Innovation

NC State Innovation Incentives and Startups

A recent article on wral.com reports on Governor McCrory pitching funding for innovators…or rather that “North Carolina should invest more in turning the innovations developed at the state’s public and private universities into marketable products.”

The article continues with Governor McCrory’s comments to the UNC Board of Governors, where he says that his aim was to turn the Research Triangle area into an innovation center that rivals Boston and Silicon Valley. One of these ways he says is figuring out ways to turn research dollars coming into the state into products.

I don’t believe that incentives to “lure established companies” to North Carolina, or pouring more dollars into University driven research is the best way to go here and won’t have the kind of impact on job growth that other approaches might have.

Before I get to that, I should mention that last year North Carolina ended tax incentives for film production in the State, replacing it with a limited grant program, effectively nerfing it. Showtime’s Homeland moves to South Africa (filmed in Charlotte and Wilmington), and it looks like Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is on its way to Atlanta if the series is renewed for a third season (filmed in Wilmington and New Bern).

Also repealed last year was North Carolina’s Qualified Business Venture (QBV) program, which basically afforded accredited investors up to a 25% tax credit on investments in startups with QBV status. This program was instrumental in very early fund-raising efforts for several startups I have been involved in over the years, and I know it has helped many others get off the ground as well.

I think that North Carolina needs to change its approach and focus more on helping startups. Here is how:

1)      Renew the QBV program. ASAP. I’d use this as an opportunity to engage with well-known and active investors in NC as well as entrepreneurs that have had experience with the program to evaluate how it has worked in the past, and look for a few ways to improve it.

2)      Pass legislation for crowd funding. Note that a bill for this was defeated last year (it was linked to some other tax-capping bill) and a new bill is now on the table. 

3)      Reinstate the film tax credit (and improve it to make it competitive with other states in the region). I think we had a good thing going and bringing a lot of talent and jobs to NC from this, and I hate to see it leave for greener pastures.

4)      Matching Funds Grant...One of Governor McCrory’s steps listed in the wral.com article that was targeted at growing new NC companies was investing $120M in new venture capital companies. In this case, these new venture funds would need to raise at least at least $2 for every $1 of state money invested.

This sounds good in theory, but I think that it would be better served to take that $120M and use it as grant funding directly to startups as sort of a matching-fund model. Keeping with the 2:1 ratio, a startup that raises $200k could get an additional $100k in a grant from NC. I would maybe cap it at a total of $500k. In this case, it would limit the funding to go towards early stage startups, supplementing funding from angel investors, incubators, or early stage angel networks.  I think this would also attract out of state capital, primarily from private angel investors, or established early stage venture funds that have had North Carolina on their radar but have chosen not to open an office here.

If I can sidebar for a moment, the venture funding ecosystem here in North Carolina is somewhat broken and fractured in my opinion. It is extremely difficult finding initial capital (commonly referred to the friends and family stage) and very difficult finding seed stage capital. There are sources here for both, but more often than not the startup is expected to have a product, customers, revenue, and at the starting point of scale. This is more appropriate in my opinion for startups going after their first full round of funding (Series A), but the tendency here is to want to do smaller investments at low valuations (the sweet spot seems to be a few hundred k at a pre-money valuation of under $1M) for companies that are at the stage of growth.

There is a fantastic infographic on why startups fail (from the Startup Genome) here.  In my experience, and the same goes for a good number of my friends and colleagues, is that NC early stage funding sources want to invest in startups that are at in the third activity stage of “efficiency” (that is, refining the business model, improving customer acquisition, and scaling), but treating it like other regions (i.e. Silicon Valley) would treat a startup in the first or second stage (“discovery” and “validation” respectively).

You would be amazed at how many times I have been asked (and others) to provide five year financials for a software startup that is still in the prototype/seeking customer validation stage. Anyway, take a look at that infographic. Good stuff there.

Getting back to #4, I think the secret to competing with Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, Austin, and several other hotspots of startup activity and innovation, is a focus on making it easier for startups to attract and find that very very early stage funding. If NC adopts the stance of investing (through grants) directly to startups that are already getting vetted by sophisticated angel investors, tech incubators, or other funding sources, the funding will have an immediate impact, and we should see a flurry of new startups, and new capital being invested. I would also predict new capital coming to the State to take advantage of this and effectively leverage the State dollars.

