Augmented reality: a world of possibilities

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The term ‘augmented reality’ (AR) sounds as if it has been lifted straight from the pages of a second rate science fiction novel. However, it is fast becoming a well-used tool to communicate information by creating a visually enhanced world. Ronald Azuma created a simple definition of the term in 1997, whereby AR:

  • Combines real and virtual elements together
  • Is interactive in real time
  • Is registered in 3D

Augmented reality is best explained in the everyday forms that it currently takes. Broadcasted sports uses simplified augmented reality as a means of more accurately conveying information. For example, you may have noticed that in swimming championships, there is a bar that trails in front of the leading swimmer. Clearly, in reality this is not real- otherwise the leader could simply grab hold of it and get dragged along to victory! However, the bar helps the viewer put the entire race into context, and so creates an entire new level of interactivity and understanding for the audience- which are really the main uses for augmented reality.

A better example (although entirely fictional) would be how technology is depicted in the films ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Minority Report’. The main character in ‘Iron Man’, Tony Stark, creates his suit using an augmented reality system that he can control vocally and by touch. Equally, in ‘Minority Report’, the characters can pull up any live action videos of crimes and pull

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it up on their interface by using their fingers to drag it up alongside crime profiles.

Of course, the latter examples are based in fiction. However, the fast onslaught of the ‘Android Phone’ (the best known is the iPhone) has opened up a vast market where digital techniques can be used to create applications that make the most of AR. ‘Wikitude’ is an application that uses the real time view through the phone’s camera lens and layers information on top of the display view about the user’s surroundings, such as famous landmarks and scenery. ‘Layar’ does much of the same as ‘Wikitude’, but it allows you to flick between layers of webpages that it has searched for the information that comes up on screen.

Indeed, augmented reality has already been used cleverly as ways of providing another dimension to digital marketing and advertising. Nissan used augmented reality in their brochure for the unveiling of the ‘Cube’- when the brochure was held up to a webcam, it showed several versions of the car interacting with the brochure. The American electronics retailer, Best Buy, circulated an AR code in their Sunday ads which, when used in conjunction with a webcam, enabled customers to virtually interact with the latest product to be promoted

The exciting world of augmented reality is becoming all the more fascinating as businesses move towards creating innovative ways of using AR in day to day contexts and as a quirky means of standing out from the crowd. The possibilities that AR presents is inconceivable- the face of almost every industry would be changed. The digital worlds of ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Minority Report’ present technologies that directly involve the user in interactivity as well as being able to rapidly convey a mixture of written and visual information alongside real time elements. As fiction rapidly moves towards reality, AR presents a wealth of unique opportunities.

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