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 has become simple, and is now poised to enter the mainstream in the consumer sector.


The expression augmented reality (AR) is credited to former Boeing researcher Tom Caudell, who is believed to have coined the term in 1990. 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. Augmented reality itself is older than the term; the first applications of 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 mobile devices are increasingly driving this technology into the mobile space where the applications 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 poised to enter the mainstream in the consumer sector, and the social, gaming, and location-based applications that are emerging point to a strong potential for nal applications in the next few years.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

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. Mechanics in the military and at companies like Boeing already use AR 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 especially lends itself to training for specific tasks.

Applications that convey information about a place open the door to discovery-based learning. Visitors 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. 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 center, 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 in the real world.

Augmented reality can also be used to model objects, allowing learners to envision how a given item would look in different settings. Models can be generated rapidly, manipulated, and rotated. Students receive immediate visual feedback about their designs and ideas in a way that allows them to spot inconsistencies or problems that need to be addressed. 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; 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 simple augmented reality across disciplines includes the following:

  • Astronomy. Google's SkyMap is an augmented reality application that overlays information about the stars and constellations as a user views the sky through the camera on his or her mobile phone. Other astronomy applications, such as Pocket Universe, key detailed (and precisely oriented) maps of the sky to a user’s location and orientation.
  • Architecture. ARSights is a website and tool that allows users to visualize 3D models created in Google's SketchUp. Pointing a webcam at a 2D printout causes a 3D model to appear on the screen. It can be turned and manipulated by moving the sheet of paper (see http://www.inglobetechnologies.com/en/products/arplugin_su/info.php).
  • Computer Science. The Four Eyes Lab at the University of California Santa Barbara is creating a finger-sensing augmented reality program. The software determines the finger positions of the user’s hand (spread out, close-fisted, etc.) and moves an illustration on the screen accordingly (causing a rabbit to crouch or jump, for example).
  • Student Guides. Graz University of Technology, Austria, has developed campus and museum tours using augmented reality. Looking through the camera on a mobile phone while walking the campus, students see tagged classrooms inside the buildings. At the museum, a virtual tour guide accompanies users through the halls.

Simple Augmented Reality in Practice

The following links provide examples of simple 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 and a table map — and Skittles.

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.

Mirror Worlds
Students at Georgia Tech have created a tour of campus that switches between a view of an avatar in a virtual world and augmented reality superimposed on the real world. Users choose their view and can move back and forth between the two.

Video: TAT's Augmented Reality Concept Unveiled
(Joseph L. Flatley, Engadget, 9 July 2009.) Swedish company The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) is developing augmented reality software for mobiles that allows users to tag themselves with their Facebook page, Twitter account, a business card, and more. When a tagged person is viewed through others' mobiles, these tags appear and, when selected, open specific links.

Wikitude World Browser
With the Wikitude World Browser, users 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 users can add information of their own.

Wimbledon Seer App Serves Augmented Reality on a Grass Court
(Kit Eaton, Fast Company, 22 June 2009.) An augmented reality app assisted the 500,000 ticket holders at Wimbledon this year. Fans saw information about each match, news feeds, menus of local restaurants, and more superimposed on a view of the venue on their mobiles.

For Further Reading

The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about simple 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 in a Contact Lens

(Babak Parviz, IEEE Spectrum Feature, September 2009.) Developers at the University of Washington in Seattle have created a contact lens that features augmented reality. They are also exploring the use of contact lenses to measure blood glucose, cholesterol, and more.

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 apps for smartphones offer augmented reality on the go. While on location, users view historical sites as they were hundreds of years ago.

Delicious: Simple 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 “hz10” and “augmentedreality” when you save them to Delicious.

Posted by NMC on January 14, 2010
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