Other advantages to this approach would be minimal government involvement in determining where this grant funding would go. One of the other McCrory steps would be a $10M per year program to “help start-up companies transition from concept to marketable product”. How exactly are those companies going to be selected? Will there be an onerous application process with rewards throughout the year? How much could a company get? $25k? $50k? $500k? How much exactly does it take to transition from “concept” to “marketable product”? I have an idea for a rubber spoon. I can make it marketable by making it come coated in candy flavors and for sale at $1.00. That doesn’t mean it will be a successful product (anything can become marketable in my opinion). Wouldn’t it be better to have a simple process where the market (investors, early customers, etc.) validate the idea and demand by their investment dollars? This is why I think matching funds works much better…if a startup can’t get a prototype or proof of concept developed and attract some capital, making their concept “marketable” isn’t going to do much other than waste dollars.

Moving on…

5)      Eliminate the State Capital Gains Tax: Other steps mentioned by Governor McCrory are a) eliminating North Carolina’s capital gains tax rate for “innovation-related companies” and b) taking steps to lure North Carolina natives “involved in innovation” back to the state.

Well, I’m not sure how you would quantify “innovation-related” or “involved in innovation”, but I do believe that there are more opportunities and more available capital outside of North Carolina, especially for startups. You can graduate, create a startup, and struggle to find $100k-$200k, or you can move to San Jose and spend less effort to find ten times the capital, plus be in an environment that is vibrant, vigorous, and culturally driven by innovation and startups.

Yes, dear readers, I’ve had people on the West Coast tell me I am an idiot for staying in North Carolina. That happened to me more than once, and one of those occasions was in the office of a venture capital fund in Menlo Park.

But North Carolina has so much fertile ground. Everything is here, and the State is awesome. How many times have you heard about cities in NC ranking in the Top Ten, Top Five, or Number One places to live in America? We have great cities, great Universities, great companies (big ones too!), and great beer. What we don’t have, is a great system for cultivating innovation and the early stage funding necessary to go from Napkin to MVP or an early launch with those valuable first customers.

The NC legislature has the opportunity to do some pretty amazing things and put NC up in front. We can’t just do little things here and there. If you want to play with the big boys (Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, etc.) you have to be aggressive. Yes, there is a dollar cost to all of this, and startups are always a very risky proposition. But if you want to light a bonfire of innovation, job growth, excitement, and draw in talent and even more capital, we need to fix the funding ecosystem in the State.

In summary…reinstate the QBV program, bring back the film tax credit incentives, improve both, create a grant fund that matches investment dollars (a 2:1 ratio with a cap sounds good), approve crowd funding legislation, eliminate the capital gains tax, and maybe create another incentive for startups to collaborate with Universities and their tech-transfer programs.

This will result in more startups, more activity, more capital flowing, more jobs, and an accelerated rate of new products and ideas getting to market.

One side note: I think a lot of people associate startups mostly with tech startups in the mobile, consumer and app spaces. When I say startups in this article, I mean any startup (software, hardware, bio, textile, energy, whatever) in any sector, but generally with some type of technology or innovation. This excludes new businesses…like a restaurant or a company that develops web sites.

If you are a startup founder, please email me directly with your experiences raising early stage capital in (and out of) North Carolina. I’d also like to hear from you if you were able to leverage the QBV program (or if this is the first time you are hearing of it).

If you are a member of the NC Legislature, I would strongly suggest that you reach out to startup founders in North Carolina (call me!). We have lots of ideas, and we know how to make them reality. It is what we do. Innovation is brightest and fastest in startups…and much slower in large companies and universities. Innovation is life or death for a startupyou don’t get that kind of motivation elsewhere. Talk to us.

Thank you for reading.

