The Stuff Augmented Realities are Made ofBy Jack Graham January 13, 2010
This post is guest-authored by Jack Graham as part of a series on augmented reality.
“The universe is an intelligence test.” –Timothy Leary
AR: LSD of the Future
Viewed as history, the psychedelic movement of the 1960s looks like pure hedonism. Yet thoughtful proponents of LSD — people as various as Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary — saw it as a way to expand consciousness and enhance intelligence. In some sense, the psychedelic movement was an early attempt to put a graphical user interface on reality, enriching our experience of the world by tapping into all of the information our limited human perceptions were missing. As it turned out, lysurgic acid diethylamide was a terrible platform for doing this, because while psychotropics offered a pleasurable user experience, the GUI didn’t let you pull up any information that wasn’t already in your brain.
But what if we did have a technology able to put an overlay on our perceptions as vividly and immediately as a hallucinogen, while giving us control over the experience and the ability to map useful information from the internet onto the physical world? Augmented reality (or AR), a technology that is now making the leap from the drawing board into the marketplace, is exactly this.
Augmented reality uses a device, at present usually a smartphone, to layer graphics, text, and sometimes sound over real world objects viewed through the device’s display. It’s the opposite of virtual reality. Where VR attempts to create worlds inside the machine, AR brings the data and analytical power of the machine out into the real world by superimposing it on our senses.
Current AR Applications
Present AR applications are primitive relative to the long term potential of this technology, but no less useful for it. Wikitude Worldbrowser, an AR travel guide, lets travelers point their smart phone camera at their surroundings and superimposes information from its database on landmarks that it recognizes. Google Goggles uses image recognition to identify objects or places and pull up search engine data on them. Goggles is very useful when buying wine; it can analyze the label, letting you quickly establish whether that ten dollar bottle you’re considering is a lucky find or fermented swill. And the game AR Tower Defense for Nokia’s Symbian phones will use any surface in your house as an AR battlefield given a little help from fiduciary markers.
How AR Actually Works
The technology stack underlying most AR applications includes:
- Cameras and displays. Most AR apps use the device’s camera to display whatever the device is pointed at and then draw graphics over the scene. In many cases, the app analyzes camera images to gather information about the scene. In other apps, the camera is used only to show the user the scene, with the device’s other senses (GPS, etc.) providing the application’s input.
- GPS & other location-finding techniques. Some of the most useful AR apps are locative, feeding the user data about her surroundings once her position is established. On a finer level, the accelerometer present in some devices may be used by an application to position graphics over the scene based upon which direction the device is pointed.
- Image & facial recognition. Image recognition technology is at the core of apps like Google Goggles. AR apps that use facial recognition to pull up information on people around you are in development.
- Fiduciary markers. Image recognition technology can’t always identify objects reliably, so some AR programs scan the scene in the camera for blocky, geometric markers on objects or surfaces. These fiduciary markers are designed for machine-readability. Apps can then use information gained by reading fiduciary markings to position graphics on the user’s display. Fiduciary markers are a relative of other machine readable markings like bar and QR codes, but they’re designed to be scannable from farther away.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at some AR applications already in the marketplace.
Jack Graham is Senior Interactive Producer at Vantage Travel in Boston. In his spare time he writes sci-fi, designs games, and habitually calls his Android phone a “jeejah.” His blog, which is about interactive marketing, social media, and emerging technologies, can be found by turning on your phone’s GPS and looking through the camera at: jackgraham.net/exmachina/
Header image courtesy of daisy’s flickr, (cc) some rights reserved.