The Latest on VR and Augmented Reality at Google I/O
Augmented reality adds more virtual information to real scenarios and is already applied in fields such as leisure, medicine or education.
In one of the first scenes of Terminator 2, the cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger enters a bikers bar in search of clothes, because, for some strange reason never explained, the incredible Augmented Reality technology that allows him to travel in time forces him to make it completely naked. Some of the shots of that scene are made from the supposed subjective point of view of the robot and, in them, you see how information appears superimposed on what this Terminator T-800 sees. It is data that reveal several things to you, such as whether the person you are viewing represents a threat or is of the right size for your clothes to serve you.
Leaving aside philosophical questions as to whether the cyborg’s view of things is typical or not, and whether it represents his habitual perception to him, these takes a rather approximate idea of what the concept of augmented reality implies: to have some Augmented Reality technology that allows to add information of virtual form to the existing physical reality, and usually in real time.
Supplementary information without making a move
Without having to resort to films, the truth is that this type of technology has been used for some time in different fields. It is used, for example, in the head-up displays of military aircraft, which are transparent display screens on which basic flight data such as altitude, speed, heading and position of other aircraft are projected. In this way, the pilot has no need to look away from the outside, as the data appear before him. The latest models incorporate even that screen in the own helmet of the pilot, so it is not even necessary that this one look forward to be informed permanently.
This Augmented Reality technology has also been used in commercial aircraft such as the Embraer 145 or the Airbus A380, to cite a couple of examples, and in fact is starting to be offered as an extra in certain passenger cars, with the same idea that the driver does not have to look away from the road more than necessary.
Another area where the augmented reality system is applied is the aid to maintenance technicians, especially in the aeronautical industry. In this case, the projection of pertinent information about the task being developed reduces the time required to perform it and, by the way, prevents the operators having to load with complexes and heavy manual. The most sophisticated Augmented Reality systems are even able to superimpose what the technician is seeing – through recognition software – the necessary information about the element with which he is working.
Augmented reality has also found a niche in medicine, as it can be applied in numerous situations, for example, to superimpose on a clinical report data from diagnostic tests or to visualize the edges of a tumor, which are invisible to the naked eye. Even being a bit generous with the application of the term, it is also possible to include as a type of Augmented Reality some television sports broadcasts, where graphics are added to the images in order to check if there was indeed an offside or if the ball bounced inside the court at a tennis match.
The case of these retransmissions is special because they lose the interactivity element that includes the augmented reality definition of Ronald Azuma, a computer science expert at Nokia Research Center Hollywood in California. According to its description – one of the most accepted – AR has to combine real and virtual elements, be interactive and in real time, and operate in 3D.
Educational Projects in Augmented Reality
There are also interesting educational projects, such as the one developed by the LabHuman Unit, of the I3BH Institute, at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. His researchers have created notebooks that include a cardboard with a code. These are used for a webcam to place on the monitor where the student works a 3D image according to the contents of the lesson he is studying. The image can be turned, zoomed in and out, viewed from different perspectives and, as confirmed by the teachers involved in the project, the method has been used to increase school performance.
However, until recently the augmented reality was something quite unknown outside the films, these fields of application and somewhat specific programs. However, the situation is changing thanks to the landing of this technology in mobile phones and print media. Indeed, in 2009 appeared the first tests in magazines like Esquire and Wallpaper – and in April of this year, in Quest, the Dutch MUY -, where a QR code –Quick Response – appeared, that is like a bar code, but arranged in a square matrix of points. When this QR is conveniently read by a webcam or by the camera of a mobile, it allows access to additional information.
In the case of the American Esquire, for example, it was necessary to download a free application of its website; once installed, it launched videos with additional content, videos that, in addition, since the application is able to know what time of day is working, are not always the same.
But you do not have to go abroad to find initiatives of this type. In Spain, the Bidimobile publishing house was ahead of them with its Bidibooks, books published in six languages that, by using QR codes, allow you to link the contents of these with texts, images and videos from Wikipedia, Flickr and YouTube.
A new form of tourism is born with Augmented Reality
One of the collections of Bidibooks is the Urban Visions, which offer an alternative view of some of the most known cities in the world so that the books in this series could become travel guides that we would consult on the spot thanks to the mobile. In line with this, QR codes could be very useful if they were added to a tourist plate located on the facade of emblematic or unique buildings. We would get information about the city, its streets and its monuments with our telephone. In fact, this is the alma mater of the Costa da Morte project.
In fact, mobiles are learning to see the world and to offer us some layers of additional information through their screens. Those of the last generation are precisely those that are contributing more to the popularization of Augmented reality. These devices use GPS to locate themselves geographically and know where they are looking thanks to the compasses and accelerometers they incorporate. This, together with appropriate programs or applications, allows us to travel via mobile in the world of augmented reality.
One of these programs is Layar, a browser available for now for the iPhone 3GS – is the model that incorporates compass – and for Android phones. The information that this software can display is very varied and serves, for example, to locate houses for sale or for rent, ATMs, pharmacies and even job offers. Another very similar application is Wikitude World Browser, which shows points of interest superimposed on the image that is capturing the camera of the mobile.
Lower price of access to the Internet will increase demand
Anyway, and although the technology that allows them to work is already available, the current problem is that this Augmented reality program really has information to show. In the case of Layar, which opened its online store in May, it initially only provided data on certain cities in the Netherlands, which is the country of origin of the application. With Wikitude, the data that is shown to the client are the contents that are on the servers of the company. In this sense, the fall in prices of both mobile Internet access and smartphones themselves will only be factors contributing to increasing the demand and acceptance of this type of services. It is at this point that public administrations and companies, or should do it, come into play to develop and offer together attractive and interesting data for users.
Companies could do business by selling access to these layers of information and, in the case of public administrations, the same would be provided free of charge. It should be noted that many, if not all, of them, handle gigantic databases of all kinds, which have been created with money from public funds.
As technology progresses, we are likely to end up wearing glasses or even lenses on which information is projected, as if it were a personal head-up display in the style of the Terminator in his mission to kill Sarah Connor. For now, such an extreme falls in the field of science fiction … although with more of the first than the second.