PS: I wasn't joking about the beer in NC

Header image of NC Legislative Building Source: Wikimedia Commons, JMTurner Photographer

2010, Year One: Decade of Ubiquity

I’ve blogged in the past about Future Vision and the coming Decade of Ubiquity and my predictions for what might occur between now and 2012, which is a bit beyond the current crop of 2010 predictions by some really smart people as aggregated by Games Alfresco. I’ve always had a knack for thinking ahead, and more often than not, I’ve been too early. I started a company in 1995 to build the first real-time 3D MMORPG (during the days of VGA and 2D sprite “3D” graphics) with a strong emphasis on social gameplay, and in 1999 I was evangelizing the digital nation as a virtual world community platform, and in 2000 I shifted to 3D interfaces to the Internet along with virtual goods and microtransactions, and I made a scathing indictment of online worlds and MMORPGs back in 2006 about the decline of that industry’s craft and lore which many people are finally beginning to see and agree with. Of course, back then many people attacked my point of view (notice the low rating of the book and comments on Amazon.com).

2005-2006 was around the time I was designing Immortal Destiny, which was meant to be a true next-generation virtual world and MMORPG. The whole world was designed to be AI-driven and a fully adaptive and evolving ecology that would change based on what players did (or did not) do. We even found some really interesting genetic computation algorithms that we were going to leverage as sort of an artificial life intelligence to control many of the game systems and mechanics. The full scope of the world was to give players the chance to finally be important, and the drivers of the story, on both micro and macro levels, instead of just churning through static canned content. There are a lot of other problems with MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds right now (which I addressed in my book, and are still relevant). Sure, some games like World of Warcraft are successful financially, but they could be so much MORE successful, the market could be bigger, and games could be more engaging and interesting.

Anyway, I tried finding funding for Immortal Destiny, but at the time, I just couldn’t do it. Much of the interest in the industry had moved on to casual and social games and worlds, large MMO projects were getting shut down left and right (remember Sigil and Perpetual Studios?), and it seemed that the only way to find funding was if you were a baseball star or a former employee of blizzard (regardless of what you actually did there). So, I made the call and suspended development. Sometimes, if you aren’t getting any traction, it is best to stop and move on. I still plan on creating Immortal Destiny and shaking up the game industry, but unless one of my blog readers has $20M to drop (and no, you do not need a $500M budget to blow the industry out of the water), I’ll be self funding this in the future.

So, back to the topic. In mid 2006, probably around August when I was at the beachhouse on our annual trip to Topsail Island, and was making the decision to close the doors on the MMO, I started thinking about technology. What the obvious trends were, what trends were developing in the underlying currents of various industries, what was happening on the internet, in virtual worlds, in games, in social media, in mobile, in hardware, software, telecom, etc. etc. This is about the time where I discovered QR codes, Datamatrix, and found a handful of videos about augmented reality on youtube.

I admit that this was a huge surprise to me. The beginning of my career in interactive media was in the very early 90s at the first virtual reality arcade game company in the US (Alternate Worlds Technology), so I was quite familiar with all things virtual reality, which is not a huge leap from augmented reality. I didn’t think that the state of things was as far advanced as it seemed to be, and certainly not accessible. After a bit more research, I discovered ARTag, ARToolkit, DART, and a few other things. I immediately saw the potential here, and a lot of old ideas came flooding back.

To me, the full potential of augmented reality can only be realized when we can break away from the desktop, making it mobile and ubiquitous, while moving beyond the handheld “lens” (i.e. hold up your iPhone and look through it) with wearable displays. Even then though, the wearables must be in an eyeglass form factor, and the lenses must be transparent. This combination is still a few years off (sooner if I had my way), and is the absolute basic requirement for the impending media evolution.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that the state-of-the-art of augmented reality has an insane amount of potential on its own, but to be honest, most of what came out in 2009 was desktop marker based (stable, looks great, lots of uses, but ultimately deployed in ways that were pure gimmick and schlock) or directory services that are pseudo AR. Almost all of the so-called AR Browsers out there fall into this category (and some don’t qualify as AR to begin with). I think what we are seeing right now, and definitely through 2010 is more like the emergence of location based content and mobile experiences, wrapped and marketed as augmented reality. This is ok though. The industry is still barely born, and we have a long way to go. A few more years of technology advancement and industry maturity is required before we start seeing real things that will have a lasting effect on our daily lives.

