Augmented Reality (AR) Week 2011!

Well, it isn’t really Augmented Reality Week, but it should be.  Starting this Tuesday, the second annual Augmented Reality Event (ARE 2011) will kick off in Santa Clara, CA.  I wish I was able to attend, but alas, I am not.  However, I am going to dedicate my posts this week to the topic of augmented reality and how we might be using this technology in libraries very soon.

Augmented reality has been on my mind because my library is adding the Nintendo 3DS to our collection (I guess this is our way of celebrating AR Week), and it is an amazing device.  I had heard a lot of buzz about this device and its new augmented reality video games, but I didn’t think it would be as cool as it is.  Video gaming is just getting better and better.  First the Nintendo Wii introduced motion control gaming, then Microsoft kicked it up a notch with the Kinect, and now we have 3D and augmented reality gaming with the Nintendo 3DS. Check out the video below to give you an idea of what the experience is like (is a dragon really coming out of that table!?), even though the video really doesn’t do the experience justice:

I think we can agree that augmented reality is pretty cool.  But perhaps you are wondering, “How exactly does this technology apply to libraries?” And maybe you still aren’t very clear on what augmented reality truly means.  Let’s take a look at the basics of augmented reality (which is known as AR for short).

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Let’s say you are a vegetarian on vacation in Costa Rica.  Looking over the menu that is completely in Spanish, you realize that you really should have been paying more attention in high school Spanish class!  But then you remember you have the Word Lens app on your iPhone.  You point your iPhone camera on the menu and within seconds, you can see the menu in English.  Now you won’t have to rely on your limited Spanish food vocabulary and just settle for french fries after all!  This, my friends, is augmented reality.

I think the clearest definition of AR I have found was provided by Meredith Farkas.  On her American Libraries Technology In Practice blog , she defines AR as “superimposing content (data, 3D images, photographs, etc.) over what you’re looking at. Unlike virtual reality, which displays a virtual environment, you see the real world with augmented reality—but with computer-generated content layered on top.” Augmented reality has been around for a long time (for example, that yellow line on the TV screen that marks how far down the field an American football team needs to go to get a first down has been around since 1998), but now the conditions are perfect for the technology to take off in a big way.  Why? Because of my favorite device, the smartphone of course!

As explained in this Technology Review article , today’s smartphones have powerful CPUs, graphics processing units, advanced phone cameras, amazing screen resolutions, and the necessary components (accelerometers, gyroscopes, and compasses) for detecting their locations and orientations.  In addition, wireless data networks are becoming faster and available across the country.  All of this makes AR apps like Word Lens, Google Googles, Layer, and  junaio possible today.  With the amazing smartphone, by the end of the year over half of all cell phone owners in this country will have the tool they need to enhance their lives through augmented reality right in their pocket.

According to the May/June 2010 issue of Technology Review, Word Lens on an iPhone 4 can redraw Spanish to English (or English to Spanish) up to 10 times per second!

How can we use augmented realities in libraries? Will patrons be able to use an AR app on their smartphones to find the gardening section in the library, or even to get recommendations for new books they might enjoy reading? On Thursday, we’ll take a look on how libraries might be utilizing augmented reality in the near future and a few of the challenges that have to be addressed before AR can go from cutting edge to commonplace.

Photo credit: Robin M. Ashford

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