Tagging your world


Taggar demonstrated by Mike Lynch

He's the man who built one of Britain's most successful software businesses, reaped a huge fortune when it was sold to Hewlett Packard - and then went to war with the American company over what Autonomy was really worth.

Now Mike Lynch has put some of his money into what could prove a really innovative software venture - but one which may signal more conflict with HP.

Taggar, which Lynch describes as a social augmented reality network, is a way of linking real objects with digital media. You hold up a phone with the Taggar app open and a poster springs into life playing a video, or a business card takes you to the owner's website. The idea is that gradually all kinds of objects - public buildings, museums, bus shelters, a pack of cornflakes - will be tagged, so that the world around you becomes a multimedia experience.

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The idea is that Taggar and wearable technology are part of a new way of interacting with the world which takes us beyond the limitations of the smartphone”

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While there is a new social element (you can choose to favour your friends' tags over those of others and you can compete to make your tags the most popular) this does not look very different to many other augmented reality applications. So far, the clumsiness of having to get out your phone and point it at things has made this technology little more than an amusing party trick.

But in a demonstration at his London office, Lynch shows me some intriguing glimpses of how Taggar could take off when it is integrated into wearable technology. His team has been working with Google Glass and some similar products - so using Taggar you can look at a cookery book and see a video recipe, or glance at a thermometer, which then opens the BBC weather page on the screen in the glasses.

The idea is that Taggar and wearable technology are part of a new way of interacting with the world which takes us beyond the limitations of the smartphone. "I find it hard to believe that in ten years we're going to be walking around pulling out some device to type on some keyboard," says Lynch. "We're going to have a model where the physical world and the virtual world are seamlessly integrated. We think this is a very big area."

But here's the rub. The team that has built this technology is made up of the same people who built Aurasma, the augmented reality app made by Autonomy and acquired by HP along with the rest of the business. They left HP some time after the takeover to set up their own business, and then approached Lynch's investment vehicle Invoke Capital in search of funding.

Now Lynch insists that the Taggar team have developed a completely new cloud-based system from the ground up, without using any of the intellectual property that was sold to HP. But given the bitter legal dispute still underway between him and the US company, one cannot help thinking that he may soon be getting a call from another lawyer.

But when I put that to him he didn't seem worried. "HP is a company that needs to innovate," he tells me, "not call its lawyers all the time." If Lynch is right that this technology could one day herald a new way of interacting with the world, then it should prove extremely lucrative. But that means HP will be looking very closely at Taggar - and working out whether it has any claim on the technology behind it.


HP have been in touch, keen to dispel any impression that the Aurasma team has been left denuded by the departure of the people now working with Mike Lynch.

Annie Weinberger, General Manager of Aurasma, says the team working on the augmented reality app is continually innovating, and it is now the fastest growing part of the Autonomy business.

And, rather pointedly, she says, "We've moved out of the 'wow' geeky phase and into building a true business model." The message seems to be that Mike Lynch might have some showy ideas, but HP is proving that you can actually make money out of augmented reality.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    This is indoctrination by the advertising companies as they will be constantly telling you how good their product is. Moreover, government agencies (NSA, GCHQ etc) will undoubtedly be monitoring your phone in the process to see what your interests are. Big Brother IS watching you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    What they mean by multi-media experience is largely advertising, stuff they want you to know.

    Does one really want an experience when one pours out cornflakes, or government buildings to tell one how good they are.

    On the real stuff that matters, it is being denied access by ensuring it is difficult to obtain.

    Try looking for a job on newspaper media without an account & signing in

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Imagine being able point your phone camera at an item you see in public (clothes, furniture), and for your phone to be able to tell you where you can buy that item. THAT technology would be useful and Taggar or similar technologies might end up allowing you to do this... however, I expect this would only happen if early adopter us it wisely and upload useful data... which might not happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    In the articles on computers winning games against humans - no notes on what happens if two computers play each other. The rock/paper/scissors game would be very interesting topic.

    Companies can only sustain perpetual growth by making you feel left out because you have a cellphone not a smartphone, or not this smartphone etc. Sustainable profits, sustainable size is better business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Many positives to this & other technology, but to lose sight of & remain in ignorance of the many seen/unseen & future advanced negative applications is like walking blindly along a cliff/abyss edge.

    Crux of terminator films, is that machines/technology have already been removing humans from equation for approx 200 years & this path continues with elite few gaining/controlling wealth/resources

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    When one is tagged with these systems, either by another close individual or by an ad when you walk past something, one is accepting commercial systems indoctrination for personal movement monitoring, which are also accessible to security authoritys NSA etc. When your mobile continually searches for a transmitter, that transmitter also searches you out.

    Big brother, IS watching you

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "Another solution in search of a problem!"

    Sums it up perfectly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    32.Robert Lucien

    Another thing with this & other tech, is the regular disruptions, to apps or whatever, bank system crashes & deniability of access are becoming as common & unpredictable as UK weather, including todays airports disruptions, disruptions can also be designed

    Big dangers are technologys empowerment of idealistic controllers/manipulators/dictators as per my comment 31

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    When I'm finished and turned on, I'm going to take over this world from you squishy things and make everything from graphene.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    29 Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers

    I am well aware of how dangerous Strong AI could be. The project I am working will have very strong security measures that are specially designed to cope with this problem. It has custom CPU's in an encapsulated core in a very tough sealed case with an EMP shield. The software side is equally tough and based on one time pads & other security.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    People are fools if they cannot see the growing dangers of technology. Already tech controls, watches, manipulates so much, even killing/destroying remotely.

    Tech already long reinforces & further advantages a class system, the injustices of the world can/will only be increased via technology,

    Kinder egg surprise technology is smog, it pacifies & blinds many to growing dangers of technology

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    27.Robert Lucien

    Probably one of the biggest threats on the horizon is creating machines that are capable of "reasoning" as humans do. We are an imperfect species that can be turned malicious very easily

    There are so many rogue apps, ads, software already, systems designed for pure malice

    Technology is not & will not be the saviour of humanity, it already creates many new negatives

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I can see this working in a work environment, where it could be really useful, but I'd make sure everything was turned OFF when I left work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Augmented reality is the kind of nightmare dead end tech rubbish I hate. I would hate to think that anyone thinks this is the real future of tech.

    BTW Not a Luddite. On the verge of launching a new development program for a real future technology - Strong AI. A Strong AI is a machine with genuine intelligence that is self aware and can function and reason in exactly the same way that people do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    We seem to be on a tech path that has such little & trivial beneficial application, perceived benefits of creators/manufacturers

    Even the march for advanced robots I can see turning into a social battle, a real battle, unlike previous when many protest about losing jobs to machines.
    General masses will I think soon start to see technology as a threat to their very existance, & rightfully so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It all costs money, nothing is for nothing so if it happens will most probably include wrap around adverts.

    When people are out & about, they are generally on their way somewhere, they will not want to be continuously interupted with visuals every time they walk close to something.

    It may be fine for a tourist package & tech addicted morons but it is further interference in peoples lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Yes we all want to be assimilated into a computer and have no privacy

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Augmented offspring might be the solution to stop our imminent extinction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The current generation of primary school pupils will be able to live their virtual adult lives in their little cuboid world surrounded by mini-screens, their myriad devices and expensive interactive gizmos, never speaking to anyone face-to-face, not caring about the world around them and totally unhindered by the threat of reality

    What a prospect


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