Augmented Reality and Mobile: The New Reality

We’ve been using computers to enhance our world for many years.  We’ve even used computers to built our own imaginary worlds through the magic of virtual reality.  Augmented reality (AR) is the use of virtual reality in combination with the real world to provide an enhanced experience for the user.  One of the more common examples is in football (the US version) where a computer-generated line is shown on television for the first down marker.  As real world items (players, objects) pass in front of it, the portion of the line that would be behind the item disappears (called occlusion).  It has been featured in several sci-fi flicks such as the Predator movies, the Terminator series, Minority Report, Avatar and the Iron Man movies.

AR can be leveraged in the mobile world as well.  Modern mobile handsets have added some novel features which can enhance the AR experience:

  • Camera – OK, it’s not so novel because most every handheld has one.  However, it does provide a key capability: the view into the real world.
  • GPS – Provides location information.
  • Accelerometer – Sensing motion and orientation.
  • Compass – Identify the direction the handheld is being pointed.
  • Gyroscope – Improves sensing of motion and orientation.

Some AR mobile applications recognize a code or image that executes a program.  Many use the GPS, compass, and other handheld features to orient the device and retrieve information about buildings and landmarks in the area.

Rather than talk about AR, it’s much better to see it.  Here are some compelling examples:

  • Locating merchants – Urbanspoon can help you find restaurants.
  • Directions – This New York Subway app helps guide you through the maze of subway lines by overlaying signs and arrows on your phone.
  • Language translation – World Lens can translate written words from one language to another.
  • Real estate – ZipRealty HomeScan shows properties for sale, their address, price, and agent contact information while driving around the neighborhoods (the passenger, not the driver).
  • Tourism – Wikitude allows you to point your device at a landmark and see relevant information about it.
  • Gaming – ARDefender is activated by a printed tag which creates a tower that you defend by shooting your enemies.
  • Business Cards – Want to bring your business card to life?  Here are some examples of AR Business Cards.

You’re probably think this is pretty cool, but are there uses within the enterprise as well.  Some do not involve mobile phones but wearable computers with goggles or eyepieces.  Some samples:

Next generation AR solutions are also being explored.  Using gravity aligned feature descriptors (GAFD) provides gravity awareness to the device, greatly improving the ability to identify individual real-word objects that are very similar (like windows in a building) in real time.  Here is an sample video from metaio with examples, including a candle whose virtual flame orients itself more realistically.  Another development is using 3D object recognition instead of 2D which can better track the behavior of the object, as in this example where the Donald Duck overlay moves in sync with the person’s head.

Gartner named augmented reality as one of the top ten disruptive technologies for 2008 to 2012.  Methinks 2012 won’t be the last year that AR will be disruptive.

Welcome to the new reality.

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