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Virtual Insanity – Augmented Reality

May 6, 2011 6 comments

Updated June 8, 2011:

Remember when AR was all about little black-and-white codes that made pretty little animations play on your webcam? It seemed like a fun trick back then, and a few brands (Lego, best of all, and maybe Ray-Ban for an honorable mention) used it to create new ways to digest their products or play simple games.

Actually, there was very little ‘reality’ being augmented with those. But now that the concept has matured, we’re starting to see a very different AR come to life. With your phone’s camera becoming the input device, apps are popping up that let you view a building in your city and find out if there is available office space for rent in it, make newspapers, magazines and outdoor imagery come to life, get translation on the fly or see a person’s social profile as they pass you on the street.

~Why Augmented Reality is Poised to Change Marketing, Sam Ewen, mashable, June 8, 2011

If the term ‘Augmented Reality’ causes you to raise your left eyebrow, fear not. I’ll provide you with quick definition of this technology, discuss where it all began, how it’s being used now, and discuss some futuristic thoughts on how it might evolve over the next 12-36 months.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or an indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented bycomputer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one.

AR is not new, but it is in it’s infancy. In its’ simplest form, AR can be representative of the last time you google’d a product while standing in an isle of a store. It’s also seen in sports – AR is displayed as the yellow first down line that you see on your TV when watching your favourite NFL team play football.

First Down Line

Augmented reality has appeared in Advertising as well. Holding this Mini ad up to your computer or smartphone’s webcam/camera which activates a 3D augmented reality image of the actual vehicle adding an cool and innovative dynamic to traditional print advertising.

Mini Augmented Reality

There are also some very cool Augmented Reality overlays that you can experience using your smartphone’s browser & camera application. This example from layer shows information from hotels, restaurants and coffee shops that have ‘simply’ overlayed information on top of a map application:

Finally, the future. Some argue (with good reason) that we are in the ‘1994 of the internet’ in terms of the potential of Augmented Reality as a source of augmented commerce and information. I would like to agree. The greatest barriers to mass adoption of Augmented Reality are the killer applications that don’t yet exist. It could represent an entire media channel, advertising platform and information resource for anyone willing to invest. Think about standing on the balcony of your friend’s condo in downtown Toronto armed with your AR equipped smartphone. You pan over the skyline and information about those buildings is being displayed on your smartphone’s screen in real time. Hotel logos, rates, links to websites become visible across the landscape. An airplane enters your view – and AR relays the flight data, carrier information, destination, TOA directly to your screen. You pan across the landscape to a hole in the ground for a new condo development and a 3D image of what that building will look like when complete is transposed directly on your screen. Finally, you pan your view to over the Rogers Center and immediately, you find out that the Jays are playing right now, leading the Yankees 7-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning with Jose Bautista at the plate.

Sound far fetched? It’s not. It’s on the horizon. RIM for example, just announced two new BlackBerry devices this week that will ship with Augmented Reality capabilities built in. They also announced ‘Wikitudes’ – an Augmented reality browser that comes preloaded on these devices.

This will be the trend in the next 12-months for hardware manufacturers. Keep an eye on companies like Layar, a Dutch-based Augmented Reality software leader. They have prototyped some very cool concepts for Augmented Reality, showcasing how you and I could interact, play games, shop and learn using Augmented Reality.

This technology will become more widely adopted. New concepts will be created that will help you access your digital world in ways you have never imagined and never thought possible.

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