The point though, is that all of these things calling themselves augmented reality now are just the start. Everyone is getting their feet wet, experimenting, exploring, and beginning to innovate. We can argue about what is or isn’t augmented reality, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the continual push for advancing the technology, the industry, and getting people to start using it. My own company, Neogence Enterprises, has been working quietly in the background on our own stuff with an eye to the future, but I think our goals have been too ambitious for the short term. I’m not satisfied with the current state-of-the-art, and I want more. However, the longer we take in development, the less ability we have to build our own brand and compete for marketshare and eyeballs. So, we are shifting gears a bit and will be releasing our own AR Browser and a few other nifty things in the near future to stake our claim, while we continue developing the other stuff, and solving the really hard problems that others haven’t even begun to consider yet. Remember, I like to think very far ahead, and work backwards…developing a roadmap that lays out a plan to execute. That is what we are doing.

But what does all of this have to do with the title of this post? Yes, I agree that augmented reality effectively exploded on the blogosphere in 2009 (even though its been around for years) and it will really start taking off in 2010 (expect AR startups coming out of the woodwork, venture capital starting to flow, a couple of failures and closings, some mergers and acquisitions, and some really interesting applications (but not until later in the year at the earlist)). But what is really going on here? If you set aside all of the glitz of augmented reality and consider what is happening on a very subtle level, you begin to see the beginnings of some other trends. Augmented reality just happens to be the umbrella that all of this is getting lumped under and is the easy buzzword to throw around.

* Mobile Paradigm Shift

I’m not going to go into much detail here about this beyond saying that mobile devices aren’t just for making phone calls anymore. The mobile device is becoming the replacement for laptops, and for most casual computing. Even as dramatic as this shift is here in North America, we are still half a decade or so behind what is going on in Asia or some third world countries where they skipped the whole “copper wires in the ground” phase that we are still dealing with as legacy. You might not believe it, but some countries are moving towards a cashless system and the mobile device is replacing the wallet. Think about that for a minute.

The rapid development of smart mobiles (the explosion starting with the iPhone) is nearing fever pitch. The new devices we are going to see over the next year or two are going to be amazing. The things we will be taking for granted by the time 2012 rolls around would stun us today to even consider, yet it is coming.

* Location, Location, Location

I mentioned directory AR earlier as very early implementations of location based content. If the buzz in 2009 was around AR (at least in some circles), I’m fairly confident it will be location based content and services in 2010. As I have said dozens and dozens of times in the past year, who you are, where you are, and what is around you will be important. In the past we have gone to places on the internet to get information, now we will start seeing information served to us on a silver platter that is relevant to where we are. This too will take a couple of years to really get cooking, and we have already started seeing early efforts here (have you heard the rumors of Google considering an acquisition of Yelp for $500m? (Update: More rumors report that Yelp has spurned this offer)). My favorite app for location based anything right now is probably Foursquare. I checked into a local pizza place yesterday (Sauced Pizza) and Foursquare gave me a $5 off coupon on a large pizza. Holy cow. How awesome is that?

* Ubiquitous and Pervasive

Ubiquitous: existing or being everywhere at the same time : constantly encountered

Pervasive: to become diffused throughout every part of

When I talk about the decade of ubiquity, I mean to say that during the next ten years (sooner, really, but it is such a great line, I’m sticking with it), what I define as augmented reality (in broad terms) or “the blend between the real and the virtual” will definitely, absolutely, and unavoidably occur. Computing will become smaller and almost unnoticable, and be part of nearly every aspect of our lives. The various implementations and modes of this will change and evolve to be sure. For now, we are holding up our mobile devices and peering at the tiny screens. In the future, you will simply walk into a room and it will know you are there. You will buy things by swiping your phone over a sensor. Your car will start when you get close to it. You will never have to punch a time clock at the office. You will always have directions to get where you need to be, without having to look it up. Intelligent agents (running on a mobile device) will recognize your voice and order pizza for you, make calls, book appointments, and arrange airfare. Interactive 3D virtual goods and characters (appearing like holograms) will be all over the place along with dynamic data overlays…all designed to your tastes, preferences, and habits.

Every industry and way of life will feel the effects of mobile, ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, smart devices, embedded sensors, and automation. It used to be fun talking about this, reading science fiction, and watching movies, but we are finally at the point where we can see light at the end of the tunnel, and the future we (well at least the older folks) have been dreaming of is rushing towards, gaining speed every year.

