Staking virtual space in augmented reality for fun and profit

Everybody’s got an app for this and an app for that, but the smartphone future opens up another interesting avenue of opportunity for education, tourist attractions, places of interest, shops and more: an augmented reality.

The concept of augmented reality (AR) isn’t new, of course. Described in broad strokes, it’s a notion in which you or your device will be exposed to information about the places you visit only when you reach those places.  Strategy Analytics anticipates location-based search revenue will reach $6 billion by 2017.

How can this be useful? Three examples:

Local History projects

Every place has its own story. Some buildings date back hundreds of years, others have been the scene of an historic event, others may contain world class examples of an architectural style. In most cases local historians struggle for years to gather this data and may eventually decide they want to make the information more widely available, which they can achieve using Augmented Reality.

Education and cultural projects

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you how bored they became repeating everything they learned at college, but that regurgitation is an essential step toward learning. The best way to make such repetition bearable is to make it fun, and that’s what you can achieve with AR, making additional information, quizzes and other assets available to people at the time they will be most interested in what’s on offer — when they are in location looking at an object.


Those worthy uses are valuable, of course, but marketers at any level can benefit from use of AR and existing access technologies. These benefits can include simply putting your business on the map, but shrewd campaigners might also use AR tech as a way to pipe special offers and other inducements to people at the best possible time — when they are there.

There’s multiple examples of apps that attempt to deliver something like this (such as Layar); meanwhile the development of Google Glass and the purported Apple iWatch suggest future ways in which such augmented reality might become more pervasive.

The limitation of apps is that they are platform-specific, meaning you need to make versions for different operating systems and then must also maintain these versions to maintain parity with those platforms. That’s fine for “app-only” projects, but it may sometimes make sense to deliver augmented location-based information in a non-platform-specific way.

App alternatives might include Near Field Communications (NFC)-based systems, QR Codes and platform-agnostic services such as Google Maps, or existing AR services, such as Layar (above).

NFC-based systems

Museum and art galleries across the planet have begun using NFC contactless technology to supplement their on-site exhibits. A visitor who becomes interested in an exhibit need only wave their device over an NFC terminal situated near what’s on show in order to gain access to a host of supporting materials, such as historical information, pictures of related relics, video, expert commentary or more. You’ll gain a sense of what this can do through the above video, which explores usage of these technologies at the UK’s Museum Of London.

QR Codes

Quick Response (QR) Codes may not be the most rock ‘n’ roll technology with the biggest number of fans among technologists, but they’re cross-platform, cheap and easy to deploy.

Originally designed for quick and easy vehicle tracking withn Japan’s auto industry these things are becoming pervasive across marketing and advertising. Users simply scan the codes with a QR reader to be directed to a section of a company’s website. This enables the firm to track engagement levels during campaigns, and enables users to find relevant supporting materials quickly and easy on the brand’s website.

It’s easy to imagine use of these codes in similar fashion to the way museums and other institutions are beginning to use NFC, with the added advantage that these systems are cross-platform, using a supported QR Code reader.

Google Maps

Take a look at Google Maps and you’ll find there’s actually a huge host of contextual, location-based information buried in there. While it depends on how you intend to make such information available the service remains a viable choice for anyone intending putting local history quite literally on the Map. Google Earth also offers a similar feature — there’s an interesting tutorial guiding you through the process of creating a narrated tour using the service here.

Using what’s there

Another way to bring location-based data to a wider audience (you could use this for local history projects, city excursions, anything) is to simply assemble the data you want to make available in order to place it through existing AR services, such as Layar. While this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds engaging the staff you need to proceed with a project like this makes a degree of sense because the results are cross platform. The challenge lies in prioritising which AR apps to prioritise for the purpose: Google Goggles, Acrossair, TagWhat, Yelp (which feeds into Apple’s Maps service) and other services may also be appropriate to your project.

It seems inevitable that many of these services will merge together or be taken over by Internet giants such as Apple, Google and Yahoo. This sector hasn’t yet taken off to the extent futurologists anticipate it will. However, as smartphones and iPads proliferate worldwide, there’s plenty of scope for experimentation in the use of augmented reality solutions across business, cultural and educational projects.

We’re rather interested in learning more about any innovative uses of these technologies our readers may have come across of be working on, so please feel free to share information about those AR projects that excite you.


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