Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years
While the capability to deliver augmented reality experiences has been around for decades, it is only very recently that those experiences have become easy and portable. Advances in mobile devices as well as in the different technologies that combine the real world with virtual information have led to augmented reality applications that are as near to hand as any other application on a laptop or a smart phone. New uses for augmented reality are being explored and new experiments undertaken now that it is easy to do so. Emerging augmented reality tools to date have been mainly designed for marketing, social purposes, amusement, or location-based information, but new ones continue to appear as the technology becomes more popular. Augmented reality is increasingly common in the consumer sector.
The concept of blending (augmenting) data — information, rich media, and even live action — with what we see in the real world is a powerful one. Augmented reality enhances the information we can perceive with our senses. Its first applications appeared in the late 1960s and 1970s, and by the 1990s, augmented reality was being put to use by a number of major companies for visualization, training, and other purposes. Now, the technologies that make augmented reality possible are powerful and compact enough to deliver augmented experiences to personal computers and mobile devices. Early mobile applications began to appear in 2008, and now many augmented reality applications and tools for mobiles are on the market.
Wireless applications offer a great deal of promise for mobile augmented experiences. Initially, augmented reality required unwieldy headsets and kept users largely tethered to their desktop computers. The camera and screen embedded in smart phones and other mobile devices now serve as the means to combine real-world data with virtual data; using GPS capability, image recognition, and a compass, augmented reality applications can pinpoint where the mobile’s camera is pointing and overlay relevant information at appropriate points on the screen.
Augmented reality applications can either be marker-based, which means that the camera must perceive a specific visual cue in order for the software to call up the correct information, or gravimetric. Gravimetric applications use positional data, such as a mobile’s GPS and compass, to interpret where the device is located, which way it is facing, and what known objects are in front of it. Gravimetric applications have wide applicability since they function anywhere without the need for special labelling or supplemental reference points, but instead depend upon fixed objects or communication with other devices. Marker-based systems use a physical reference point to interpret their location and the nature of objects in their field of view. This has typically involved ‘tagging’ objects with machine-readable codes, making it difficult to use such systems on the fly. As marker-based systems develop, they are beginning to recognize common real-world objects and cues as markers, increasing their flexibility. Some applications use image recognition, where input to the camera is compared against a library of images to find a match; more recently, applications are emerging that can detect and interpret gestures and postures as commands to perform certain functions.
The improvement in technology has allowed more streamlined approaches and wider user adoption. Market projections for augmented reality on mobile devices predict revenues to rise from about US$2 million in 2010 to several hundred million by 2014 (US$350 million, according to ABI Research; Juniper Research’s projections are even higher). Augmented reality is already entering the mainstream in the consumer sector, and the social, gaming, and location-based applications that are emerging point to a strong potential for education and interpretation applications in the next few years.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Enquiry
A key characteristic of augmented reality is its ability to respond to user input. This interactivity confers significant potential for learning and assessment. Augmented reality is an active, not a passive technology; students can use it to construct new understanding based on interactions with virtual objects that bring underlying data to life. Dynamic processes, extensive datasets, and objects too large or too small to be manipulated can be brought into a student’s personal space at a scale and in a form easy to understand and work with. Augmented reality has strong potential to provide powerful, contextual, in situ learning experiences and serendipitous exploration and discovery of the connected nature of real-world information.
One of the most promising aspects of augmented reality is that it can be used for visual and highly interactive forms of learning, allowing the overlay of data onto the real world as easily as it simulates dynamic processes. Mechanics in the military and at companies like Boeing already use augmented-reality goggles while they work on vehicles; the goggles demonstrate each step in a repair, identify the tools needed, and include textual instructions as well. This kind of augmented experience is especially effective in training for specific tasks. Still, much of the most exciting development for augmented reality centres around mobile devices; the potential for just-in-time learning and exploration, without needing special goggles or other equipment, is a deeply compelling aspect of this technology.
A tremendous market is emerging for network-aware applications that convey information about a place. Visitors to historic sites, for example, can already access mobile applications that overlay maps and information about how the location looked at different points of history onto their view of the real world. A recent European research project, iTacitus, allowed visitors to pan across a location — the Coliseum, say — and see what it looked like during an historical event, complete with cheering spectators and competing athletes. People, too, will soon be explored through augmented reality. The TAT Augmented ID application, still in development, uses facial recognition technology to display certain, pre-approved information about a person when he or she is viewed through the camera of a mobile device. SREngine is another augmented reality application, also in development, that will use object recognition to display information about everyday things one encounters in the real world — comparing prices in a shopping centre, for instance, or identifying trees.
