Augmented reality seems to be the hot upcoming mobile technology. So what is augmented reality? You see it every Sunday in the fall. The yellow first down line shown during football games is a perfect example of how one can use computer-generated graphics to overlay relevant information on a picture/video to enhance it. But a video example might be easier to grasp (turn down your volume first!):
WVU's Augmented Reality Campus Map
During the winter break of 2009 a co-worker of mine at West Virginia University used Layar to build an augmented reality campus map. Layar is an interesting product that can help you to easily bring location-based augmented reality to your campus for iPhone OS and Android-based devices. It was straightforward and only took a few days with debugging to get a test set-up. We have published the layer in the Layar store but it's obviously only useful to those folks who are here in Morgantown, WV. Some screenshots (this is pre-Layar 3.5 so the interface may be different now):
Location-based augmented reality isn't quite there yet. It makes for a very cool demo but doesn't seem to be something that's really useful. It could get there at some point but the limiting factor at the moment, to me, is the interface. Holding up a device at roughly eye-level is just impractical and awkward. Because of the small screensizes and distance their is a real lack of info you can quickly show. The reverse is true as well as can be seen in the screenshots above. There can be information overload with the dense layering of objects. AR will be useful either when you can hold it at hip level and get arrows on the ground to show you the way to your destination or you can get glasses that have the AR functionality built-in so the effective screensize is huge.
Another Kind of Augmented Reality
Ok, so I've talked about a very specific type of augmented reality, location-based AR. That's obviously the mobile-friendly version but you can also use the webcam on your desktop for augmented reality. Here's a video of of the USPS Priority Mail Virtual Box Simulator (try it for real too):
I think in the near term there are a lot more uses for this type of AR than the location-based AR. I'm sure people could think of a few. Perhaps virtual balloons when you open your acceptance letter? If you're a Flash person you can always check out the FlarToolkit.