Knitting together the digital/virtual world with physical space is at its most exciting when it comes to augmented reality (AR). The first generations of AR used cool parlor tricks on QR-like markers or to overlay simple search results on a street scene. Pull these basic functions into the real world, however, and you open up incredible possibilities. Even if 2013 doesn’t turn out to be the “year of AR” as it might, we clearly are entering a stage of exciting creativity.
To wit, one of the pioneering companies in the space Metaio is rolling out some cool tools and demonstrating some experiments worth watching. It showed applications in which an AR overlay of a live view from a drone flying over a town held onto the main points of interest in the distant town. The SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) camera technology adds more informational detail as the drone closes in, synchronizing the scale of information presented to the point of view and proximity to the object.
In another even cooler demo, Munich’s Marienplatz New City Hall has its famous once-a-day Glockenspiel turned into an on-demand experience. Aiming the AR-powered Junaio client at the classic architecture overlays on the silent clock is a video of the models in action.
Metaio is providing an SDK so the AR technologies can be more easily integrated into other app. And obviously theirs is not the only game in town. But this company has been at the AR model for a while. I interviewed them years ago when they were doing things with Lego boxes and rudimentary game tests. And they reflect some of the forward thinking in how AR will not only knit digital and virtual but make the physical world that much more entertaining. The most exciting thing about AR now is that the technology pieces are in place to spark real imaginative applications.
Right now the mobile reflex is perhaps best understood as the “look up.” We understand we have the Internet in our pockets and so we know we can answer a range of questions and needs by looking down and into the Web as we have known it. But imagine a reflex whereby we understand the mobile device as a window we use to hold up to the world in order to enhance it with any number of informational or just fun overlays that come out of the ether.