It's hard not to be excited about Augmented Reality since it's a dream sci-fi tech that's actually real and growing before our eyes--led in part by the AR Browser Layar, which has just been updated. Its new powers show the future of AR really is everywhere.
Hidden in the typical version-to-version improvements of Layar 3.0 are a few gems that will transform the system. The first is 3-D objects--which we wrote about before--adds a rich virtual reality-like capability to the augmented reality experience. The second is auto-triggered actions which will enable a whole host of novel exploitations of AR tech, particularly if you're talking about AR-enabled games which require you to navigate yourself to a particular point. And the final feature is a point of interest-to-point of interest system. This could transform many of the apps within Layar from being a mere list of nearby geotagged reference points to a way to guide people through a location--picture yourself taking part in an augmented city tour on your next vacation, complete with interesting pop-up data on the buildings you're walking past.
If that technobabble is all a blur, then check out the examples below for what this means for the real app on your smartphone:
Virtually Augmented Locations
If you happen to be in Rotterdam and switch on Layar when you're at the site of the new Market Hall building by MVRDV architects, you'll be able to wander around inside its strange hollow arch-shape and check out how the novel building fits into its environment.
And that's pretty amazing, since it's not scheduled to be built until 2014. Augmented reality with 3-D powers will let architects, designers, games designers and so on plop virtual objects into the AR view of the real world. It'll likely be an extremely useful tool for many such people...but I suspect the really clever uses of the tech haven't been dreamed up yet.
Augmented City Tours
The Beatles almost regroup with another new layer in Layar that activates when you go to particular spots in London associated with the band. In particular the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing gets some magical AR love that makes John, Paul, Ringo, and George appear exactly in place as they did on the album cover.
The next part of the tour is enabled when you get to the previous spot--which lets the app developers choose your path around London. Just watch out for the traffic.
This is the most amusing new power inside Layar--the ability to create virtual art in real spaces. Think of it as digital graffiti or electronic performance art: When you hold the AR browser up to an artistically-augmented location, it shows the digital art as if it were present in the scene. The mind boggles as to how this will get used.
Of course while Layar is impressive, there's plenty of other AR developments going on...and as each implementation becomes more clever it really highlights one fact: AR is so useful and comes with so many potential exploitations that it's going to be a part of the way we consume much of our digital info in the future. That's simply because, as the Layar team puts it, it's a whole new "rich, immersive" experience that you can't replicate on a map, in a normal Web browser or even a simple location-sensitive smartphone app. Plus, digital graffiti is way easier to remove.