Sep 19, 2020 | Updated: 11:04 PM EDT

Jules White, Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University (interview)

Mar 20, 2014 11:24 AM EDT


Jules White joined the ECE faculty this month as an assistant professor. He comes to Virginia Tech from Vanderbilt University, where he was a research assistant professor. White received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt in 2008 and his M.S. in 2006. He earned a BA from Brown in 2001. Droid Report recently interviewed Jules about his current role discussing emerging technologies and key findings of mobile and Next-Generation Augmented Reality Browsers.

Jules White, Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University

Droid Report: Hello Jules, you are the Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University. Could you tell us more about your current role and your initiatives for 2014?

Jules White: I'm the director of the Magnum research group at Vanderbilt University, which focuses on next-generation mobile applications, augmented reality, and cyber-physical security. Our research group is looking at a number of interesting projects in the AR space, particularly with respect to scaling up the algorithms to work effectively in the cloud.

Droid Report: Proceedings of the IEEE’s special issue “Next-Generation Augmented Reality Browsers: Rich Seamless, and Adaptive” discusses the challenges and various research approaches to building augmented reality browsers (AR browsers are the substitute of Web browsers in the real world, permitting overlay of interactive multimedia content on the physical world or objects they refer to) to discover and view content related to physical objects around a mobile device. As the issue's guest editor of Proceedings of the IEEE’s recent eight papers which had looked at the future of augmented reality applications, could you share some insight of these research approaches?

Jules White: One of the first takeaways from the special issue is the breadth of disciplines and domains that AR covers. The special issue includes applications from medicine to construction. The research spans everything from approaches to providing more realistic AR experiences by using mirrors to incorporate the user into the AR experience to approaches for augmenting field engineers views of construction sites with data from unmanned aerial vehicles.  

Droid Report: How do you view the future applications of AR in web browsers?

Jules White: I view mobile web browsers as a potentially interesting platform for building AR experiences that don't require users to install apps. I don't think the traditional AR browsers, which are custom apps that simply show information floating around real-world objects, are interesting. However, I think augmented reality experiences that begin by the user opening their web browser and uploading photos or video of the world around them to powerful cloud-based processing engines are interesting. For example, I want to be able to go to, open a web page, and then point my mobile device’s camera at my car to see the right repair to perform based on diagnostics received from my car’s onboard computers. I want to be able to start that interaction from my web browser and not install a separate AR browser app.

Right now, the best AR experiences that can be created with mobile web browsers involve uploading mobile photos or video to a cloud-based server and then rendering the augmented photos or video locally on a device. As devices become more powerful and JavaScript faster, however, these cloud-based applications will eventually move to the mobile devices

Droid Report: What potential do you see for worldwide adoption?

Jules White: Part of the problem with augmented reality is that it's associated with gimmicky advertising experiences surrounding magazine covers and products. To really gain traction, augmented reality needs to empower users to help them make decisions that would be difficult for them to make without AR. For example, if you can help a user complete a task that they don't have the skills to perform on their own, that is a powerful selling point that can drive adoption. The interactions also need to be higher bandwidth and not just involve single objects. For example, if you can tell me which of the hundred products on the shelf in front of me has the highest user reviews, that's a much higher bandwidth analysis that if I have to scan each of those products individually to get information from their barcodes. Once we get to the point that AR can tell us things about the world around us that couldn't just be printed on those objects and perform high bandwidth analysis of that information, I think AR will be rapidly adopted.

Droid Report: What are your personal thoughts on technology, the future of mobility and applications?

Jules White: I think the true future of AR lies in applications that can tell us information about the world using computer vision or other algorithms. For example, AR applications that can show you that a particular product is out of stock by actually looking at the shelf and analyzing it with computer vision are much more interesting than AR applications that simply show a balloon hovering over the aisle that should have that product. Although AR Web browsers can help present relevant information, in many cases we need more than just floating balloons that show us information related to specific objects. We need actual analysis of the real world in front of us to help us make decisions, not just present stock information. For example, users should be able to look at a shelf in a retail store and see products highlighted that meet their user review, price, and other criteria – just like they can on Amazon or other online retailers. The air experience needs to go beyond something that's just animated information that could be printed on the packages and objects in front of us. AR needs to provide an experience that's based on telling us what we need to know given the current state of the world, which is something the text printed on objects can't do.

Droid Report: Is there anything else you feel Android users and the Android market should know?

Jules White: There's been a lot of hype about headmounted displays, such as Google glass, and augmented reality. However, in the near-term, I think that mobile devices are going to be the drivers of augmented reality experiences. People are already capturing photos and videos of the world around them and uploading them continuously to social networks and other sites. The next evolution in augmented reality is going to be analyzing and providing feedback to users as they capture these photos and videos. The feedback is going to be much more sophisticated and focused on helping the user rather than selling a product or producing a cute animation. Many of the new interesting analyses of what users see in the world around them will be driven by the rapid pace of innovation in the computer vision research space, which has had immense advances in the last five years.

We would like to thank Jules White for taking the time for this discussion and Vanderbilt University.

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