Posted by: Mark Hawkins | June 29, 2009

Augmented Reality – killer app or just for show?

An item published last week by eConsultancy about IBM’s new Wimbledon Seer mobile application for Google’s G1 smartphone stoked the excited fires of Augmented Reality as a mobile technology.

For the uninitiated, Augmented Reality isn’t a made-up science fiction technology used by Tom Cruise in the film, Minority Report. Applications are being produced right now which capitalise on its premise.

For mobile, Augmented Reality makes use of a device’s camera, GPS location and if available, in-built compass features. Together, these are able to calculate very exactly where you are and in what direction you, or you’re camera is facing: in other words, what you’re looking at. It then uses what you can view through your camera to superimpose, layer and tag information over the top. Andy’s winning on Court 1, here’s the score; your nearest toilets are here; get some strawberries and cream here; Centre Court is this way.

Plus all the additional add-ons you might expect, such as up-to-date travel information, handy fast food outlets, nearest exits are all included and intuitively accessible.

The application smoothly demonstrates the potential of Augmented Reality technology when well executed by a powerhouse like IBM with the readily available resources and an appropriate event such as Wimbledon.

Most mobile Augmented Reality development is currently concentrated on the Google Android operating system, capitalising on its compass and GPS functions to calculate relevant data. As such penetration is still obviously extremely low and the technology will remain niche at best for some time – which might make you question the incentives of IBM and the Wimbledon organisers; (are they just showing off? Chancing one of those baseline through the legs shots which look quite neat but are never winners?)

Either way, you can’t help but wonder at the long term potential; the reach of such an application with larger scale sites, such as Glastonbury. Or even whole city venues for major tournaments, festivals and the 2012 Olympics. There have already been a few early stage examples elsewhere, others which seem to have AR at the heart of their model, and the occasional spacier looking twist on the concept for industry, away from mobile.

While the brazen coolness and obvious virtue of such an application make it easy to get somewhat carried away with, it could be a tricky sell to the the less tech enthused.

These people might reasonably suggest just speaking to somebody, in real life, using their voice, unattached to a mobile phone. Which may be quicker than flicking out a mobile, opening up a camera, launching an application and pointing in what you hope is the right direction, before slowly shuffling round in ninety degree increments to find it’s behind you. I can’t see my Mum getting on with it first time anyway.

Let’s ignore those killjoys for now though.

Providing all the relevant technology ingredients reliably blend, develop and ultimately converge across multiple devices and platforms, Augmented Reality might give us another excuse to never ask for directions again.


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