Practical everyday Augmented Reality (AR) applications may be a few years away still, but the potential of AR for everyday applications is big. Especially if you factor in openly available government data.
What is Augmented Reality?
AR is a mashup of a real-world view and external data sources – think of a Heads up Display on a fighter jet, which takes the pilot’s view of the skies around, and augments that view with data about altitude, velocity, etc.
Back down on earth, for those of us not flying around in $Billion aircraft, the possibilities are still pretty amazing.
Instead of a HUD we have mobile connected devices like the iPhone or Blackberry, both of which have GPS to determine location – important for location-specific AR data mashups. They also have cameras/video to display the “view of reality”; and finally mobile connectivity (Internet connectivity) to live stream data.
There are a few basic applications that showcase the functional possibilities of AR:
The City of London’s Nearest Tube app for the iPhone 3GS from AcrossAir
The NYC Subway iPhone app also from AcrossAir
The Yelp! iPhone app
Now let’s extend the potential of AR across two dimensions – open data; and mobile applications.
Governments have lots of data. Lots and lots of data, about lots and lots of different things – much of which could easily be shared publicly (see the excellent collection of datasets on the Washington DC website). Governments do a good job of collecting large sets of data over time. Now let’s imagine sharing all that data freely with the public, in usable formats, centrally located and accessible, and regularly maintained by the data owners to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of the data.
What could we do with all this data? Imagine standing at a downtown corner one morning, a free day open to do anything you want. You decide you’d like to go for a swim at a public pool, after visiting the library, then take your dog for a walk at a park, and finally a skate in the evening (without the dog). An AR app could let you find out the nearest city facilities and parks to your current location, their hours of operation, swim/skate schedules, nearest bus stops, schedules and next bus arrival times; and let you mash it all together to create your own day trip plan, complete with step-by-step directions (ala Google Map directions) – all presented through your AR view of reality. Ok, so this could all be done without AR, and perhaps AR doesn’t add too much value other than the bus info.
Another example, with perhaps better use of AR… You see some graffiti on a bus stop. You take a short video of it, and tag it with some keywords and upload it to the City’s website (all with the single push of a button from your mobile, using the City Report a Problem App). The City graffiti cleanup team is currently driving around the city with their gear, and your new problem appears off in the horizon on their HUD. The problem is added to their route map, which is automatically updated with the optimal route to fix a number of reported problems. After removing the graffiti, the crew takes a new picture/video, uploads the completion report to the City website; and the citizen receives a notification with pic/video showing the completed work. Now imagine this for potholes, damage, dead trees, etc, etc. People could virtually “tag” problems; and see that others have also tagged a problem; then view when things are fixed.
So not everyone has an iPhone – for some bizarre reason. And, honestly, while the iPhone is great, it’s not really the ideal AR tool. How about having an AR feature embedded into your sun glasses, or akin to the HUD on your car’s windshield (ok, perhaps some driver safety concerns there – on the passengers side!); or using nano-technology, how about an AR-enabled set of contact lenses?
The concept is simply to mesh together our view of the real world with data to modify or enhance that view. Once governments release and maintain it’s data openly, it won’t take long for someone to come up with an iPhone app that takes advantage of the data, and the technology of mobile devices.
What AR app would you like to see coming to iTunes soon?