Think it overlay Augmented reality is collecting headlines almost as fast as it’s tagging the world around us. But can it find a commercial reality? Tim Green reports… eaders old enough to remember the ‘90s may recall the fuss made about Virtual Reality. That, kids, was a technology that put a person ‘inside’ a computer by getting them to wear a helmet/goggles, which displayed a computer generated world that responded to their movements. Such was the hype around the concept that they even made a movie about it – The Lawnmower Man. The film, like the tech, was crap. But for a short while the clamour around VR was unstoppable. One UK company, Virtuality (the poster boy for the space) even floated and for a short while basked in a market cap of £93 million. Now, you might conclude from the absence of people walking around with oversized helmets in city centres that virtual reality never flew. Instead it mutated, and you can trace the origins of today’s augmented reality tech back to it. The big question, of course, is whether augmented reality can move into the mainstream.
14 | June 2010 Mobile Entertainment
For the handful of you that don’t know, AR overlays graphical information on the real world as viewed through a phone camera, using GPS and the compass within the more advanced smartphones on the market. So, for example, you look at a street scene and the screen displays icons and text alerting you to nearby landmarks, shops and so on. This kind of overlaying is used liberally on TV these days, so it’s a familiar language for people to embrace. Unsurprisingly, it was the Japanese that offered the first glimpse of AR tech. Back in 2008, the Tonchidot Corporation previewed its Sekai Camera, wowing observers with a walk-through in a shopping mall that revealed all manner of overlays it called ‘air tags’. The product went live on the Japanese iPhone app store in September 2009 and shifted 100,000 in its first week. AR first hit the west last summer when two European firms began demonstrating their products. Austria’s Mobilizy introduced
Layar’s Claire Boonstra believes the ‘stream’ can do for AR what the EPG did for multi-channel TV
Wikitude, which was so-called because in the first instance it used wikipedia content to populate its pages. At around the same time the Dutch firm SPRX unveiled its Layar product, which had a harder commercial edge to it. Since then, AR has grown steadily, attracting many more companies into the space with their own platforms. They include Metaio, Neogence, Oogmento, Total Immersion, Int13 and others. What makes AR attractive to these start-ups, is the sense that here is a medium unique to mobile, that offers the potential for commercialisation and that doesn’t require any additional hardware purchase: If you have a phone with camera, compass and GPS, you’re good to go. At present, it’s Layar that’s making the most noise in the space. The firm’s approach is to offer a platform through which third parties can offer their own apps. It says 3,500 partners have signed up, and that www.mobile-ent.biz
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