Of course, there are obstacles along the way…the economy, world politics, the strangulation of commerce and innovation funding, apathy, bad business models, greedy people, and misdirection of talent and resources, but we will overcome. The golden technology utopia of the future that we all desire is too bright and the siren call is too strong. Yes, it might take longer than we would like, and it might not turn out like we hope (try reading 1984 and Brave New World over the same weekend), but as long as we strive, and refuse to capitulate to failure or weak minded individuals who swear the sky is falling and every ambition is a waste of time, we will get there.

At least, that is what I aim for. As Tesla once said “The present is theirs ; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.” Don’t be satisfied with the status quo, and don’t be discouraged when you see someone else building (and profiting) from things you have imagined or had the idea for on your own. Do it anyway, do it better, and always strive to reach higher and farther than anyone else. Success will find you sooner or later.

So, here is an early welcome to you to year one of the decade of ubiquity. How will it change your life? What are you going to do? Are you going to jump in and make it happen? Are you going to sit back and watch? Are you going to slow down the visionaries and workers making it happen by complaining about things and marginalizing their efforts? Are you content? Or are you driven? The future is yours to create and invent, or you can fade into the past.

As for me, I’m going for gold. I’m never going to quit, I’m never going to be satisfied, and I will never settle. I may have to walk in smaller steps at times, but every one of those steps is leading to a leap.

I can’t wait.

Robert

 

ISMAR 09 Observations and Comments

ISMAR, the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality was held this past week in Orlando Florida. It was pretty awesome and my expectations for the symposium were exceeded in many ways. I had thought that this year was going to be the break-out year, but I’m beginning to think it was only a precursor to the one next year in Seoul Korea. There is so much “on deck” right now that is going to explode out of the box in the next twelve months, that 2010 is going to be freakishly awesome.

ISMAR 09 was a huge success for me, and very exciting. I have been pretty enthused about augmented reality already, but now I am close to vibrating with energy and optimism about the future of the industry, and I absolutely cannot wait until ISMAR 10 next year. Now that I am home (and dead tired) I wanted to put out some observations, comments, and ideas while things are still fresh on my mind, and after I have had a chance to think about it on the plane home. Grab some coffee and have a seat, this is going to be a long post.

And here we go…

It was my first time attending ISMAR, but definitely not my first time attending an industry conference that was inwardly focused (in contrast to something like E3, where it is designed to highlight commercial releases, media frenzy, press releases, and heavily marketing/sales). I mention this to give some perspective to the rest of my comments in this post.

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that the conference was, overall, damn fantastic. I would almost rate it as the best conference I have attended in the last decade, in terms of people I met, the relationships I was able to grow, the things I learned about the state-of-the-art from academic, research, and commercial sources, and the general quality of the attendees and speakers.

I am relatively new to the Augmented Reality industry. While I have been dabbling in different areas of technology that are complementary to AR, or core elements (like 3D graphics, interactive media, etc.) for most of my career, it was only about two years ago that I jumped in head-first and 100%. Even so, I’ve felt like an outsider observing from a distance, with my voice swirling away in the wind. Part of this is due to the fact that my startup, Neogence Enterprises, has largely been under the radar or very quiet about what exactly we are doing to any degree of detail (purposefully), and the other part is because augmented reality is not exactly a new technology, although I would argue that it is a extremely new industry.

By this I mean that augmented reality has been around in some form or another for the better part of the last three or four decades (longer by some counts) and generally limited to research in Universities, limited military and defense applications, and basement R&D at some large companies. There hasn’t been an industry to “break in to” and there are only a handful of Universities where you can find any real educational tracks and research departments doing this stuff. The ISMAR conference itself is old by some standards, with ISMAR 09 being the tenth annual conference.

During 2009, pandora’s box was opened and there were suddenly startups everywhere looking at doing AR applications, content, tools, and so forth. Even a lot of media campaigns started using low level marker based AR to do their marketing stunts. We all started running around with our dreams, plans, ambitions, and in some cases (I’m looking at you mass market media) completely misunderstanding what exactly AR is and babbling on about things that just served to misinform people. From the academic perspective, they were shoved aside for all the brash new folks, who were suddenly getting a lot of attention, accolades, and credit for “inventing” things that others had been working on and researching for years and years.

