The Thing about Augmented Reality
Ever since I heard of augmented reality games and subsequently read William Gibsons "Spook Country" I have been mesmerized by the idea of augmented reality and location based art. I have long come to the conclusion that the natural evolution of the web is to get its foothold into the real world. Since "Spook Country" I have gained quite a clear understanding of how that might come to happen. For those not having read the book - besides the forgettable story of some secret container and a group of random people locating the book talks at length about a network of artists who use mapping data from the world and put virtual artistic pieces into it.
The big problem is that you have to wear some quite sophisticated hardware to see these artwork (some is fictional some is documentary - like a reenactment of a dead famous person laying where he actually died - its gibson and he is "noir" ;) also the location information is quite difficult to generate.
Now in the last 2-3 years things have changed considerably to make this happen faster then I thought ever possible. I guess it all started with the Wii gaming console and its motion sensors and at the same time the ubiquity of GPS receivers arriving in mom & pops cars. Both created a mass market for sensors that are absolutely vital for AR. Each one on its own is already fun and powerfull - the one "sees" where you pointing the other tells you and your machine where you are. Its not a stretch that when you combine both a machine nows where you are and where you point/look put in a compass and you have hardware wise an almost perfect system (there are some quirks with the motion sensors and earths gravity not beeing stable etc pp but its only a matter of time (and how many sensors) to get this ironed out to perfection - WiiMotionPlus anyone?).
Now then came the iPhone - I know - a big yawn. But what the iPhone did was put a motion sensor and gps in one device. That was surpased by some Android phone which also put the compass in (now the iPhone has that too). Now the iPhone had a the problem that the APIs to get to the raw camera data are locked up behind bars so the attention for AR shifted completely to the Android platform (thanks god) for now where there are multiple projects that want to give you a platform to create AR content.
This is where it becomes extraordinarely interesting. What kind of content could that be. If you just think about it for a split second you mind will explode. A good working fluid AR system can give you all the content we have and put it in reality.
Fiction, Documentary, Games, Concerts, Guides are just a few examples. It can be linear (as in a soundwalk) or nonlinear (as in a game). It all happens in reality it can involve one person or 100 of person. Imagine for the sake of it a "Lara Croft" kinda multiplayer game one person in one city pulls an artificial lever and the other person in another city sees in realtime a door opening. Ugh wait - there is something wrong here. Yes the one shortcoming there still is - the interaction is all inside the "virtual" world while that might be overlayed in a cool way to the real world - fictional stories, historic documents etc pp. The thing that would break all dams is if the machines could "see and react" to the interaction in the real world. That would mean a) very good camera tracking b) object recognition c) reason. It will come but until then there is a lot of possibilities to explore. Its very exciting to see this happening - its a new media born and I am actually alive and old enough for once to see it from the very beginning and maybe even take part in it.