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FEATURE ARTICLE: Augmented Reality...a Reality?

By , on December 16, 2009

What if you were to stand in mid-town Manhattan, hold up your iPhone and walk through a reconstruction of the original Penn Station, as it was in the year 1910, or walk through the streets of London, admiring the pre-blitz buildings. Or how about playing the role of Pac Man as you are chased by Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde through the labyrinth of back alleyways in Central Melbourne. Hungry? With every restaurant you turn to, you see an impressive listing of menus, opening hours and seating availability appear before your eyes. This is not too far off, in fact, it's practically here, and on the iPhone. Dutch Developer 'Layar' has introduced one of the first (of which will indeed be many) Apps which uses this technology. It's called Augmented Reality, and it's as incredible as it is creepy.

Augmented Reality takes advantage of the iPhone 3G's compass, GPS and video camera to construct a virtual 'layer' around you, using your iPhone as the viewfinder into a new realm of information. The basic technology has been around for many years and is being developed across the range of smart phones and portable gaming devices. The iPhone takes this technology into a new remarkable light, being able to integrate the iPhone's already extensive interactive and 3D ability.

XMG studios have developed 'Pandemica' a "fast-paced, arcade-style shooter for the iPhone". Claimed to be the world's first multiplayer augmented reality game. The YouTube preview sums it up, but after playing this game myself, I can clearly see where the technology is heading. The idea of using physical environments within a virtual world will surely lead to some comical scenes, as people run through city streets with their iPhones outstretched, picking up diamonds while avoiding the four ghosts.

The technology is still to reach it's full potential, development is underway for map recognition, and for custom Apps to be created featuring localized floor plans and layouts. At this point in time, the technology is unable to detect physical items such as walls and objects, but seeing as tho depth perception has been explored with Apps such as Piero Massiminos' 'Depth 1.0', not to mention Apples development into object recognition, it is not to far away from being adapted to augmented reality. It is quite possible that games such as shooters can be developed so enemies can be placed on surrounding building, and interact with the surrounding 'planes' with great accuracy.

Augmented reality certainly is am impressive development, but whether or not it will amount to changing the way we interact with the world around us is yet to be seen. We'll just have to wait and see what developers make of it, but for now, I'm entertained just wandering around my apartment blasting oncoming enemies.

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