Augmented Reality

(This talk included demonstrations using an iPad. You should be able to repeat them, and explore further, by installing free Apps on a smart-phone or tablet. Such Apps include 'Google-Search', 'Qrafter”. 'Tesco', 'Tesco – Discover', 'blippar', 'Layar', 'daqri', 'daqri4d' 'Anatomy4d' , 'Aurasma' .

In most cases you start the appropriate App, point the device camera at the compatible trigger-image, and click the shutter-button. Some of these Apps can be temperamental! Note also that Google Goggles may not work at all in recent (May 2013) versions of the Google Search App.

Introductory film-clip

(Augmented Reality in the repair of a car)

Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

Though it's a hot topic today, it's actually been around for 50 years. A pilot's head-up display showing an artificially generated horizon line and other data is one example. And now Google Glass has arrived, potentially giving us all a personal head-up display. Back to this later.

On television and film too, we are now very used to augmented reality, a very simple example being the finishing line which appears to be painted across the river in the boat race. There are many other examples in sports telecasts. And we are quite accustomed to seeing objects and creatures from the past – or future materialise on a televised view of today's landscape. I shall say no more about this kind of augmented reality.

In fact much of what follows will relate to smart-phones and tablets, where the device's camera is the source of the image, and the processing of the image in the portable device may be part of the creation of augmented reality, usually with the aid of the internet.

In full augmented reality, the augmentation is entirely integrated with the view of the real world, but I will start with some related examples.

Let's first mention augmented reality in the modern car.

First, satnavs Here, there is no processing of our view of the road through the windscreen, but the gps processor provides sound and vision information which accurately relates to our view. Though not usually the case, head-up displays can be provided.

Another application is reversing-assistance using a rear-view camera. Again, the image itself is not processed, but guidance lines are automatically inserted to show the predicted path of the car.

Let's move on now to what you can do with the smart-phone / tablet, The camera gathers a view of the real world, the image information from the camera is processed, and appropriate supplementary information is gathered, usually via the internet. The image from the camera is, or contains a “trigger image” which initiates the process . You should be able to reproduce all these examples if you have a smart-phone or tablet. The 'trigger image' can be printed, on-screen, or real-life.

In the first simple situation, the view contains text - a tourist sign perhaps - in English, or in a foreign language - which perhaps we don't understand. Enter "Google Googles" (part of the 'free down-loadable Google Search App) -which is able to read the text, translate it into English, and/or submit the text to Google, which can then provide us with a wealth of information. But you must be connected to the internet. Another App called Word Lens does not need to be on line, and will actually 'replace' the text on the image of the sign with the translation – definitely augmented reality.

The next situation is where the location of our view is 'managed' and a computer-friendly marker has been installed. Here we are talking about "QR Codes" which are appearing prolifically in newspapers and magazines. The free 'Qrafter” App works well. QR Codes usually provide a link to a web page. They are very robust, and they can be quite artistic! (see examples)

The Welsh Tourist Board has been particularly active in labelling sites with QR codes, including the labelling of the Welsh Coastal Path.

And QR codes are appearing in cemeteries, particularly in America. Firms such as Digital Epitaphs and QR Memorials will provide a QR Code tile to be fixed to your memorial. When scanned, it will bring up your biography - and allow you to speak from the grave.

Another interesting QR code application is Oxfam's "shelflife". QR codes attached to objects for sale lead to stories about the objects.

I'm now going to move on to applications which actually process and recognise the image of the real world environment, and do not rely on text processing, or the presence of coded markers.

Here is a selection of pictures etc. which will act as trigger images

I've already mentioned Google Goggles which can process text. It can also process and recognise images. It will recognise and identify the Pittville Pump Room for example, and submit it to Google search.

Similarly, but with a far more limited library of recognised trigger images, the 'Tesco' App for on-line shopping will identify food items from their images and take you straight to the entry for ordering. (You need to log in to your Tesco online account to try this)

I'll move on now to more sophisticated implementations in which the augmentation is properly merged into the viewed image. This can be achieved on your tablet or smart phone using the Apps from companies such as Daqri, Aurasma, Blippar, Layar. Here are a few examples of what they do. (See various annotated trigger images in the slide sequences) These are mainly directed at 'advertising'.

Finally, we come to visor systems, where the user wears a visor or spectacles which provide him with a personal head up display. Google Glass is such a system – spectacles which understand voice commands which bring augmentations into view.

A lot of this is rather gimmicky and perhaps of dubious value.

Far more important are specialised visor systems – for military, fire-fighters, surgeons, doing keyhole operations perhaps, equipment maintainers etc.

Augmented Reality – in some of its present forms - is here to stay!