“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, British Science fiction author Arthur C. Clark once famously said, and when done right augmented reality can achieve just that. Words and objects can be seemingly conjured out of thin air, while overlapping and interacting with the reality that is recognized by a portable device’s camera or GPS-system.
Augmented reality enables you to represent parts of the digital world on top of the physical world. Take Junaio’s augmented reality browser for smart phones for example, this application enables you to scan a painting to receive information about the artist; a product barcode to get a 3D user manual; or a food item to try a new recipe for a good meal. Images that can be matched with those in Junaio’s database will get a sophisticated augmented reality experience in response.
Although this might seem like a novelty, visualizing some sort of data based on a sensory input is not exactly new. We all use web services such as Google Maps or Google Translate to convert data into a desired output. It’s because of this that users of mobile devices have a hard time figuring out what the exact added value of augmented reality applications is. Previous research on augmented reality mostly focused on the technical perspective, failing to describe in which way those functionalities could actually be used in order to provide more value over the ‘traditional’ web services we have today. If augmented reality browsers want to become mainstream in consumer markets, it is exactly that question that developers should ask themselves. In which way can mobile augmented reality be used in order to provide added value over existing web services?
History of Augmented Reality
Even though augmented reality didn’t start ‘buzzing’ in consumer markets until recent years, the concept has been around since the late 60’s. During those years, augmented reality’s basic principals were first applied in the heads-up displays inside jet fighters, on which computer generated graphics were added to the windshield to enrich the pilot’s view. It was also in the late 60’s that researchers started to describe
Finally, in 1997, technologist Ronald Azuma defined augmented reality as it is known today, by stating that augmented reality should be a technology that mixes virtual stimuli with real ones. Furthermore, he argued that these stimuli can be multifaceted (vision, sound or touch), interactive in real time and registered in 3D. In recent years, we have seen augmented reality being introduced primarily for the visualization of both virtual data and real environments all together in a variety of sectors, most recently in consumer markets, notably through smart-phone applications.
Mobile Augmented Reality Browsers
Although different forms of augmented reality exist, this study focused specifically on mobile (in contrast to stationary) augmented reality devices because of its potential added value. Since an augmented reality application should enable users to interact with something in their direct environment at any time and place, it would be logical to do so through a device than they can carry with them; mobile devices. Moreover, augmented reality browsers were chosen for this study because of their versatile use of augmented reality content, which can be based either on location data or a visual input.
Based on several face-to-face interviews with experts within the augmented reality sector, and a short questionnaire for which participants were contacted through Twitter, relevant data was collected. It was found that the different forms of augmented reality could provide value in several ways.
Location Based Augmented Reality
Location based augmented reality, where information is linked to a location and recognized by using your phone’s GPS-system, can be compared to online reviews in which people share opinions and facts about a certain place or venue. However, placing this information ‘on’ the actual location makes much more sense than placing it on a blog, since it’s an easier and faster way to get to the needed information. For companies this could be very useful, as these locations could serve as digital storefronts and a way for location-based advertising. A shopping mall in Almere for example, used augmented reality storefronts to show of their latest discounts. Location-based advertising enables customers to efficiently look for information concerning a product while being at a certain place. This way, they can check, for example, if a certain product is available in a store nearby, or which store in the area offers this product at the lowest price.
Vision based augmented reality
There is also augmented reality based on image recognition, for which a visual input needs to be scanned by your phone’s camera. After the input has been matched with an image in an online database, augmented reality gets projected on top of the image. The advantage over location based augmented reality is that this form can be interactive, i.e. the augmented reality projection can change based on the image that is perceived through the device. According to experts, consumers might soon find themselves using this form of augmented reality to, for example, project a manual on top of the device they’re trying to use. “Mechanical car manuals are usually very complicated for the average user,” explains Noora Guldemond, European Head of Sales for Metaio, “because they do not understanding the inner workings of a car.” “You could deliver the same content in augmented reality by recognizing the engine and highlighting the car and explaining where the user needs to fill up the water or oil. The same could be done for explaining how to change the printer cartridge for example”.
Following the examples above, it seems that augmented reality browsers “enable people to look for content, information and connect to each other.” In that sense we can conclude that augmented reality should not be considered a goal in itself, but as “a means of visualizing data.”
Therefore, developers should consider augmented reality applications to be tools, used so that they are valuable and desirable from a user perspective by visualizing data in ways that current online stationary services lack, i.e., by projecting them onto and in reaction to everyday objects. When used correctly, augmented reality applications should “add value given the context”, “fix consumer pains” and “solve consumer problems”. A way of doing so, as shown by the examples above, is making everyday processes run more efficiently, by helping the consumer save time or money.
Although the augmented reality market still isn’t standardized yet, one of the things experts expect for augmented reality functionalities is that they will be integrated into current mobile browsers, so they can serve as an extension to web-based services.
That way when data has more value coming from interaction with the context of a user, the augmented reality view could be enabled in favor of the web-based view. Searching data will become a lot more intuitive with augmented reality, to such a point you won’t have to explain how it (augmented reality) works, just as you don’t have to explain how a web browser works. In the near future people will be browsing online content, based on information that is coming from their context. The context could include the place where a service is enabled, the friends you are with, your mental state, or the environment you are in. All to make the activity you are doing at that point more efficient. Augmented reality will help bridge the gap between cyberspace and everyday routines in the real world and we will be left wondering how we lived without it all these years.
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