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Augmented Reality - A Developer's Perspective

Monday 10 August 2009 (10:21AM)

I've been amazed at the various reactions to my last post. Since then I've been collecting my thoughts about Augmented Reality (AR). What follows is a first attempt to distil them into a coherent commentary on AR and its potential.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality is a means of superimposing digital assets upon the "real" world as seen through an appropriately configured device.

For example, in my last post I described how I put the locations of "real world" geocaches as digital representations into the Wikitude AR viewer provided by Mobilizy.

Alternatively, an AR enabled device might recognise the face of a new acquaintance, retrieve their contact details and display them or import them into your address book. Something similar to this is demonstrated in the following video (from the Swedish company TAT):

In both cases, within an augmented reality digital assets have two essential qualities:

  1. A location in the real world – identified by longitude/latitude/altitude (as with the geocaches) or by some other means (such as facial recognition).
  2. A context to give them meaning – provided by the digital asset's representation in the augmented world.

How does it work?

The basic recipe for Wikitude is simply…

...but there is more…

Digital assets need to be understood as representing something. This can be achieved in several ways:

The current state (for developers)

I've only had experience of using Wikitude so I'll limit my comments to that platform.

Wikitude is beta software but if you want to play with an existing version to see how it performs then download the Wikitude World Browser application available in the Android market.

Wikitude is also in "closed" beta – meaning you'll have to register in order to get the documents and associated code / libraries. It is my understanding that eventually one will need a developer key to use the API.

Wikitude already seems to be very stable – I've not had it crash (yet) but I'm sure as more people start to use it more opportunity will exist for breakage.

The API is very simple. As I explained in my previous post, this is both good and bad. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: "As simple as possible, but no simpler". Wikitude is currently too simple (but in a good way). I'd like to be able to:

Nevertheless, Mobilizy have the right attitude because "simple" is a good place to start. I can only assume they have various features up their sleeves that they'll add when finished and properly tested.

I don't want to give the wrong impression because one can already do quite a lot:


So what happens now..? I can imagine all sorts of uses for this technology and I'll work my ideas out into a blog post in the not-too-distant future.

However, I'd caution against making every location based application viewable via AR. Often the top-down Google Maps view is all that is needed. For example, why show houses for sale in AR when houses for sale (in the UK at least) always have an estate agent's "For Sale" sign placed prominently outside the property? One should only use a technology because it is the best fit for a problem, not because it is the latest and greatest.