Augmented Reality

After attending a Flash developers’ night in London last week, and hearing James Alliban give a great speech about Augmented Reality, I am even more excited about this burgeoning technology.

What is Augmented Reality?
If you don’t know what it is, it is probably easier to show you than tell you. See below for some links. I assume most of you know what Virtual Reality is? It’s when you wear one of those lovely headsets and get fully immersed in a computer generated environment. I also assume you know what actual reality is? If not then you probably aren’t reading this and are bouncing off the walls in some mental hospital. Well, Augmented Reality is somewhere in between. It is actual reality with enhanced, overlaid graphics. A bit like The Terminator when he scans people and gets information about them.

What do I need to use it?
There are some very advanced ways to view Augmented Reality (AR) such as with headsets or even haptic interfaces, but at the moment the two main publicly available ways to use it are via a phone such as an iPhone or an Android device. The other way is via a webcam.

Example – Phone – Nearest Tube
When using a phone it allows to you wander around and essentially have a window into another world, receiving overlaid graphics about your surroundings. Acrossair’s app lets you walk around London and easily find the nearest Tube station.

Example – Webcam – N-Dubz
With a webcam version it’s much more about entertainment or new products on your deskstop or in the palm of your hand, because you’re not walking around. One example is that if you hold the latest N-Dubz CD inlay up to a webcam you suddenly see the band perform literally in the palm of your hand.

What potential uses are there for it?
How good is your imagination? Double it and add 1. Below are some great examples including automotive design and fashion. Other things I can think of include going to a haunted castle and when you hold up your phone it displays ghosts in front of you (a window into another world), a treasure hunt round a city where the clues are only visible in front of you through an Augmented Reality device, or perhaps going to Ground Zero in New York and seeing what the Twin Towers actually looked like when they were still standing. Needless to say there are already tremendous uses for this technology in the medical, construction and teaching professions.

Is it the death of the webpage?
No, but I think that many things which are currently done on websites will start switching to devices like this.

Have you got any other examples to blow my mind?
Of course…

iQ Toyota
GE Smart Grid
Red Bulletin
Ray Ban
Julian Perretta ‘Ride My Star’
Papervision wormhole
5 Gum Music Mixer
Tobi Virtual Dressing Room
AKQA Virtual Box

Watch this space…

CaT London

Creative people and technical people have not always worked well together. Often designers dream up blue sky designs that make the technologists twiddle their knobs in frustration. Alternatively, the technologists can build something incredibly advanced but which is neither attractive nor usable causing designers to pull their (well-groomed) hair out. Lately, however, these two different hemisphered skills have become much closer bedfellows. Much of this is aided by modular technologies or open APIs that allow people to easily manipulate functionality and add their own customisable design. People can have a foot in both camps. Coming from my Product Design Engineering background, and now my front end/back end web perspective, I was eager to attend the latest CaT event yesterday in London which showcases the best of creative technology from both perspectives.

The ‘Creativity and Technology’ one day conference was held in the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road just off Sloane Square. A suitably artistic and creative venue. Unfortunately the technology did not match the ambience as the WiFi was playing up all day. A real shame at a conference like this, I have to say.

The lineup of presenters, however, did not disappoint at all. Speakers came from huge digital production and design agencies such The Mill, AKQA and Berg. Discussions came from topics such Augmented Reality, Latest online marketing campaigns and How Social Media is changing cities. The speakers’ accents came from such far flung places as London, New York, Ireland, Sweden and good old Glasgow.

Some very interesting uses of creative technology were demonstrated and discussed… Building games to help children learn about road safety. Augmented Reality to see the World Trade Center retrospecitvely in situ in New York. Removing choice for users to alleviate the stress of search. Observing that constants are now becoming variables in a world where every object has a data value which can be manipulated. Using music as a dynamic tool within a user-defined experience. And more.

Here are some excellent examples of the work that was showcased including video production, CGI, Flash 3D, Interactive sites and visualisations of multiple forms of information. Inspirational, one and all.

To be honest the day gave enough food for thought for me to write about 10 blog posts, so I will not attempt to try to squeeze them all into this one. What really hit me though was that the most interesting presentations were from those speakers who not only did not pigeonhole themselves into the creative or technologist camps but who also looked for inspiration from every aspect of life. They quoted literature and philosophy. They found perfect real-life analogies to explain very technical ideas. They, in a nutshell, showed us that ultimately it all comes down to awareness of human nature and the user experience. It’s not about the tools you use. It’s about the story.

Oh and I got to play about on a Microsoft Surface. Awesome technology. I’m already thinking of apps I would love to build for it. From both a creative and a technology perspective of course.