I suspect that, for some at least, Augmented Reality may already be riding the peak of inflated expectations on the Hype Cycle and about to ski down the black run of cynicism towards the trough of disillusionment. But as usual, it is the examples that look genuinely fun or useful that offer a glimpse of how things might actually be. And so here are four short videos which I've come across recently which show some interesting applications of the technology.
First up, this augmentation of a building that got some recent twitter link-love. Interestingly, the people behind the N-Building in Tachikawa, Japan, who have designed the facade of the building as a giant QR code, did so as an alternative to the signs or billboards that typically adorn commercial building facades and which they feel undermine the identity of a structure. Reading the QR code with your smartphone gives you information about the shops therein, but using an additional app their vision is that the facade disappears completely to allows you to see shop information, offers, promotions, and even people inside who want to be seen, and their online comments:
"In this manner we envision a cityscape unhindered by ubiquitous signage and also an improvement to the quality and accuracy of the information itself...Our goal is to provide an incentive to visit the space and a virtual connection to space without necessarily being present"
And of-course the more useful the data, the more interesting it becomes to layer onto real things. Smartphones are already complex sensors that enable all kinds of data streams that we make limited use of. This video from Pachube (HT), the 'Internet of Things' web service that stores and shares realtime sensor, energy and environment data from devices, buildings and other inanimate objects around the world, hints at how a visualisation of sensor data could be used for, say, monitoring real-time carbon footprint or inspecting buildings or streets (or even cities surely) full of environment data.
So it's kind of interesting when a big brand like Nike gets involved early on with an idea like this. Nike True City is an iPhone app that "makes the hidden visible" by providing a guide to the lesser known attractions of six European cities via what they call 'Nike Insiders':- "local tastemakers who pride themselves on being at the forefront of things happenings in their cities". It's not just another digital guidebook, more "a powerful combination of premium, geo-tagged content, the latest iPhone technologies, and social media integration—updated in real-time by real people".
RFID technology takes this to another level. In its 'Mobile Web Meets Internet Of Things' series, RWW talks about a technology standard called Near Field Communication that enables wireless communication and exchange of data between devices over a short distance meaning that if, as rumoured, RFID is set to be a part of the next generation iPhone 4G, it can turn the phone into an RFID tag, as well as an RFID reader. As the former, the phone becomes an identity and a payment device (the future of the credit card is not as a credit card), and as the latter it enables the phone to interact with real-world RFID-enabled objects. This prototype, featured in the RWW piece and from a Norwegian research group, turns the iPhone into a media player that responds to interaction with objects:
As I seem to be saying a lot lately - interesting times.