I have been quite interested in augmented reality (AR) ever since I got the chance to see a beta demo of it many years ago. To be honest, though, up until now most AR projects have only been tests and have not been ready for prime time. While in London recently, I met with Casper Thykier, the managing director of an AR-based company called Zappar. It has developed some really cool apps that have convinced me AR is finally ready to make an impact.
I wrote about this in my column for Time magazine, outlining its approach to AR and giving some good examples of how its technology works. A few weeks after the article was published, I got a call from a company called Aurasma, which wanted to show me some of its own interesting AR technology.
I met with Matt Mill, global head of innovation and partnerships at Aurasma, and saw many examples of how it too can bring content to life. With its app, you can point your smartphone or tablet at an Aurasma icon that is on an enabled page and get additional information about what you are seeing. Over in the US, Popular Science used this in a recent issue to bring up a video of inventors talking about their inventions.
In a recent issue of the American GQ, Aurasma's AR app brought a cover story about US footballer Tim Tebow to life. When the reader pointed their mobile device at Tebow's picture, it triggered video commentary by ESPN about Tebow, as well as Tebow's own comments from a press conference. In the current issue, the technology also enables a picture of a Rubik's cube that pops up and lets you interact with it.
But perhaps the most impressive use of the technology for us techies comes from a project my friend Rick Smolan has created about big data called The Human Face of Big Data. The former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer has been pondering the meaning of big data since 2009, and he embarked on this project to help others discover what it is and understand why it is important.
The book hit the market last week and has since been sent to many world leaders and captains of industry to help them better grasp the concept of big data and its potential impact on our world. To read up more on this book, check out our article from last week.
The book's content is certainly fascinating and puts a human face on big data, as it says on the tin. One story describes how Shwetak Patel, a MacArthur Fellow who teaches at the University of Washington, found a way to identify every device in the home and measure its power consumption.
He created a sensor that can be plugged into any wall socket and detect the unique digital signature of everything that is drawing power in the house, from refrigerators to toasters. Using this information from the sensor, he found that people's DVRs consume about 11 per cent of their electricity bill. (It runs the entire time it is on since the hard drive never spins down, even if you only record one or two shows a week). With this data, he can make recommendations to DVR makers to change their designs to ensure they are more energy efficient.
But Smolan's use of Aurasma's technology to add another dimension to his book and project reinforces in my mind how AR can revolutionise the publishing industry. Some pictures in the book have a little yellow key symbol in the corner which, when recognised by your mobile device using the app, trigger videos, TED Talks, and relevant info about what you are viewing. Each video, talk, and animation adds great depth and additional understanding to the narrative.
After years of incubation, it has finally become clear to me that AR is going to transform our mobile computing experiences. Seeing AR applied to pictures, stories, posters, and other types of print media emphasises how it truly provides the world of publishing with a richer way to tell stories. I believe it will deliver a new and innovative angle to centuries-old printed media.
Below are a few links to some more examples of AR applications, should you wish to have a browse.