Augmented Reality: Transformative or Transactional?

Augmented reality has been widely debated as an influential or useful technology in the mobile space. We’ve seen the technology teased in science fiction, whether as locative art, as in William Gibson’s Spook Country, or as the main interface with the ‘net in Minority Report.

Still, it hasn’t hit the mainstream. The technology exists, but we haven’t yet found the application that crosses the chasm.

Some brands are using the technology mainly for visualization, as in Lego’s use of AR to show you what the finished, assembled kit will look like. While it’s fun, and definitely adds a little pizazz to the in-store experience, it’s not really that different from… looking at the box.

But most brands haven’t gone much past playfulness and novelty as the main motivation for using AR. Lynx (Axe, in the US) used augmented reality to extend its “Fallen Angels” campaign into Victoria Station. It definitely generated some buzz, and people had fun playing with it.

Meanwhile, as in QR, augmented reality programmers and designers are seeking compelling new use cases viewed through the lens of art.

The See/k project is a good example of art students applying a more experiential element to what is, ostensibly, a simple commercial act – launching a new fragrance. But when imagined as the key to exploring and discovering the physical space of the brand, it adds a new dimension to a launch event that bridges the virtual and the real.

If this feels a bit beyond your ken, you can play with augmented reality art using the Konstruct app – you start with a standard 2D image, and then through the use of palettes and your voice, create 3D virtual sculptures on your iPhone.

But for brands, the secret to a smart use of AR seems to be found in the notion of adding real value to the mobile experience:

Bing, for example, demo’d some ideas for using augmented reality as part of its mapping engine. Integrating with geo-tagged images on Flickr, they can superimpose crowd-sourced imagery onto the location image, seamlessly integrating background scenery into the map. Going even further, they are mapping the interiors of public spaces and able to integrate live video from the location on the map. In essence, they’re finding ways to scrape any meta-data associated with the location to augment maps. It’s impressive, useful, and offers a deeper experience of a place whether you’re there or not.

The Word Lens app is another example of augmented reality aiding people in navigating spaces, though this time, from the perspective of language.

Of course, let’s not forget games. They can be a terrific way to explore augmented reality’s possibilities. One very exciting (for us Star Wars nerds) application is the Star Wars Arcade Falcon Gunner AR app. Just watch, you’ll want to download it and play ASAP. Who knows what ideas it might spark?


The official site for “From Neo to Trinity: The Matrix Reinvented” at FutureM 2011

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