Pay attention to augmented reality

arexpectations
Is augmented reality going to be the Next Big Thing? A lot of people think so, as all the increasing talk is helping the topic rapidly ascend the Technology Trigger in Gartner’s 2009 hype cycle for emerging technologies published last month.

I wrote about this topic in July. Now it’s one I keep seeing popping up everywhere.

With so much hype already, and the build-up increasing, what’s the best way to grasp what augmented reality means in a practical sense in your daily life?

Here’s one way – a video published last week by Layar, a Dutch company at the forefront of AR on mobile devices, and video tourism company EyeTour. It shows what you could do with an AR ‘layer’ on a mobile device as you tour a city (San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the example).

I think it’s a great illustration of how augmented reality could be of distinct use in a pragmatic way: you’re in a new city, you can interactively find out information about your surroundings with your mobile device, in real time – tourist spots, historical sites, museums and parks, photo galleries and videos at the points of interest.

See what you think of this:

I think you can immediately grasp how useful AR would be for this kind of activity, especially on a mobile device. I first heard about Layar from Tom Raftery.

This emerging technology first caught my attention a few months ago with two examples, both of which I wrote about – first, in June, James Alliban’s augmented reality business card (which I heard about when I wrote about making business cards become smart cards); and second, in July, IBM’s Seer beta for G1 and G2 Android phones (which I mentioned, almost in passing, in a post about IBM’s Wimbledon app for iPhone).

How important will this technology be? Where will it impact our lives? What implications should we as communicators consider?

Big questions and I have no immediate answers other than this: I’m paying attention to augmented reality, hopefully seeing through the increasing hype, so I can better understand it and, therefore, make better sense of what it might mean.

It’s early days still. But just seeing who’s already doing what, and how developments are rapidly moving, this is something we ought to keep an active eye on.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tom Raftery

    Thanks for the mention Neville.

    Another possible use for AR which occurred to me over the weekend would be for viewing night skies and seeing info on stars, planets, constellations, etc.

    I’m sure I’m not the first to have thought of this so there are prob a number of apps in dev. Will be another interesting one to watch!

    • neville

      The possibilities seem almost limitless, Tom. That astronomy one is a great example.

      Imagine organization uses. For instancee, enabling layers on mobile devices that tell visitors to large building complexes what’s where, maybe even who’s where. A bit along the lines of the Puerto Rico city tour.

      Imagination is the only limit. Can’t imagine tech would be a limit :)

  2. Johannes la Poutre

    With the rapid increase of available geolocated data, the use case for AR can only increase – and yes, we’re only scratching the surface for now.

    I have developed a few AR layers for Layar myself and feel really excited about the possibilities. For international users around the world it can be difficult to find local content. You may want to try Layar with one of my global layers first: Tweeps Around (Twitter) or Panoramio (awaiting approval, coming soon)!

  3. Tom Raftery

    Re Enterprise uses for AR:
    Imagine walking the floor of a manufacturing facility and having live production data, or machinery schematics, or trouble ticket statuses displaying!

    You are right, technology is not the barrier, for now resources and imagination are, though those limits are quickly diminishing too.

  4. Bryan Person

    Wondering if you and Shel will start talking about Augmented Reality on FIR with the same fervor that you did Second Life circa 2006? Hehe.

    All joking aside though, the hype *is* starting to pick up on AR–in my case it’s been just in the last 4-5 days or so–and I think it’s with some merit. While the technology will take some time to mature, it ultimately will only be our imaginations that limit what can be done. A few applications for AR just off the top of my head:
    * Tourism (already mentioned)
    * Retail (photos, videos, text about items on sale)
    * Public transportation (location of metro stations in a city, next scheduled bus/train)
    * Education (tours of campuses and buildings; video introductions from teachers/student organizations/etc.)
    * Museums (see tourism)
    * Personal branding (of course!)

    And the list could go on and on. It will be exciting to follow the developments, and I know you’ll be chronicling many of them, Neville!

    Also, here are a couple more video examples of AR in action:
    NYC subway stops
    * http://www.rocketboom.com/augmented-reality-subway-app/
    Steve Garfield tests new Yelp AR iPhone app
    * http://offonatangent.blogspot.com/2009/08/yelp-iphone-augmented-reality-part-ii.html

  5. Gary Hayes

    Nice item. As regards applications for AR the possibilities are endless yes. I have been writing about AR, Mixed Reality & so on since early trials in the area back in the mid 90s at the BBC – a lot using in camera special effects. Now of course we are lucky to be on the precipice of handhelds that are the equivalent power of a PC from 5 years ago and overlaying live info, 3D elements is much more doable. I wrote an article recently about the ‘story/entertainment’ aspects of AR here. Also most of the ‘ideas’ we now have about business applications are about to launch – the one someone mentioned above re: astronomy has been out for a few weeks on the iPhone called PocketUniverse – you need a 3GS though.

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