Design Opportunities with Augmented Reality (AR)

I do not profess to be an expert in the developing realm of augmented reality but if the recently attended AIGA lecture is any measure, it is still a new field and one rich with opportunities. The expression “augmented reality” (AR) refers to a live real-time view of a real environment through a secondary device which supplements (or augments) information to the scene with virtual computer-generated imagery. An example of AR commonly seen is the computer generated “first-down” line during televised football games.

The new generation of smart phones has GPS capabilities, an accelerometer and a magnetometer. These features provide the hand-held portable device a sense of its place and orientation. Couple this information with the capability of presenting via its live video camera the immediate environment on its screen, one has all you need for a portable AR window on the world. Indeed applications are already available which can layer in real-time information responding to the immediate context.

As an environmental graphic designer the possibilities seem very rich for navigation. As it turns out, the example provided by the speaker, Dana Imano of Accrossair, was exactly this application: a supplement to existing urban transportation locations and schedule information. Their firm has integrated the geographic locations of the subway entrances for a number of cities, including New York’s, into an application which permits one to use the screen of the iPhone as a window to find your subway node. The interface literally points you in the right direction and lets you know how far of a walk it will be. As a wayfinding application this is fabulous. I was particulary pleased that their graphic interface of the various subway systems responded to the locally established identity system rather than a new uniform solution. This sensitivity reinforces the civic identity of the infrastructure.

Augmented reality opportunities arise when layers of information can be effectively synchronized in real-time. Already, by appealing to Google’s database of maps one can find one’s way by following a path made visible through the window of the display. By making store locations available businesses can provide customers a sense of their location and when prompted provide a coupon as an incentive. As the technologies continue to evolve new layers of feedback will be introduced and adding unexpected richness to one’s environment.

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