Enhancing Reality?


There are always new technological tools being created and disseminated and, much like web memes, they can catch on fairly quickly and spread as more individuals make use of a service/tool/technology to make their lives, both personal & professional, enriched by experiences. For example, I’ve been noticing increased interest and use of QR Codes as a way to enhance the way one interacts with a 2 dimensional picture via a smart phone, be it a product like a Calvin Klein advert, to how they are being used in libraries.

More recently another concept is emerging to enhance this 2 dimensional interactivity to a more immersive, 3rd dimensional experience. Again, because today’s smart phone technology (or rather, mini computers that happen to be able to make phone calls), a secondary (or is it tertiary?) level of interaction is becoming possible–this is augmented reality (AR). This is Wikipedia‘s entry on AR:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality  in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

In the case of Augmented Reality, the augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV during a match. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally usable. Artificial information about the environment and the objects in it can be stored and retrieved as an information layer on top of the real world view. The term augmented reality is believed to have been coined in 1990 by Thomas Caudell, an employee of Boeing at the time[1].

Augmented reality research explores the application of computer-generated imagery in live-video streams as a way to expand the real-world. Advanced research includes use of head-mounted displays and virtual retinal displays for visualization purposes, and construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, then check out Commoncraft’s take on AR:

Remember the old “View-Master” toys, with the round cartridges of colorful slides of all sorts of wonderful things? You’d hit the lever and a new image would slide into place (gosh, those were fun, weren’t they?) and boom, new wonders! Anyhow, AR is similar to the “View-Master” concept, only it’s using your smart phone or a video camera (or both) to superimpose additional imagery unto a 2 dimensional space.

Want to do it yourself? You can! One tool you can use is a product called SnapDragonAR from York University ($149), other (free) options include SLARToolkit (see video below) and ARToolkit.

SLARToolkit – Silverlight Augmented Reality 3D projection sample from Rene Schulte on Vimeo.

How might you use it in a library? How would you enrich a patron’s experience in your library? AR is a trend that will soon gain widespread adoption as more individuals seek to enhance their reality via their mobile gadgets.