Augmented Reality (AR) is a cool set of technologies that enable virtual elements to be overlaid in photos or videos of the real world. the term was coined by Thomas Caudell who was working with Boeing in 1990 and was further developed at the Univesity of Washington’s HIT Lab. It is a jaw dropping technology, examples of which pop up on blogs with regularity. Over the last year augmented reality has been utilized with more frequently and in more commercial endevors (Made possible due to a Flash framework (FLARToolkit) and the increase of webcam use.)
How it works
1. You create a 3D design with CAD
2. You generate a unique “barcode” and assign the 3D model to it.
3. View the “barcode” with a webcam or smartphone and the 3D model you created is overlaid onto the world around you.
Here is a quick video explanation:
Augmented Reality seems poised to enter the mainstream via a variety of new offerings.
Smith & Tinker’s first game Nanovor sounds like it could be Augmented Reality’s first killer app. Nanovor is a trading card game/website similar to Pokemon, but with a tech focus. Based on their description of the game a hand held device (LCD + camera) allows you to see the Nanovors via the AR code on the card and do battle with friends. Nanovor is still unreleased and may not feature Augmented Reality, but based on their description, 3rd party accounts, and the HCI focus on their VC firm, the Foundry Group it bodes well for AR enthusiasts.
Topps Baseball Cards
These Augmented Reality baseball cards from Topps really puts the lenticular animation cards from the 70’s and 80’s to shame. In addition to the character appearing in 3D you can also play some limited video games using the keyboard.
Not to be outdone by startups, Lego developed a Kiosk that allows a prospective customer to get a 3D walk around of the model inside the kit. This would be a fantastic extension for their Mass Customization service and might help satisfy some of the intelligent criticisms made of it.
Eye of Judgement
A very cool concept where Magic the Gathering style cards are laid down under the view of the PS3 Eye attachment. The camera can read the Augmented Reality patterns (runes) and create a little animated vignette reminicent of “Battle Chess”. Eye of Judgement has been out for a few years, but doesn’t seem to have taken off. This is likely due to the HCI demands of the technology. The gimmick wears off quickly when you are planted in front of a TV screen and needs to be immersed in the real world for full impact.
GE’s Ecoimagination “solar panel” is kind of gimmicky, but cool none the less.
Most of the applications for Augmented Reality thus far have been toys or entertainment. A couple practical applications are now available:
This mobile app provides contextual information about your surrounding and could be a tremendous boon for travelers.
iLiving is an application that allows you to photograph a room using your iphone and then place 3D models of furniture in that photo to see how it would look. Ikea could make a huge splash if they opened up their catalog to this service.
the following videos show off some applications of Augmented Reality technologies that aren’t quite market ready yet, but show what is possible with the technology.
Matt Cottam introduced Augmented Reality to my class when I was at RISD years ago. He is currently working on a neat application of the technology where the AR pattern is laser cut into a wooden block. There has been a lot of experimentation with the Augmented Reality technology, but not as much with the physical side. Matt is a brilliant guy and hopefully these experiments are the start of a new product offering. His firm TellArt also created their 2008 holiday card Using AR.
This is Total Immersion at Demo showing off Augmented Reality in a Tour de Force presentation. Look for the “Living Tshirt”.
Task Specific Hardware
This video shows off some neat applications, but the custom hardware that was fabricated to view them is really cool.
For more information
Keep an eye on two firms Metaio and Total Immersion who are helping bring Augmeted Reality to the masses. Also, subscribe to the YouTube channel of EmmanuelMFr who works for Total Immersion and has a bunch of interesting demos.