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Friday, August 06, 2010

Augmented Reality: An Overview

This is Part 1 of a two post series around augmented reality. This first post will be more of a generic overview, where Part 2 will be a more practical look at how this technology can be used in PR.

In the digital space, we’re always looking at what the next trend is going to be. We’re paid to ensure we’re in the loop of “what’s hot” and how our company and/or clients can implement it into their business. As such, for the past 12 months I’ve been completely fascinated with augmented reality (AR). In my opinion, and if I had to scale the level of opportunity, impact and importance, AR would be on the top of my list for trends-to-watch.

Augmented Reality has been around for quite some time, with its roots dating back to the late 50s – the term “augment reality” was coined in 1992. While there have been a significant amount of uses of AR, the most well-known to the general public is the yellow “first down” line used in the National Football League. However, as the smart phone has continued to occupy more hands and more of our daily lives, AR has begun to get more attention. As a result, more companies and brands are beginning to explore AR and put more emphasis on its potential use.

For the sake of trying to keep this article short, I’ll focus mostly on mobile use, but will touch briefly on examples of AR outside the mobile space.

Common Uses:
Location overlay: Right now, the broadest and most basic use of AR is in terms of location. You can use Yelp’s AR app, for example, to find a nearby restaurant, hotel, hospital, shopping outlet, etc.; and then get reviews and tips on Lonely Planet’s AR app.

Information: For those who like to travel, you can use Wikitude World Browser to find information and data about a variety of points of interest. Not only that, but museums are starting to use AR for their exhibits and to share information. One of the coolest apps that I’ve recently started playing with is Sekai, which allows you to tag a location with information (photos, text, video)

Gaming: One of the coolest uses of AR is in the gaming industry. While the initial gaming will be basic, we’ll eventually evolve into more complex and advanced gaming. A few cool examples: Rock’em Sock’em Robots; AR.Drone Parrot; Zombie ShootAR

One of the most intriguing uses of AR comes in the potential collaboration with location-based services. Imagine the uses of an AR-LBS partnership for city and state departments. I’m imaging a protocol where data about everyone who visits a certain location is stored in the cloud and only accessible by local police departments. Say a store was robbed, a child gone missing, or someone assaulted. Your local police could simply point their phone at a designated location and see everyone who was at or near that location within a given time period. An interesting and useful way to cut down on crime and violence.

Other Examples

As I mentioned, most of my fascination is in the mobile AR spectrum, but there are quite a few interesting usages on other platforms. Here’s a sample:
As you can see, there are a lot of interesting uses of AR and a lot of opportunities as the technology continues to advance. Are there obstacles that need to be addressed before AR is mainstream? Absolutely. However, companies and brands have taken the first step. As research and innovation continues, I think we're going to see a major breakthrough in the AR space within the next 12 months. In Part 2, I'll share what I feel that breakthrough is, as well as the benefit of AR for PR professionals.