A few years ago I was quite dubious about the future of Augmented Reality. We had made our first Augmented Reality application for webcam in 2009. At the time Augment Reality (AR) involved a dedicated design that was an anchor in the webcam image. This anchor is something the camera could recognise at any angle and use it position and orient a projected image.We had released a video game called ‘Dragon Master Spell Caster’, and at a conference we offered a range of cards that when viewed with our app through a web cam, displayed each of our four dragon characters. The anchor was a geometric design in the centre of our richly decorated cards. The four animated dragons were the projected images.
We made plans for a range of these cards on which players could pit their dragons against each other in AR. While people were fascinated when they saw the dragons at conferences, the uptake and engagement afterwards was limited. It was clear then that Augmented Reality was largely a novelty and I dismissed it. How wrong I was.
A few years later, with the rise of enabling technologies such as the smartphone and tablet I have seen some amazing applications of AR. The anchor is no longer an artificial addition to the scene, but can be some actual item in the environment. It might even be geolocation from the smartphone’s Assisted GPS and accelerometer. Far from being novelties, the new generation of AR spans entertainment, education, data visualisation, and many other fields. Here are a few applications that I have been around or involved with in the last two years that are worth a look.
We shared some office space with one of the creators of ColAR, now called Quiver. (quivervision.com). With this app children color in a picture of a scene, and then when the scene is viewed with the app using an smartphone or tablet, the scene comes to full 3D life and is coloured with the child’s own pencil strokes.
The break through in this app was not just the ability to use any line drawing as the anchor for the projected reality scene, but the ability to take the coloured pencil strokes and map them onto the 3D objects in the scene. Content is king, but interacting with the content rules.
The Snappadoodle (www.snappadoodle.com) team are two Christchurch entrepreneurs who came up with the idea for their app during a startup weekend at the now famous, EPIC centre in Christchurch. This app was one of my favourites. In this case the anchor is a person’s facial characteristics, and the projected overlay is an animated head, replacing the subject’s head.
The anchor in this app is facial tracking. The phone, thanks to technology from Visage Technology (visagetechnologies.com) can recognise the position, orientation and scale of the face of the subject in view. The projected image in this case is one of several animations created by Stickmen Media (www.stickmenmedia.com). The app allows the user to capture video and post it to Facebook or YouTube.
Locating underground assets is a serious task that benefits from Augmented Reality (www.augview.net). This app uses augmented reality to show user the locations of underground assets such as pipes and drains. In this case the anchor is geo-location, and the projected images are pipes.
Otorohanga Bird Sanctuary
Otorohanga bird sanctuary(http://www.newzealand.com/in/plan/business/otorohanga-kiwi-house-and-native-bird-park/) used AR to bring back the giant moa, an extinct bird from New Zealand’s past. Augview’s (www.augview.net) geolocation technology was used to position the Moa within the sanctuary, where is could be viewed with a smartphone or tablet. The Moa itself was developed by Stickmen Media (www.stickmenmedia.com) with the assistance of renowned Moa expert, Trevor Worthy)
These apps, while interesting or entertaining, these apps haven’t yet ignited the kind of public interest that we have seen in Virtual Reality. Analysts have been skeptical about the prospects of AR, especially since the failure of Google Glass. Gartner’s Famous Hype Cycle for 2015 shows Augmented Reality buried in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ (www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3114217). For the moment at least, technology analysts are waiting. There are two technologies they may be waiting for, Microsoft’s hololens(www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens) and Magic Leap(www.magicleap.com).
Hololens is a wearable technology by Microsoft that allows you to experience holograms in the real world. It is capable of using anchored projections and floating projections. With an array of sensors it does a very good job of locating its projections in space. They’ve also been ahead of the game in creating content, developing a workflow using the Unity Game Engine and Visual Studio (See this review on forbes) and now recruiting developers to purchase their development version.
Magic leap is something of a mystery. Again they can place projected images into the real world with what appears to be, rock solid anchoring using a technology called Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal™. This technology uses technology that maps out the 3D space around the user, allowing projected images and animations to pass behind objects in the environment. The company recently received $793.5 million from Alibaba Group and has ongoing support from Google and Qualcomm. Magic Leap may also be courting content developers of the highest order. Sir Richard Taylor of the New Zealand Weta group of companies, who brought us Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, is a member of the board of directors. He also has a role as the company’s arts ambassador to China(See Press Release here).
Beyond these, in the not-to-distant future are wearables such as AR contact lenses (CNet article on AR contacts)
Time will tell if these technologies have the accelerating effect on AR that smartphones and tablets did. I’m certainly not skeptical now. Having seen what can be done I, for one, would be deeply disappointed if AR didn’t yield its promised bounty of superimposed entertainment and data visualisation.