The Promise of Augmented Reality: What to ExpectBy Jack Graham January 15, 2010
This post is guest-authored by Jack Graham as part of a series on augmented reality.
Augmented reality is what the Industry Standard calls a “disruptive technology.” What this means is that certain types of organizations need to adapt to AR quickly, before those who have assimilated this technology eat their lunches.
If you’re a travel guide company, search engine, directory, local shop, or restaurant, AR has the potential to either benefit or damage your business.
One is safety. If you’re walking down the street looking into augspace with your phone, you lose your peripheral vision. The first time I tried playing Spec Trek, I was having a great time — until I stepped into a very real pile of dog leavings while chasing down an AR ghost.
AR apps that allow public tagging of buildings leave homeowners and businesses vulnerable to harassment and vandalism via augmented reality sticky notes. And AR apps that do facial recognition threaten to further erode our privacy, taking away our ability to remain anonymous in public places.
The future of AR holds a great deal of promise. Better devices, such as heads up display glasses, are already appearing and will give augspace even greater immediacy, freeing the user from having to pull out their phone and look through it. (They should also reduces one’s chances of stepping in dog poop while chasing invisible spectres).
Gestural and wearable interfaces will let us click on an object or building in a scene and bring up information on it, or allow complex interactions with phantom objects (a la Tony Stark’s engineering software in the Iron Man movie).
Industry standards for tagging places and objects with AR content will allow apps to access public AR channels. And educational AR apps capable of recognizing parts in a machine from the scene in the user’s camera could be used to coach workers through assembling and maintaining complex devices.
Emergent AR Technologies
Two research projects generating tantalizing near term results are MIT’s SixthSense and a project at Cambridge University to create better outdoor positional tracking for camera-based apps. SixthSense is a wearable device (a pendant) created by MIT’s Fluid Interfaces lab.
Built on top of a cell phone, it uses the phone camera to recognize objects and a tiny projector to project information back onto the object. It could project information about a person it recognizes onto their chest or the status of your flight onto your scanned boarding pass. SixthSense is particularly interesting because it’s in the small class of working AR applications that don’t display their output on a device monitor of some type.
The Cambridge University effort addresses a more abstract problem: determining the exact position of a camera in relation to the scene it’s showing. For an example of why this is important, imagine a developer who wants put a block of color over a building in a navigational app to highlight it as the user’s destination. The block of color will need to change according to rules of perspective as the user moves closer to the building, or it won’t match up with the image of the building coming through the camera. The Cambridge team figured out how to generate a 3D model of a building using image recognition on the 2D camera picture. At the same time, the device collects GPS data. It can then distort the model — and any graphics tied to it — as the camera moves.
Future Implications for AR
In the next few years, we’ll see the emergence of open standards for building and tagging augspace, search engines selling premium AR placement, location based AR audio, and spam (along with spam filters). Farther out, augmented reality will completely transform how we compute. It will allow us to put a user-defined skin on reality, radiate and interact with personal area social networks, and wear graphics like clothing. It will enhance our intelligence, providing instant information on anything we look at and cueing us if we forget a name or a face. It will erase the boundary between the real and the digital, turning the world around us into a search engine whose results are displayed on thin air.
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 leonardlow’s flickr, (cc) some rights reserved.