Friday, January 30, 2009

Augmented Reality

EDIT - My company, Talking Dog Studios, has been developing a number of augmented reality products since this blog entry was published. Click here to read about some of our AR projects.

This blog is continued in the following entries:
Augmented Reality Season's Greetings
How Big Is...
Augmented Reality - 10th dim Music Videos (a tenth dimension toy for you to play with)
Augmented Reality - Crazy Wakeboarder (another AR toy for you)
More on Augmented Reality
Doritos Augmented Reality
World Builder
WWF Augmented Reality

I believe I was first introduced to the concept of Augmented Reality by author William Gibson in his 1994 novel Virtual Light, although that's not what he called it back then. What's "augmented reality"? It's like "virtual reality" but it's overlaid on the real world. In Virtual Light, a stolen pair of glasses contain secret architectural plans for a remodeling of San Francisco, and someone wearing these glasses can walk down the street, look around at buildings and see the plans superimposed over the existing structures. With his 2007 novel Spook Country, Gibson developed the idea much further into a technology-driven innovation called locative art , in which location-specific 3D art displays could spring up any time, anywhere: Gibson called it "geohacking", but "augmented reality" would be another good term for what he's describing.

Last blog entry, we talked about the renewed interest in the idea that our universe is really a four-dimensional shadow of a five-dimensional hologram which we are moving within. This time around we're going to lighten up and have some fun with some creative new toys that allow us to play with our reality, using nothing more than a webcam, a web browser, and a piece of paper with a shape printed on it. This is augmented reality.

Augmented reality has been around for a while, and not just in the mind of visionaries like William Gibson. Here's a news story from two years ago showing some of the ground-breaking work that was being done back then.

A direct link to this video is at

The projects shown in the above video are interesting, but they still required proprietary hardware and software to work their magic. What I find really interesting are the developments in the last few months that now let any of us play with this technology at home, with no special software programs to install.

Last month, three German auto magazines had an ad on the back cover which gave you a "free" MINI Cabrio. Take a minute to watch this mini-documentary:

A direct link to the above movie is at

This is definitely a step forward, but unfortunately this campaign worked only on PCs running Internet Explorer with Active-X. If that's what you have and you want to try making this one work for yourself, check out this blog entry at

Where things get really interesting though, is people are now figuring out how to play the same tricks using flash as the interface, which makes it compatible with almost all modern computers. Take a look at this:

Papervision - Augmented Reality (extended) from Boffswana on Vimeo.

It's surprisingly easy to get this animated green monster to appear right on the table in front of you, if you'd like to play with this go to for instructions on how to do so.

Now here's an even stranger looking implementation of the same idea. This is "New Year's Greetings '09" from AID-DCC Inc. & Katamari Inc. in Japan, and this really fired my imagination the first time I saw it work:

A direct link to this video is at

If you go to their website to try this out yourself, it would probably help if you speak Japanese, but if not, you just have to click on the yellow rectangle that appears in the lower part of the window beneath a drawing of a fellow holding a piece of paper in front of his computer/webcam setup. I did find this site loads correctly some times and gets hung up other times, if you don't get to that yellow rectangle just try refreshing the screen or come back later.

By the way, the 3D part of these last couple of links is being created with "Papervision3D", click here to go to the Papervision3D blog and a further discussion of how to get the above "Happy New Year 09" augmented reality trick working for you.

Now, playing with these Augmented Reality toys at home with your webcam is fun. But the possibilities get even further out when you use this technology with the new generation smart phones. Here's a movie showing a 3D virtual pet you can interact with on your iPhone:

A direct link to the above video is at

And here's an Augmented Reality game called Tower Defense which works on the Nokia N95 phone:

A direct link to this video is at

And finally, here's a creepy Augmented Reality game for the N95 which has you hunting through your house to find the ghosts that are hiding there:

A direct link to the above video is at

These are innovations that have just come to light in the last couple of months, and I'm sure there are many more creative and mind-boggling innovations on their way. Augmented Reality holds lots of exciting promise, and I can't wait to see what's coming up.

Enjoy the journey!


Next: The Shaman

1 comment:

Dr. Think said...

Such an interesting concept, I'm surprised i have never heard of it!

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