Augmented reality is the overlaying of digital information over real world imagery in real time – a mix of computer graphics and live video if you will. An example of this you will have seen already is watching sport – the live video has information such as scores and other data broadcast with it the replay shows direction and trajectory of the ball. The beauty of augmented reality is that the observer can then interact with the digital part and pull up information relating to the video.
Imagine walking down a UK high street with your phone on camera – you stop and view the high street for a restaurant, on your phone an overlay shows you menu items pulled from the restaurant’s online menu, shows you reviews from newspapers and so forth.
Science fiction? No, this is available right now from a startup called Layar, with content localised from Yellow Pages, Google, Flickr and Wikipedia (http://www.layar.eu).
Modern smartphones such as iPhones and Google Android devices can determine their location through GPS and an internal compass, they can download data through mobile broadband connections, and they have reasonably powerful graphics-processing capabilities. These features make up the necessary ingredients for mobile augmented reality.
Whilst consumer applications have come first, the possibilities are endless for retail, medicine, education, engineering and construction.
Imagine standing at a construction site – viewing it with the wireframe model overlaid.
What value would that have for the client or in planning submission or public consultation?
This is far better than a traditional 2D CGI or expensive model. As nice as they are, CGIs and models do not place the viewer in the site; they do not have context and relevance. But actually visualising the building or space in its real position, albeit a muddy field, will speak volumes.
Imagine being able to click on a balcony four floors up and get the flat’s information – number of bedrooms, sales cost, floor plan, the environmental specifications etc. As a potential buyer this would be fantastic.
And being able to “view” the shadows of buildings play across the plot and any existing buildings thorough a time-lapsed year – what would that be worth?
By blending augmented reality with local social media sites – blogs and wikis set up to allow comment on new developments, one could obtain residents’ actual (and future) comments, images and questions on the design resulting in a very interactive and pertinent consultation.
During construction, site visits could be augmented by being able to view the actual versus the planned in 3D whilst at site, simply pointing youriPhone at the building and seeing the actual and the digital overlaid.
Post-construction, facilities management and maintenance could walk round the finished building – being able to “click” on the building components and getting specifications, data, construction methods, or being able to control the elements – HVAC, security, fire, lift logic and so forth. This would be further enhanced by the use of BIM (Building Information Model) CAD tools and software in the design process.
If you are in IT, imagine being able to scan a floor space and obtain network diagrams and floor port information super-imposed over the top, the helpdesk to-do list superimposed over your colleagues heads as you walk bout, or to view a PC or server rack and peruse its environmental information and alert logs – and then to able to dip into control and rectify.
The possibilities for this “new” technology are constrained only by our own visions of use of technology and the hardware with which to support it.
At the moment, companies are nibbling at the edges of the technology, with no commercial products yet on the market, but with all the opportunities out there it is surely only a matter of time before someone grasps the mantle.
If you would like to investigate a little further, Wikitude is an augmented reality application available now for both iPhone and Google Android phones. It overlays Wikipedia information on the image http://www.wikitude.org/world_browser – a little buggy, but it is early days and I firmly believe that applications such as this will literally change the way we view and interact with our environment. There is great potential here for truly life improving applications, the internet is going mobile and search is going graphical and contextual. It will be a brave new world.