Have you ever walked along a busy street in a new town wondering which restaurant/bar/club to step into? Have you pulled out your phone and googled up a few place names, read a few reviews before making up your mind? While exploring a new city recently armed with a very heavy guidebook (All of continental USA in one weighty tome), and a TomTom
that wouldn’t take any inputs unless the car came to a complete stop (Why can’t the passenger play search for gas stations while the driver drives?), I found myself wishing things in real life could be tagged – just like they can online. With Augmented Reality (AR) technology, they can be!
One of the big fears that people had with the popularity of the internet was that human beings would retreat into increasingly virtual worlds, living, marrying (and divorcing) online. Most of the successful new applications and services on the internet today however, are geared towards better integration of our ‘real lives’ with the virtual a la Facebook / Twitter / Google Maps / Qype etc.
The virtual world has now spun off into two tracks, with technology advances aiming at augmenting virtuality or augmenting reality. Augmenting virtuality refers to improving the virtual experience and making it as close to reality as possible – everything from making video game characters look more life-like, to SecondLife etc. What I find infinitely more interesting is AR tech, brought alive by apps on iPhones/Androids etc.
Imagine walking into a tennis game, and the players statistics pop up at the corner of your phone. Or in a new city, walk along a busy road, and you can see Yelp reviews for various cafes and bars.. or even what people are Tweeting around you (slightly creepy, but useful for small businesses that Tweet). All you need is a phone with GPS, a relatively accurate digital compass, a camera and an internet connection.
IBM rolled out a widget for Android phones at Wimbledon this year – check it out in action here. You can also look for houses for rent or sale in the Netherlands, look for the names and heights of mountains you’re looking at on your travels, look for the nearest tube in London or even, with the easter egg in the new Yelp App, look for bars and restaurants around you.
Drool. As much as I love my full QWERTY keyboard, I want an iPhone. Now!
And if this professor has his way, you may not even need a phone. You could just put on a pair of lenses, and have information transmitted directly to your eye.
To read more, check out the Economist briefing on AR tech and Mashable’s list of top 6 AR Apps.