Within 10 years “the unadorned world will be history”, and our reality will have become a mix of the real and digital. ~ Michael Liebhold, Institute for the Future
There’s a distinct novelty factor to recent augmented reality examples. The majority are tactical and would not last the distance as a long term strategy. Their concepts rely on the newness of the technology rather than solely being enhanced by the platform. Without the novelty of augmented reality they often lack substance. So it’s not surprising that some critics are writing augmented reality off as a fad. However, there are some local examples that are showing what can be achieved when branding and commerce are set aside.
CityViewAR – A word first for earthquake reconstruction
In 2010 and 2011, Christchurch was hit by earthquakes that significantly changed the face of the city’s architecture forever. Latest reports list around 500 buildings that have been destroyed or are scheduled for demolition. For residents of Canterbury it is important to have a way of both remembering what once was and input into what will be.
Canterbury University and HIT Lab (Human Interface Technology Laboratory) have developed an augmented reality program that allows people to view both the past and future of their city. Using an Android mobile phone people can walk around the city and see life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished, and see pictures and written information. Hundreds of 3D models of key city buildings have been made available from architect Jason Mill of ZNO, while the Christchurch City Council and Historic Places Trust have provided photographs and building histories.
CityViewAR is based on the HIT Lab NZ Android AR platform which uses the GPS and compass sensors in smartphones to enable virtual information to be overlaid on the real world. The software has previously used for showing individual buildings, but this is the first time that it has been used to show dozens of buildings at once, and the first time in world that augmented reality has been used for earthquake reconstruction.
What is more interesting is the future development planned. Added functionality will allow users to add their own feedback on the buildings shown, so architects and urban planners can get input from the public about proposed designs. Additional historical data could be included to allow people to go back in time and see what used to be at locations 50 or 100 years ago. Ongoing research could lead to a mobile AR platform that could be quickly deployed in response to a natural disaster and provide invaluable on-site information.
From the 10th of December 2011 the program will also be available to download on iPhones. The iPhone version will be launched at Cashel Mall’s container shops this week. Mark Billinghurst, of HIT Lab, says that while only about 100 copies have been downloaded so far, with the December event and applicability to a wider range of device, he is expected around 1000 downloads prior to Christmas. In the meantime the Android version can be downloaded from here – those not in Christchurch can still view the application as ‘fake’ GPS data can be sent.
Other uses of Augmented Reality in Christchurch
Christchurch is leading the way for augmented reality development in NZ due jointly to the creative talent based there and the tragic earthquakes which have inspired new thinking on a grand scale:
- AR equipped ‘quadricopter’ drones were used to inspect the unstable Christchurch cathedral sites without risking human life
- MindSpace Solutions (a spin off of HIT Lab) have developed ‘digital binoculars’ that bring history to life at Canterbury Museum
- The first large-scale AR use in New Zealand, an application for the Vodafone NZ Music Awards, was developed by Christchurch based Smudge Apps
A Global Perspective on AR Technology
It’s unlikely that augmented reality is going to be passing fad with the ‘big players’ Google, Nokia and Microsoft all seriously involved with augmented reality development projects. According to a new market research report “Global Augmented Reality Market Forecast by Product” published by MarketsandMarkets, the total augmented reality applications market is expected to reach US$5151.74M by 2016. In the US alone ABI Research estimates that the market for augmented reality will hit US$350M by 2014, up from just $6M in 2008.
The Future of Augmented Reality
Like any another new media – augmented reality is only the platform. The true potential of this technology is unlocked through relevant content that provides value to the user. It is the application of augmented reality that will take it beyond a gimmick. Augmented reality should act as the vehicle to deliver the concept – not the concept itself. Being able to take a photo of yourself with a virtual celebrity or seeing yourself surrounded by the unreal on a screen will only amuse audiences for so long.
So what do you think of augmented reality – is it a passing fad or here to stay?