Augmented Reality for a Tangible World

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Growing up, I always felt that virtual reality would involve sweet headgear and some kind of skin tight body suit out of Tron.

I’d walk around like some kind of space zombie, interacting with and exploring a virtual world.  I thought Nintendo’s short lived VR Boy would be the start of a glorious revolution in the way we interface with Digital.
Cue 2008.  Turns out, being a space zombie isn’t particularly practical (or socially acceptable).  But the core idea, to manipulate virtual objects in a virtual space, has survived.

Augmented reality is a new technology that allows users to manipulate a 3-dimensional object on screen.  The object is triggered by an image in the real world – a print ad, billboard, sticker, QR code, shape… anything the computer can track to determine orientation.  The concept is already being applied to the advertising world.

Nike was first off the blocks with a scavenger hunt in Hong Kong that allowed users to see their new football cleat.  By pointing their mobile phone at a symbol, the software creates a 3d image of the shoe that can be manipulated in real time by angling the phone.  The user can than see all angles of the product.  Ford just launched a similar campaign in Great Britain.  MINI is in the game as well, with a AR enabled print ad that debut’s their new Cabrio Sedan.  The cake probably goes to Fanta, who created a game of virtual tennis, complete with a virtual ball and court.  Players use their phones as paddles and play against each other.

Still, cool as it is, the technology has yet to branch out beyond pure entertainment and still seems a bit gimmicky.  In the world of advertising, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Still, I’m interested to see how the technology can provide some real utility to users.  3 dimensional maps in malls?  3D product previews in catalogs?  A learning tool that enables experimentation with materials that would be otherwise unavailable or dangerous?  Could diagrams in print textbooks be set in motion and 3d – combining the best parts of print textbooks and digital versions?  Printed books where characters literally jump off the pages?

What do you think, gimmick or technology with some real-world potential?

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