Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five 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 has become simple, and is now poised to enter the mainstream in the consumer sector.
The concept of blending (augmenting) virtual data — information, rich media, and even live action — with what we see in the real world, for the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses is a powerful one. The first applications of augmented reality (AR) appeared in the late 1960s and 1970s. 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 AR experiences to personal computers and mobile devices. Early mobile applications began to appear in 2008, and several augmented reality mapping and social tools are now on the market.
Wireless applications are increasingly driving this technology into the mobile space where they offer a great deal of promise. Initially, AR 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, AR 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 markerless. Markerless applications use positional data, such as a mobile’s GPS and compass, or image recognition, where input to the camera is compared against a library of images to find a match. Markerless applications have wider applicability since they function anywhere without the need for special labeling or supplemental reference points.
Currently, many augmented reality efforts are focused on entertainment and marketing, but these will spill into other areas as the technology matures and becomes even more simplified. Layar (http://layar.com) has been a leader in this space with AR applications for Android and iPhones. Layar’s mobile application features content layers that may include ratings, reviews, advertising, or other such information to assist consumers on location in shopping or dining areas. Other mobile applications that make use of AR for social or commercial purposes include Yelp, another review and rating service; Wikitude, which overlays information from Wikipedia and other sources onto a view of the real world; and a handful of Twitter clients. The mobile media company Ogmento develops AR games for mobiles.
The improvement in technology allows more streamlined approaches and wider user adoption. Market projections for augmented reality on mobile devices predict revenues of $2 million in 2010, rising to several hundred million by 2014 ($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 educational applications in the next few years.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Expression
Emerging augmented reality tools to date have begun to overlay marketing, amusement, and location-based information over real-time video, and new applications continue to appear as the technology becomes more popular. Tools that illustrate how learning applications might overlay information over a video image of an historical site, or an artifact in a museum can already be found.
Augmented reality has strong potential to provide both powerful, contextual, in situ learning experiences and serendipitous exploration and discovery of the connected nature of information in the real world. Most of the activity happening in this area is taking place in universities, but the work going on there can easily be transferred to K-12 settings. (Augmented reality also appears in the university-focused 2010 Horizon Report, where it was placed on the mid-term horizon to reflect its more rapid adoption at the college level.)
Applications that convey information about a place open the door to discovery-based learning. Students on field trips to historic sites can access AR applications that overlay maps and information about how the location looked at different points of history. An application currently in development by the EU-funded iTacitus project (http://itacitus.org/) will allow 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. SREngine, another augmented reality application in development, will use object recognition to display information about everyday things one encounters in the real world — describing the use of different pieces of equipment in a dentist’s office, for instance, or identifying trees on a nature walk.
Augmented books, now just beginning to enter the market, are another interesting application of this technology. Zooburst (http://www.zooburst.com) is an authoring tool that allows students to create their own augmented reality storybooks. The German company Metaio (http://www.metaio.com/demo) is developing books that include AR elements, such as globes that pop up on the pages of a book about the earth. 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 the curriculum includes the following:
- History. Augmented reality can be used to model objects, allowing students to envision how a given item would look in different settings. Students studying the California missions, Byzantine architecture, or other structures could create detailed models to accompany in-class presentations.
- Science. The mobile application pUniverse turns a mobile device into a portable planetarium, overlaying data about celestial objects as the student pans the device around the sky.
- Language Arts. At Crossroads South Middle School in New Jersey, seventh- and eighth-grade students created AR costumes for characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The students drew the costumes, then “became” the characters as they acted out the play in front of a camera.
Augmented Reality in Practice
The following links provide examples of current projects that demonstrate the potential of augmented reality.
Arhrrrr An Augmented Reality Shooter
This video demonstrates an augmented reality game created at Georgia Tech Augmented Environments Lab and the Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta. The dynamic, interactive game uses a handheld mobile device, a table map — and Skittles candies.
ARIS Mobile Media Learning Games
ARIS is an alternate reality gaming engine created by the University of Wisconsin’s Games, Learning and Society research group. Virtual objects and characters can be placed at certain locations in the physical world; players can interact with them using their mobile devices.
ARSights uses locations and structures in Google Earth to project augmented reality models of historical buildings and sites. Students can take virtual field trips, looking at three-dimensional models from different angles while seeing where on the globe they are actually located.
eTreasure is an augmented reality team-based urban game used for teaching cultural heritage to grade school students in Switzerland. The game is developed by Webatelier.net, a laboratory of the University of Lugano.
Flynn Park Elementary School LIONS Program
Working with the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center near St. Louis, Missouri, Flynn Park Elementary participated in an NSF-funded grant program (Local Investigations of Natural Science, LIONS) to build and play augmented reality games in science and history. (For more detail on the grant program, see http://www.glsconference.org/2008/session.html?id=42).
LearnAR (Specialists Schools and Academies Trust)
This UK-based project, designed for secondary students, includes 3D augmented reality models for several subjects, including biology, world languages, physics and religion. Students from subscribing schools can print out AR markers that then can display intricate 3D models for further examination.
Scimorph is an augmented reality learning game designed to stimulate discussion among grade-school students and their teachers around the scientific issues dealt with in the game’s scenarios. Scimorph is an alien that students can place into different environments to observe what happens.
Wikitude World Browser
With the Wikitude World Browser, students can view their surroundings through the camera on a mobile device, seeing historical information, nearby landmarks, and points of interest. Content is drawn from Wikipedia, Qype, and Wikitude, and students can add information of their own.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about augmented reality.
Augmented Learning: An Interview with Eric Klopfer (Part One)
(Henry Jenkins, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 7 July 2008.) Henry Jenkins interviews AR game developer Eric Klopfer, who gives insights into why this area of AR has promise in education and beyond. A link to part two is available on the above page.
Augmented Reality Technology Brings Learning To Life
(Chris Dede, Usable Knowledge: Harvard Graduate School of Education, September 2009.) This article deals with educational uses for augmented reality, particularly in the middle grades, and discusses its potential to engage students. The article also touches on curriculum development for AR in the classroom.
If You Are Not Seeing Data, You Are Not Seeing
(Brian Chen, Wired Gadget Lab, 25 August 2009.) This Wired article gives a good overview of augmented reality, including where it currently is situated and what to expect in the future.
Map/Territory: Augmented Reality Without the Phone
(Brady Forrest, O’Reilly Radar, 17 August 2009.) This brief interview discusses what forms augmented reality might take beyond its application for mobile devices.
Visual Time Machine Offers Tourists a Glimpse of the Past
(ScienceDaily, 17 August 2009.) New applications for smart phones offer augmented reality on the go. While on location, visitors view historical sites as they were hundreds of years ago.
Delicious: Augmented Reality
(Tagged by K-12 Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2010). 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 “hzk10” and “augmentedreality” when you save them to Delicious.