And ISMAR, which has been a reputable conference for academics, peer-reviewed papers, research, and heavy on the “science and technology”, kindly expanded their program this year in an experiment to embrace “arts and humanities” (which sort of included everything else, like business, design, and whatever).

This is good, and the timing is perfect. Actually, I think this is a must. There is currently no other real augmented reality conference (as the main point of the conference…ones that have an AR track don’t count), and what has been an area of research has suddenly been propelled, abruptly, into the spotlight as an industry (when it is barely more than a lot of academics and a handful of startups). This new “industry” still doesn’t have standard practices and methodologies, a lexicon, standard business models, a professional association, a well formed and active community, or any of the other things that a industry normally has.

This is a bit problematic. Our industry is unique in many respects, and it can’t always be considered in the same way as some other technology related industry. To complicate things, there is a growing demand for products, applications, content, and new innovations…I can’t tell you how many companies, agencies, and whatever have contacted me in the last six months looking for quotes on producing some sort of application or whatever, to be surprised that what they want has to be built from scratch. The mass market doesn’t realize that the vast majority of Augmented Reality technology right now is barely more than a research project at a university. With few exceptions, there is little that is ready for the market. Heck, we can’t all even agree on what the definition of Augmented Reality actually is or is not right now.

This is an opportunity for us, the industry, and ISMAR. Expanding and extending the scope of ISMAR can provide a fertile ground for the continuing birth of the AR industry, and act as a guiding force to mature the technology into a real industry. By doing so, it will grow in relevance, prestige, and legitimacy. If it does not, some other body or organization will fill in the rapidly growing void and eventually marginalize the Symposium, leaving it to the academics to publish their papers and wonder why the industry that could very well be bigger than the Web is today, has left them behind.

While most of my experiences at ISMAR were unbelievably awesome, I did not get the chance to see or experience as much of it as I liked. This is mostly because I was either speaking at one of the sessions myself, or I was engaged in meetings. I think I only caught about half of the sessions I was really interested in. So, I should note now that my opinion, and some of my gripes, are from this limited perspective. I didn’t see everything, so keep that in mind.

Ok, moving on. First, I picked up on a vibe (at the conference, and for a few months leading up to it) that some of the “old guard” was of the opinion that entrepreneurs and other efforts to commercialize AR were nothing more than riff raff, or uneducated blowhards jumping on the bandwagon for a quick buck, without really understanding anything, and probably not capable of doing anything of real value or innovation. I also picked up on some tangible disdain for “arts and humanities” as something that was incapable of measuring up to scientific standards, or even that including it would diminish the prestige and legitimacy of the conference. While I can understand where this is coming from, these points of view are archaic, close-minded, and disillusioned in the face of reality or what goes on in the world in other industries. The “science and technology” of augmented reality is only one element of several that are critical and necessary for the advancement of technology in general, as well as the emergence of a whole industry.

I should note that this seemed to be extremely limited and is not representative of the symposium at large. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The overall atmosphere was very welcoming, open, engaging, appreciative, and willing to grow and expand. Looking over the proceedings and comments from the Chairs, there is a clear desire to grow the Symposium and embrace the industry. This is part of why I think this year was so important, and why I think that ISMAR is going to be an absolutely critical cornerstone for the growth of the industry at large. I only point out that I picked up on the negative vibe (however minor or marginalized) because I think it is important to recognize that these feelings and perceptions do exist, and they should be addressed, lest they cause problems in the future. For example, I heard some rumors about some “disagreements” occuring behind the scenes on the Wikipedia entry for Augmented Reality. Yes, I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with ISMAR, but it is indicitive of a problem that is percolating amongst academics and the commercial sector. This needs to be dealt with immediately. This is the sort of thing that greatly diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the whole industry at large, and if we let some rampant egos, holier than thou attitudes, or sniping about who is doing (or has done) what, and whatever else, it will have far reaching negative effects. (Note: I have not confirmed this, nor do I know the context of what the problem is between the editors on the wikipedia entry for augmented reality).

I would also like to mention that the startups and commercial people need to be a little more aware about what they are doing and telling the press. Recognition must be given (and indeed, is quite deserved) to those academics, researchers, and innovators that have invested years of their lives to create the base technologies that we are all beginning to capitalize on, and advance in our own right. There would be no AR industry without the pioneers that have gone before us. Even as they embrace us and welcome us into what has been their domain, we must embrace them as well and collaborate with them to advance the technology and the industry as a whole. Doing otherwise would be folly and disrespectful.

