Elder Augmented Reality

There’s an older gentleman who works at the Lowes near my house. He’s a fixture of the place. If you saw him walking down the street you’d either say “There goes a mountain man,” or “That guy looks like he should work at a home improvement store.” He’s a floor customer service representative, and seems as comfortable in lumber as he does in plumbing or lawn and garden. He isn’t pushy, always has an interested, kind look in his eyes. You’ll often see him explaining a pipe fitting or how to install a ceiling fan to a young couple, their eyes narrowed, their brows furrowed, nodding, furiously taking mental notes. Unfortunately, they can’t put him in their cart and take him home.

While most tasks, like installing a ceiling fan or wiring a dimmer switch, aren’t fundamentally complex, until you understand the principles they can seem arcane and risky. Lots of subject areas are like this: Computers, carpentry, construction, decorating, training your pet, arranging flowers, tracking your business expenses, creating a household budget, replacing your car’s battery, gardening, clearing a drain, hemming a skirt, the list goes on and on.

Many of these skills are taught to us by our parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Some of us are lucky enough to had this introduction to a wide range of skills, or are able to call one of these experienced elders to come over when we stumble onto one we haven’t dealt with before. The less lucky of us may not have had as much time with our elders, may not have that sort of relationship with them or may not be able to call on them due to distance or passing.

I think that we have a general human need for elder advice and guidance, and I think augmented reality is going to herald a paradigm shift in serving that need.

There are a lot of people reaching retirement age around the world. A lot of them are facing the end of their planned careers whether they like to or not. They often aren’t suited to the uncertainties of the new economy, and the businesses they work for want them to step aside so younger people can take their place. Many, or even most, of them can’t afford to stop working, though, so they often end up at low paying menial jobs because they don’t have a modern skill set. They have deep knowledge and experience in a field, and they have experience explaining their field, since they often trained the generation of workers after theirs.

On the other end, there are millions of us who haven’t tackled these problems before, but will scoop up the latest gadget, are living at a very high speed, and are in love with customized, personalized, authentic experiences. We make friends with the taco truck guy, we fret about the viability of his business, and shake our heads sadly if he closes down. We want the world to work how it feels it should. Experience plus careful workmanship should equal success.

Imagine if there was a marketplace of subject matter experts. Retired or semi-retired plumbers, gardeners, electricians, mechanics, decorators, seamstresses, florists, stylists, bakers, teachers, cooks. The list could be as long as your arm. Each one of them has an iPad or a big TV and a remote (maybe both). They list their expertise and a price for their time. Maybe they fill out a profile of their work experience, ala LinkedIn.

You’re sitting at home. Suddenly the sink drain clogs, or the air conditioner stops blowing cold air, or your wife starts dropping hints about a souffle for her birthday, or your kid wants to take homemade bread to school, or you need to install a ceiling fan.

You put on your Google Glasses (or iGlasses or whatever other brand of see-through AR may exist in a year and a half), and place a quick order. You might have gotten an hour or two as a gift, maybe when you spent $500 at the home improvement store. You use a super-streamlined job-posting interface, probably speaking to it to describe your problem (lets call it a souffle), and in a few moments you have a handful of candidates who are online and available.

You hit the order button and a retired baker in some other state gets a bing-bong on their iPad. They sit down, review your profile, decide you’re a decent sort, and hit accept. You instantly see their face in the corner of your Google Glasses, and they can see what you’re seeing from the Glasses camera. They introduce themselves, you describe your problem, and you go to work together to solve it. They watch you as you work, use their iPad to draw diagrams over your vision, NFL commentator style, or shift the camera around and demonstrate with their hands.


Once the souffle’s in the oven, they recommend some pairings based on their experience, which you’ll get in a voice-transcribed recording of the interaction dropped in your email. You thank them, and say goodnight. You bookmark them for future reference, and leave some feedback.

It’s a win-win, you get access to subject matter experts and a real, authentic experience. They get to pass on their knowledge, and get paid for it. The technology only enhances an interaction that is already possible, but inconvenient.

Imagine if something like this was part of everyday life. You could gift your kids with a dozen hours when they go to college. You could pick up the basics of a new skill every month, entirely project based, no Dummies books collecting dust, just human interaction.

This seems like one of those no brainers. You mix Skype or Facetime, oDesk, retirees and the growth of home based businesses with the enabling technology of augmented reality, and this pops out. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.