Augmented reality: more data to more people more quickly
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By Nick Smith
4 April 2012
Although augmented reality may replace some signage, crossover applications are already combining AR and print, such as in Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazin
As I type, my fingers dash patterns into a virtual keyboard displayed on the surface of my kitchen table. As I eat breakfast a red notification bubble hovers above my cereal bowl indicating how many calories my meal contains. The temperature of my coffee flashes blue in the steam above its surface once the beverage has cooled to my ideal drinking temperature. And when the sound of my phone rings through the flat, I pick up a loaf of bread and put it to my ear.
This is the augmented reality kitchen of the future made with technologies we already possess and master. Of course my flat isn't really fitted with sensors, projectors and data-enabled network infrastructure. But if it were I'd be living in an environment in which any surface can be a screen and information about anything is a finger touch, not a search term, away.
Augmented reality (AR) has come a long way since its first inception, according to some accounts, by cinematographer Morton Heilig in the 1950s. Heilig envisioned a head-worn simulator that incorporated visuals with sound, vibration and smell. In line with the zeitgeist tagline marketing of his day, Heilig called his device the Sensorama.
Today, virtual reality is what we call sensory stimuli like the Sensorama designed to create journeys into fictional or otherwise supplementary worlds. AR on the other hand tends to complement and, depending on your perspective, enhance the world we see around us – often through the provision of metadata. The Layar mobile browser is one example in which users take smartphone pictures of city streets and Layar then overlays the names of businesses and restaurants, menus, product information and contact details onto the image.
So in some ways, AR is starting to replace informational signage at shopfronts and points of sale. But in other areas AR is replacing less powerful data solutions like QR codes and NFC. Estate agent signage is perhaps the industry with the most experience in augmented reality schemes. One application called ZipReality lets potential home-buyers take a picture of a street and see which houses are available for sale or lease, which properties have sold recently and at what price. Another called MagicPlan lets new homeowners take pictures of an empty room and generate spatially-accurate floor plans, while Pixelate shows what a room will look like with different coloured paint on its walls.
There are other emerging applications that suggest the future of AR will be largely intertwined with print. Much, for example, has been made of AR business cards – printed with special symbols on their fronts which, when read by a smartphone or webcam, any number of text, pictures or video can appear to augment the card's print content. Some people have programmed miniature, digitised versions of themselves to stand on top of the card and introduce themselves. Others have added AR links to call or email the card's owner with the touch of a finger.
Textile printed AR applications are on the rise as well. Symbols on T-shirts have allowed people facing a webcam to play rock-paper-scissors with themselves and as early as 2010 the Digital Fashion Studio at the London College of Fashion was producing smartphone-readable designs on catwalk clothes which gave models extended headpieces and changed the colours of their clothes, skin and ambient surroundings.
Intel has begun integrating place-based DOOH with AR in shop front windows to provide shoppers and passersby with customisable information about the retail products seen on the other side of the glass.
Magazines and printed publications too are looking to take advantage of AR's ability to bring still images to life and potentially increase the value of advertising real estate. Esquire for example has produced an AR edition which makes actor Robert Downey Jr come to life on the magazine's cover. Other publications are experimenting with providing additional content and promotional material to those willing to read in front of a webcam or with smartphones in hand.
Augmented reality may be the name of a massive new trend or a transitional blip on the radar of widely adopted information technologies. Given the growing importance of data to the worlds of personal computing and business, however, it's likely more companies will start to dream up more low-friction ways of delivering more information into the palms and pockets of more people.
Comments in chronological order (Total 1 comments)
08 April 2012 3:34PM
A few timely thoughts on Google's new augmented reality glasses, announced last week: