Who Needs Augmented Reality?

Who Needs Augmented Reality?


Several months ago, I asked our 6Sight Report editor and resident imaging futurist, Paul Worthington, his opinion of what new technology we should cover in the 2010 6Sight Future of Imaging conference. His first suggestion: Augmented Reality (AR).

I immediately asked two questions: “What is it?” and “What's it have to do with photo imaging?”

Paul could answer the first question easily enough: “Your view of reality is enhanced with computer-generated data, images and objects,” he said. “It is perhaps the first real effective combination of all the technology crammed into today's mobile phones: the camera captures what is in front of you; that data is sent to an Internet application or used by an app on the phone; the processor combines the data and the live view in real time—and you see it all on the phone's display.”

I was not all that sure I wanted my view of reality altered by some computer-generated imagery. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt since spotting future imaging trends was his forte.

“All right,” I replied. “But what about the second question? What does it mean to the photography business?”

“That's what we need to find out,” he said.

It was just a short time later that Olympus announced you could get a 3D view of their latest PEN camera by using your computer webcam and a simple marker that you download and print out. (Check out the video on YouTube if you haven't seen this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9Nd04dW2-M.) Then another company announced it could show you what a couch would look like in your own living room before purchasing or asking for one to be delivered.

It seemed that there was something to Augmented Reality, but I still wasn't sure what it meant to photography. I needed to get real first-hand information myself—and so I went to the ARE2010 augmented reality event in San Jose.

The AR Experience

As soon as I entered the trade show, I felt I was back at the Computer Faire in San Francisco in the early 1980s—the energy was much the same. New technologies were in evidence everywhere, and the willingness of the developers to share information and excitement was overwhelming—but gratifying.

I first met with Ivan Franco, director of research and development at YDreams (www.ydreams.com). The Portuguese company has developed AR and mobile applications since 2000, and has deployed over 600 interactive projects worldwide for clients like Coca-cola and Adidas. After the conference, I'd experienced their technology myself: I visited an 11th Century Knights Templar castle in Portugal (and I mean in reality, not virtually! I went to Portugal on vacation) and found a YDreams interactive computer display that presented the history of the building and its famous builders. At the conference, Franco showed me how the technology will now even let you be part of a movie. With your home set-top box, you can be a character in the film as you watch it.

Next, I spoke with Greg Davis of Total Immersion (www.t-immersion.com), who created Olympus' Web marketing piece. Total Immersion's transversal platform serves vertical markets that include marketing and advertising for events, retail, outdoor advertising, online and mobile marketing campaigns, entertainment with toys, gaming, publishing, theme parks and museums, plus utility applications for healthcare, product design and 3D. This is quite a large and diverse offering for today's relatively small AR market.

Probably my favorite demonstration was from YOUReality3D (www.youreality3d.com), a groundbreaking innovator in Retail Visualization. YOUReality3D's technology lets you take a photo of your living room, upload it to a website, and then drag and drop furniture into the photograph, and move the items around. Founder Michelle Fallon, a former Kodak executive, says the outdoor kitchen industry in particular is using her product, as it lets potential buyers locate products in photos of their own backyards as they design their own outdoor living space—before lifting a spade of dirt or investing in a stainless steel BBQ.

That interactive screen in the corner of Templar Castle would have been much more helpful as an app on my mobile phone that I could carry around with me. That way I could have read about what I was seeing and photographing any place I wanted; graphics on the phone could even show me how the castle I was looking at today looked in the 11th century. This type of work is now being developed in the mobile imaging community, but is a long way from regular use by the average consumer.

The Punch Line

But what will AR do for photo imaging? Nothing—that is, until the cameras we purchase have GPS and Internet connectivity built into them. (Come to think of it, this could be the subject of another column—Connected vs. Lonely Camera.)

AR will soon be built into a mobile phone near you. Will it also arrive in your next camera or will the photography business again fall behind in an exciting new area of imaging innovation?

Plan on attending 6Sight (www.6Sight.com) to learn more about this topic and watch online as we develop the program for our 2010 Future of Imaging Conference in San Jose, Calif., November 15-17. Our August 6Sight Report (www.6SightReport.com) covered AR in depth, including interviews with the leaders mentioned in this column and an executive from Qualcomm, a company endeavoring to be a leader in AR with its recent announced establishment of an AR research center at Georgia Tech. 

This column appears courtesy of the organizers of the 6Sight Future of Imaging Conference and Joe Byrd, co-Founder & President of 6Sight Conferences.

With increasingly powerful processing and graphics resources, smartphones are able to offer mobile augmented reality functions, such as virtual directions and 3D models.