each, then blended together or transitioned between to give the effect of seamless motion.

New AR effects debut in Google Duo

In the past I’ve mentioned augmented reality lipstick, eyeshadow, & entertainment effects running in YouTube. I’m pleased to say that fun effects are arriving in Google Duo as well:

In addition to bringing masks and effects to our new family mode, we’re bringing them to any one-on-one video calls on Android and iOS—starting this week with a Mother’s Day effect. We’re also rolling out more effects and masks that help you express yourself, from wearing heart glasses to transforming into a flower. 

Bringing back horrible sax solos with Google AI

Dynamite saxophone solos in rock n’ roll songs” kinda died, per 30 Rock, back in the 80’s, but thanks to my colleagues in machine learning (who are truly doing God’s work 🙃), perhaps they’ll soon be back:

I’m told that the model requires ~10-15 minutes of audio training data, and once it’s ready you can apply a transfer in around 2-3 seconds.

Perhaps now we’ll all be Jack Blacks (Jacks Black?) 🎷

[Via Sehmon Burnam]

Cut & paste your surroundings to Photoshop

This near-realtime segmentation, copy, and paste is wild:

Inside XR writes,

In a Twitter thread, Diagne said the secret is BASNet, an architecture for salient object detection with boundaries. (Paper here).

The delay is about 2.5 seconds to cut and 4 seconds to paste, though Diagne notes there are ways to speed that up.

The GitHub page for the project is available here.

Matterport brings 3D room-scanning & reconstruction to iPhone

Hmm—I look forward to taking this thing for a spin:

The developers write,

* Share your 3D virtual tour on social and messaging platforms with a Matterport-generated URL
* Sit back and relax, with automatic image processing, color correction, and face blurring
* Guide viewers around by highlighting features in your space with Mattertags and labels
* Add measurements to your 3D capture to accurately size the space

Fly inside a Monarch swarm in tiny drone disguised as a hummingbird

Days of Miracles and Wonder, part 3,293… 😳🚁🦋

Kottke writes,

For an upcoming episode of a show called Spy in the Wild, PBS’s Nature used a tiny drone disguised as a hummingbird to capture footage of a swarm of half a billion monarch butterflies as they overwinter in Mexico.

And of course I can’t let butterfly footage go by without gratuitously showing one of my favorite kid videos ever, captured of my then- (and now-) mysterious son Henry at age 2:


Claustrophobic comedy: “Daydream Cribs”

Oh man—having spent the tail end of the Nineties jammed into a 120-sq.-ft. Manhattan apartment (where my jacked-up cat could run around the walls a la Trinity in The Matrix), I got a big kick out of this MTV Cribs-style video my teammate David recorded to entertain our team (“Daydream”) & to “Keep Daydream NYC Weird.”

The ironic small-space tour reminded me of a classic SNL. To this day I can’t hear the word “solarium” without immediately replaying it in Liam Neeson’s brogue. ☘️