Everyone has heard of virtual reality at some point of time; it is the technology that allows a person to step into a visually created fictional world and interact with the elements in it. Augmented reality is a new entrant on the technology scene and it is set to beat all recent advances in mobile technology hollow.
Augmented reality (AR) is a marriage between virtual reality and real world data, where computer-generated images are superimposed on actual footage. There are a number of elements that go into the construction and operation of an augmented reality system: there needs to be an image capture device, an algorithm which can comprehend the images, a GPS system and location data (also known as fiduciary markers).
Augmented reality enables a user to use the video capture system on their smartphones to receive location data from the Internet. The data is superimposed on the live video visible on the screen, providing useful information about the environment. The technology is based upon the premise that people spend longer periods of time within easy reach of their cell phones, as compared to their computer systems. This is a fair assessment and it is safe to assume that cell phones are slowly becoming adequate replacements for personal computers in the short term.
A recent BBC news article detailed the implementation of the new technology using an iPhone. Acrossair, a UK firm, has launched a new application that uses augmented reality in a very useable way: the application allows the residents of London to discover Underground stations in their vicinity. While this particular application of AR is somewhat limited, it is a small step toward great possibilities.
There are a few other applications that are entering the arena as well; one of which, unsurprisingly, is made by a Japanese company, Tonchidot. Tonchidot has announced their augmented reality application, Sekai Camera.
Sekai Camera, which translates to World Camera, is in its beta testing phase. The company has touted the application as one that combines augmented reality and social networking. The application uses a phone’s net connection, GPS system and user-generated location data to generate a graphical representation on top of the camera feed. The user-generated location data is collected through a process the company calls ‘air tagging’. Tagging is a common Internet phenomenon that describes data for indexing purposes. An interesting twist available in Sekai Camera is the individual user's ability to add in their own location data into the application.
Another application that utilizes AR technology is the Wikitude World Browser; the World Browser uses location information garnered from Wikipedia and Qype content. The latest version of the World Browser also incorporates a Photo Feature function which enables a user to photo document a trip. The application is designed for Android phones, made by Mobilizy. The company has recently released an API for developers and Wikitude.me, a mobile site, as well.
The leader of all Internet technology, Google, also boasts of an AR-based application called Sky Map. Sky Map is a stargazing application which labels constellations for the user.
AR is definitely the technology set to revolutionize the mobile industry. These fledgling applications are strong precursors for what is to come.