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Who's Blogging


Retha Hill is the Director of the New Media Innovation Lab and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Hill joined the Cronkite faculty in the summer of 2007 after nearly eight years at BET.

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Project Blog: Mobile Black History Project

Imagine pointing your mobile phone at a Washington, D.C., landmark and reading about its relevance in African-American history. Layering data over real life is at the center of the emerging field of augmented reality, and this mobile phone application will bring black history to the forefront, starting with historic sites in Washington, D.C. Retha Hill, a recent Knight News Challenge winner and director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, will run the project.

Hitting the Reset Button

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

As almost every innovator has discovered at one point or another, it is the team that you assemble that can help you soar or trip you up. Months into my Black History Augmented Reality project, I have good and bad news.

The good news is the content for nine cities is available in Layar where users in Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., can download the Layar browser and use the camera lens of their smartphones to find out about black history. I also have content for New York City and Ohio that I have to put into the database, and data from Detroit and Los Angeles are being collected now.

The bad news is the app designed specifically for the iPhone is not ready.

My developers finally admitted what was obvious for months: that they were unable to create an Augmented Reality native iPhone app. The developers tried to use a third party iPhone builder (despite my warnings against it) and then tried to integrate Layar Player into it. It just didn’t work.

Part of the frustration of working in the mobile space, especially with cutting edge augmented reality tools, is finding people who can do what they say they are able to do, and can do it at an affordable rate.

But ever the practical optimist, I have a backup plan to get the iPhone-specific app completed—and quickly. To make sure I had as much information as possible, I attended the Augmented Reality Event conference in mid-May in Silicon Valley - a true nerd festival—so I could get advice from people who are already in this space. I met Layar AR strategist Gene Becker, who schooled me on what I have to do to make his product work on a native app and who is putting me in touch with developers who can finish the project. [In the small world department, two of my former New Media Innovation lab graduate students - Chris Cameron and Adriane Goetz—are working for Layar in Amsterdam and gave me the heads up that Gene would be at the conference.] I also met up with representatives at Wikitude and Junaio, two other AR browser companies. And I learned about new content management systems that can make publishing to all three browsers much easier.

At the conference, I also learned about some bleeding edge AR products that are giving me all kinds of inspiration for what the Black History AR app can eventually become. I’m thinking an animated recreation or 3D modeling of famous events that happened in U.S. history. Imagine being able to get a recreation of the battle of Antietam while standing on that hallowed ground? At the very least, I’d like to track down as many historical photos as I can so they can be superimposed over places where history took place, similar to what the PhillyHistory project is doing. I would love to get that done in advance of the NABJ conference this summer in Philadelphia and the Online News Association conference in Boston.

Being a deadline-driven person, I’m stressing to get everything done by end of June, which will be one year after finding out I won the marvelous New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant. My deadline, not J-Lab’s. But I’m also excited about getting past the basics to doing some really eye-popping stuff with AR, to see how far and how fast I can push the boundaries. And I want to see if I can make a business here, and employ and teach legacy journalists about this new world, because, after all, that is what entrepreneurship is all about.

   • Posted by Retha Hill on 05/25 at 09:17 AM

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