Saturday, February 05, 2011

Augmented Reality

I just listened to Sarah Houghton-Jan's presentation from the Handheld Librarian conference on augmented reality. (If you haven't yet, I highly recommend taking some time to listen to some of the presentations in the archives!) Before hearing this presentation, I knew absolutely nothing about augmented reality. Now I'm really intrigued and want to know even more!

The general idea is that data is overlayed with the real world. It's the idea of adding information to the way we view the things around us in the real world, especially through mobile devices. That's just the tip of the iceberg, of course. We're talking about mobile devices with cameras, that play audio and video, and that have GPS capabilities. We're talking about feeding information to people about the places where they are and the things they are surrounded by.

Imagine going to a library and looking at a display of rare books. Of course, these books can't be handled because they are too fragile. They are displayed behind glass. A patron could, theoretically, take a picture of the display, run that picture through special software (like Wikitude), and get all kinds of information about it that enhances (ie. augments) the display. Maybe they could get a map that pinpoints where in the world the author was from. Maybe they could listen to a podcast about the printing process. Maybe they could watch a video about the author's life. Maybe they could get a link to a book discussion group transcript on one of the titles. Maybe they could get pictures of the author. Maybe they could get a list of similar titles. All of these things would be presented to them as opportunities to expand the display that they are seeing in real life.

Here's another scenario. You're visiting a city on vacation. As you walk through the downtown area, you see QR codes displayed in little plaques on/near buildings, statues, parks, or any place of interest. You take a picture of the QR code, which your phone analyzes with a QR Code reader app. The QR code gives links to web sites on the history of the place, pictures of what the place looked like throughout history, and videos about how/why the place was built.

One more example. This one refers back to one of my older posts on the 2010 Computers in Libraries conference. Heather Harrison and Michael Beccaria gave a presentation about two software packages: DeepZoom and Photosynth. They provided solutions for allowing people to interact with library collections virtually. This is really more virtual reality than augmented reality, but the idea is really cool and ties in well with this discussion of augmented reality. In that blog post, I wrote:

"Library Applications for DeepZoom and Photosynth:
Panoramas – photos you can zoom in on.
Collections/rooms you want to give tours of.
New books – In addition to RSS feeds of what's new in your collection, you could take a picture of the new book shelf and let people actually SEE and browse it virtually!
Stacks – Browse stacks by photo of what’s there. See what’s next to items on the shelf. Special collections could be promoted: ESL, Genealogy, etc.
Art Galleries – Have patrons submit historic photos of the community, or do a virtual art show.
3D Tour – of library, of town, of anywhere!"

Sarah Houghton-Jan's presentation went much deeper than all this - give it a listen! I'm really inspired!

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