What is Augmented Reality?
The basic goal of an AR system is to enhance the user’s perception of and interaction with the real world through supplementing the real world with 3D virtual objects that appear to coexist in the same space as the real world. AR systems have the following properties:
1) Blend real and virtual, in a real environment
2) Real-time interactive
3) Registered in 3D
Registration refers to the accurate alignment of real and virtual objects. Without accurate registration, the illusion that the virtual objects exist in the real environment is severely compromised. Registration is a difficult problem and a topic of continuing research.
SIMPLE AUGMENTED REALITY
Simple augmented reality refers to the shift that has made augmented reality accessible to almost anyone. Augmented reality used to require specialized equipment, none of which was very portable. Today, applications for laptops and smart phones overlay digital information onto the physical world quickly and easily. While still two to three years away from widespread use on campuses, augmented reality is establishing a foothold in the consumer sector, and in a form much easier to access than originally.
While the capability to deliver augmented reality experiences has been around for decades, it is only very recently that those experiences have become easy and portable. Advances in mobile devices as well as in the different technologies that combine the real world with virtual information have led to augmented reality applications that are as near to hand as any other application on a laptop or a smart phone. New uses for augmented reality are being explored and new experiments undertaken now that it is easy to do so. Emerging augmented reality tools to date have been mainly designed for marketing, social purposes, amusement, or location-based information, but new ones continue to appear as the technology becomes more popular.
The expression augmented reality (AR) is credited to former Boeing researcher Tom Caudel, who is believed to have coined the term in 1990. The concept of blending (augmenting) virtual data — information, rich media, and even live action — with what we see in the real world, for the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses is a powerful one. Augmented reality itself is older than the term; the !rst applications of AR appeared in the late 1960s and 1970s. By the 1990s, augmented reality was being put to use by a number of major companies for visualization, training, and other purposes. Now, the technologies that make augmented reality possible are powerful and compact enough to deliver AR experiences to personal computers and mobile devices. Early mobile applications began to appear in 2008, and several augmented reality mapping and social tools are now on the market.
Wireless mobile devices are increasingly driving this technology into the mobile space where the applications offer a great deal of promise. #Initially, AR required unwieldy headsets and kept users largely tethered to their desktop computers. The camera and screen embedded in smart phones and other mobile devices now serve as the means to combine real world data with virtual data; using GPS capability, image recognition, and a compass, AR applications can pinpoint where the mobile’s camera is pointing and overlay relevant information at appropriate points on the screen.
Augmented reality applications can either be markerbased, which means that the camera must perceive a speciac visual cue in order for the software to call up the correct information, or markerless. Markerless applications use positional data, such as a mobile’s GPS and compass, or image recognition, where input to the camera is compared against a library of images to !nd a match. Markerless applications have wider applicability since they function anywhere without the need for special labeling or supplemental reference points. Currently, many augmented reality efforts are focused on entertainment and marketing, but these will spill into other areas as the technology matures and becomes even more simpli!ed. Layar (http://layar.com) has been a leader in this space with AR applications for Android and iPhones. Layar’s mobile application features content layers that may include ratings, reviews, advertising, or other such information to assist consumers on location in shopping or dining areas. Other mobile applications that make use of AR for social or commercial purposes include Yelp, another review and rating service; Wikitude, which overlays information from Wikipedia and other sources onto a view of the real world; and a handful of Twitter clients. The mobile media company Ogmento develops AR games for mobiles.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry
Augmented reality has strong potential to provide both powerful contextual, in situ learning experiences and serendipitous exploration and discovery of the connected nature of information in the real world. Mechanics in the military and at companies like Boeing already use AR goggles while they work on vehicles; the goggles demonstrate each step in a repair, identify the tools needed, and include textual instructions as well. This kind of augmented experience especially lends itself to training for specific tasks.
Applications that convey information about a place open the door to discovery-based learning. Visitors to istoric sites can access AR applications that overlay maps and information about how the location looked at different points of history. An application currently in development by the EU-funded iTacitus project (http://itacitus.org/) will allow visitors to pan across a location — the Coliseum, say — and see what it looked like during an historical event, complete with cheering spectators and competing athletes. People, too, will soon be explored through augmented reality. The TAT Augmented ID application, still in development, uses facial recognition technology to display certain, pre-approved information about a person when he or she is viewed through the camera of a mobile device. SREngine is another augmented reality application, also in development, that will use object recognition to display information about everyday things one encounters in the real world — comparing prices in a shopping center, for instance, or identifying trees.
Of particular relevance to education is augmented reality gaming. Games that are based in the real world and augmented with networked data can give educators powerful new ways to show relationships and connections. Games using marker technology often include a "at game board or map which becomes a 3D setting when viewed with a mobile device or a webcam. This kind of game could easily be applied to a range of disciplines, including archaeology, history, anthropology, or geography, to name a few. Another approach to AR gaming allows players or game masters to create virtual people and objects, tying them to a speci!c location in the real world. Players interact with these constructs, which appear when the player approaches a linked location in the real world. Augmented reality can also be used to model objects, allowing learners to envision how a given item would look in different settings. Models can be generated rapidly, manipulated, and rotated.
Students receive immediate visual feedback about their designs and ideas in a way that allows them to spot inconsistencies or problems that need to be addressed.