Augmented Reality: Finally, A Practical Application

5 08 2011

As smartphone usage continues to explode, developers are finding more meaningful ways to apply this powerful tool to our daily lives.  QR codes can be found on business cards, print ads, billboards, and even tombstones.  Their value can be found in the elimination of lengthy http:// addresses for information you are seeking.  Rather than type in 20-30 character web addresses, simply scan a small, unobtrusive barcode-like box and be instantly transported to a web page.

While some applications of this technology are truly novel, like adding large QR codes to “for sale” signs on real estate, they have not advanced beyond the level of curiosity.  That can be attributed in part to competing technology.  In addition to generic QR codes, AT&T and Microsoft, and at least one other organization have created competing codes that make it necessary to download three different scanners and then guess which one will work.

Get ready for the next giant leap forward.  Hints of its existence can be seen on the latest AT&T ads.  In a quick clip, you see two “tourists” on a street in a major city.  They hold up their smartphones and see text superimposed over the images of businesses.  The text espouses the quality of custom burgers at the restaurant.

This is how Wikipedia describes the concept:  Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or an 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.  A dated example of the concept can be found on YouTube at

Layar, an Amsterdam based leader in the field of AR that was named a 2011 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, has just released Layar Vision.  This powerful tool enables mobile phones to recognize real world objects and show digital content on top of them.  This is the breakthrough that moves AR from curiosity to reality.  The release coincides with the announcement of the Layar Creation Challenge with $55,000 in total cash prizes to be awarded to developers creating the best concepts for useful and unique layers using Layar Vision.