Moving on to another topic: The printed proceedings of the conference (totally worth the cost by the way) weighs in at about 300 pages. Only 61 were related to the “arts and humanities” track. While the papers were quite good, and lived up to the expectations of the symposium, I would have liked to see much more in terms of cognition, psychology, sociology, perception, user interface, iconography, filtering, multi-senses, and so forth. Each of these disciplines have much to offer and should be sought after in the future. Maybe “arts and humanities” needs to be renamed or split into other segments, both for papers and for broader topics covered in panels, workshops, and speaker sessions. Maybe science and technology, arts and entertainment, business and media, and design. I had a number of people ask me about business related topics, wishing there was a source for them to learn about starting a tech company, navigating tech transfer and licensing, the patent process, or even collaborating with the commercial sector to support research programs and projects.

Ok, on to my gripes:

1) I got screwed by the person at Marriott who took my reservations and assured me, several times, that I had a room at the Marriott Downtown. Instead they booked me at the Marriott Courtyard. To add insult to injury, I had to pay for parking, when it would have been free if I was staying at the courtyard. The “manager” of the valet parking guys gave me a hard time about it. Never mind the fact that I was a speaker at the conference, or that I was staying AT A MARRIOTT, he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Very annoying.

2) I had to pay for the boxed lunch (which was weak) and for the awards banquet. I’m annoyed I had to pay for the boxed lunch, but the banquet dinner was mediocre. They served everyone some sort of fish, with mashed potatoes and vegatables, a small salad, one roll, a thin slice of cheesecake, and a glass of water. If you wanted anything else, like a coke, beer, or wine, you had to buy it yourself. They did offer coffee (after the dinner).

3) The wireless was ludicrous. It was free in the center of the lobby downstairs, but something like $10 a day for wireless in the rest of the hotel. The first day after I paid, I had to wait HALF AN HOUR to get a special access code, and then I got a new one every morning. It was also very slow, with frequent disconnects (for me anyway). Extremely annoying.

4) There was plenty of coffee available, but not much water or soda (without going to the gift shop). I was thirsty almost non-stop.

5) Some of the rooms were hot with little air circulation. I almost dozed off in one of my own presentations because of it.

6) Signage and directions on the first day were inadequate. I was waiting for someone in the lobby on Monday morning, and I directed not less than 27 people upstairs to the registration area, after they had wandered off down the wrong corridor because of a sign pointing out where one of the rooms was.

7) While I get the upside down-reverse printing of the proceedings and the schedule to contrast science/technology and arts/humanities, it was annoying to have this occur several times in the schedule. This made it harder to find anything at a glance and was really irritating.

For the price of the conference, none of these annoyances should have occured. As a speaker, I should not have had to worry about any of it, especially since I paid for my own travel and hotel.

I think there could have been a much better venue, and a better arrangement with the hotel. It would have been nice to be closer to a variety of restaurants as well (walking distance).

Pretty lame gripes, I know. But I’m tired and cranky, and they have all been bugging me for days. I needed to blog about it and get it off my chest.

So, that’s it. Overall the conference was fantastic, and the organizers/chairs were amazing. I felt like I was welcomed into the community with open arms where before I had felt like some guy on the periphary. I met a lot of amazing people with a real and sincere passion for augmented reality, and I witnessed a clear vision for the future of ISMAR. My negative comments are limited to very few people and this was based mostly on some casual observations salted by a couple of rumors. Its almost not worth mentioning.

For next year, I highly recommend you start saving and planning now. It will absolutely be worth going to Seoul Korea to attend, and I very highly suggest that you start thinking now about submitting a paper or two. If you are inexperienced at this or aren’t sure how to create one that will bear up to high academic standards, then put a hand out to friends working at Universities for some help. Get off your butt and learn how to do it. Sure, it might take some extra work, but it will pay off in the long run. Quality breeds quality, and mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

I want to thank ISMAR for providing me with the opportunity to participate as a speaker, presenter, panelist, and reviewer (Arts and Humanities). It was a wonderful experience, and I am in awe of many of the people I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with.

See you next year…

Robert Rice