Innovation Radar: Living Pictures, Living Books

Everyone is talking about Web 2.0 – but only slowly the benefits of it are being integrated into consumer products. Here we introduce two novel examples for technologies greatly improving everyday products by adding features only possible thanks to the web.

The first product is Lytro, a camera capturing pictures without the need of focusing. The camera does not even look like a camera any more; it is just an angular aluminum tube surrounding the lens, with the aperture at one end and a display screen at the other – no viewer, no control buttons, only a power button, a shutter button and a zoom slider.

Just point and shoot, and focusing is done once the picture has been uploaded to the web. Simply push the mouse over the area of interest, click, and the focus is there. The pictures are HD quality, and users can switch between 2D and 3D views.

Technically, Lytro captures the entire light field of the scene when the shutter button is pressed, i.e. a sensor records not only color and intensity of the light rays, but also the vector direction – an information that is completely lost with conventional cameras. This information is later used to enable the selection of different batches of light, i.e. bringing different parts of the picture into focus.

The second product is Libroid, an ebook format designed to present books electronically not just by bringing letters to a screen, but by adding extra information such as films, photos, maps, links in a way that readers are not distracted if they choose to focus on the text.

The application designed for iPads is simple. Hold your iPad in portrait format and you can read the text without distraction by additional elements. If you switch to landscape format, two columns appear on the left and right side of the text. As an example, one column may display photos, while the other refers to further reading, etc. The columns scroll with the text so that always only matching information is displayed.

This is much more than just adding an interview with the author or some photos to an ebook. It allows for entirely new writing: a thriller author might provide the same scene from the perspective of different characters so that readers can switch easily between their heroes, a cookbook author may add videos or provide features to simply adapt recipe quantities to the number of eaters or recipe variations; non-fiction authors may provide sources, their research material and much more.

Both products already are on the market. Lytro sell its cameras from $399 in the US, while Libroid is available in Apple’s iTunes store (iPad only) for €7,99. Juergen Neffe, inventor of Libroid, still appreciates investors as German publishing houses keep being very conservative and are still not embracing the ebook market wholeheartedly.