Of particular relevance to education is augmented reality gaming. Games that are based in the real world and augmented with networked data can give educators powerful new ways to show relationships and connections. Games using marker technology often include a flat game board or map which becomes a 3D setting when viewed with a mobile device or a webcam. This kind of game could easily be applied to a range of disciplines, including archaeology, history, anthropology, or geography, to name a few. Another approach to AR gaming allows players or game masters to create virtual people and objects, tying them to a specific location in the real world. Players interact with these constructs, which appear when the player approaches a linked location.
Researchers in the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand have created a tool that translates sketches into 3D objects and uses augmented reality to allow students to explore the physical properties and interactions between objects. Simple controls, drawn on slips of paper, are used to alter the properties of the sketched objects. (See a demonstration video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4qZ0GLO5_A.) At Mauricio De Nassau College in Brazil, architecture students are exploring the possibilities of using augmented reality to project scale models of buildings, cutting down on the time required to construct and present architectural proposals. For another idea of how augmented reality could be applied to the study of architecture, see the concept video Realtà Aumentata (http://vimeo.com/2341387), created as a thesis project by a student at the Valle Giulia Faculty of Architecture in Italy.
Augmented books, now just beginning to enter the market, are another interesting application of this technology. The German company Metaio is developing books that include AR elements, such as globes that pop up on the pages. The books are printed normally. Then, after purchase, consumers install special software on their computers and point a webcam at the book to see the visualizations. The technology allows any existing book to be developed into an augmented reality edition after publication; an atlas featuring 3D views of geographic locations is currently in development.
A sampling of applications of augmented reality across disciplines includes the following:
- Art and Cultural History. Museums are already experimenting with augmented reality applications; students equipped with mobiles can reconstruct a dinosaur when looking at its skeleton, or call up a virtual tour guide who explains what they are looking at in the gallery.
- Audiology. Augmented reality is being employed to assist practicing audiology clinicians in New Zealand in demonstrating and maintaining professional competence. When fully developed, the augmented reality system will supplement the existing manikin-based simulations that are currently used for this purpose.
- Nursing. At the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, nursing students interact with augmented reality patients to practice communication skills for assessment and diagnosis. Tools in development will assist students in practicing complex procedures involved with medical care.
Augmented Reality in Practice
The following links provide examples of augmented reality in educational settings.
This project, housed at the University of Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Lab in Christchurch, New Zealand, seeks to build augmented reality applications specifically for education, entertainment and engineering that run on common mobile devices.
Acrossair’s public transit apps use augmented reality to locate public transportation near the user; Nearest Wiki and Nearest Places offer information useful to tourists and travellers.
Based at the University of Canterbury’s Human Interface Technology Lab in Christchurch, New Zealand, CALMARS is a project exploring the ways augmented reality can be used in new media applications and with context-aware mobile interfaces.
A research project at the University of South Australia’s Wearable Computer Lab (WCL) explores technology to support spatial augmented reality and seeks new applications for it.
Plane and Ship Finder
Created by Pinkfroot, these applications identify airplanes and ships (flight or vessel type, point of origin, destination, route, and more) when a user points a mobile device at one in motion.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about augmented reality.
At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry
(Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, Layar Launch Event via Vimeo.com, 20 August 2009.) In this keynote address, author Bruce Sterling offers his thoughts on how augmented reality will affect technology and daily life (50-minute video).
Augmented Reality Technology Brings Learning to Life
(Chris Dede, Usable Knowledge, September 2009.) Education technology professor Chris Dede discusses augmented reality as a tool for learning at the elementary level.
Blended Reality: Superstructing Reality, Superstructing Selves
(Kathi Vian, Institute for the Future, 4 March 2009.) This in-depth report looks at the impact of augmented reality as it is increasingly integrated into technology and society.
Collaborative Augmented Reality in Schools
(Lyn Pemberton, Marcus Winter, University of Brighton, 2009.) This research paper discusses the use of augmented reality for collaboration and learning opportunities.
Ubiquitous Contextual Information Access with Proactive Retrieval and Augmentation
(Antti Ajanki et al., Helsinki University of Technology, 8 March 2010.) This paper describes a prototype platform for working with abstract information using augmented reality displays.
Delicious: Augmented Reality
Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz10anz” and “augmentedreality” when you save them to Delicious.