Mobile Augmented Reality – A Brief Overview

 

The integration of innovative technology in learning has always been a goal of educators. In the past two decades, we’ve seen advances in learning technology that allow learners to connect to powerful learning systems and sources of information that were previously unavailable. However, most recent technologies have forced the learner to learn through computer-generated reality or “virtual reality”. We have been unable to incorporate the physical world around the learner. But recent advancements are truly allowing learners to get the best of both worlds by mixing the physical world with the virtual world. This combination of the real world with the virtual world is known as “Augmented Reality”. 

Wikipedia defines Augmented Reality as:

[Augmented reality (AR) is a field of computer research which deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time. The term is believed to have been coined in 1990 by Thomas Caudell, a employee of Boeing at the time[1].

At present, most AR research is concerned with the use of live video imagery which is digitally processed and “augmented” by the addition of computer-generated graphics. Advanced research includes the use of motion-tracking data, fiducial markers recognition using machine vision, and the construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators.]

The combination of the real physical world and the virtual world offers many possibilities for mobile learning. Students can now use their mobile device as an interface to the virtual world while walking through the real world.  A new “Mobile Augmented Reality Browser” called Layar captures the real world through the mobile device’s video capture capability and provides information about the objects through real-time searches and connections to social networks. For a demo, check out this video. Some of the most interesting examples of augmented reality use a camera mounted on an individual’s computer to capture the individual’s movements in the real world. Movements are then mapped to a simulated environment projected on a computer screen. With the use of the camera, learners can travel through and interact with several different aspects of the virtual environment. For example, a learner could walk through a virtual layout of a new building to acclimate themselves to that environment before the building is even built. A learner could also use hand gestures to move objects in the virtual space.

We may first see widespread use of modern augmented reality technology in the gaming world. Microsoft’s Project Natal for the XBox Platform is attempting to remove the controller from game play by capturing the motion of the person playing the game through an innovative camera setup. The motion capture allows the gamer to interact with the virtual world that exists in the game. Gamers will be able to jump on their living room floor at home and watch their character jump in real time on the screen.

This type of technology is not limited to the world of games however. GE recently launched a website to teach customers about its’ efforts in alternative energy. The experience starts when a user simply prints a PDF with a thick-bordered rectangle in the center of the page. The real power of the augmented reality shows when the user holds the printed paper up to the computer’s camera and the web site launches a 3D animation within the printed rectangle. Looking at the computer screen, it appears as though the user is holding the 3D animation in hand. Users can move the paper back and forth to change the perspective of the 3D objects on the screen. This technology is available to learners now. Developers can start by leveraging the Flash Augmented Reality Toolkit (FlART) toolkit. This technology is really exciting for me, as it’s Flash based and therefore available now. This will eventually make it’s way to the mobile environment, possibly in the next version of mobile Flash (currently called Flash-Lite), which is supposed to mimic the current desktop Flash experience as much as possible.

The prospects for the integration of augmented reality with other e-Learning technologies could bring an entirely new paradigm within the e-Learning community. We could begin to see a flood of new augmented reality based-training environments without the learner ever leaving their place of work. 

Like many technologies, augmented reality can be layered with other technologies like social networks, global positioning systems and search technologies, to provide an extremely rich interactive experience for a learner without that learner ever needing to type on a keyboard or use a mouse. And mobile touch interfaces like those on the iPhone, Palm Pre, Storm, etc. are in some ways ahead of the game, because users are already used to manipulating objects with their hands. Blending this new augmented reality technology into those interfaces should be fairly seamless for learners. And since people do most of their travel through the real world accompanied by their trusty mobile devices, augmented reality is a natural fit for us while we are traversing the real world.

Augmented reality will certainly be making its’ way to your pocket in many forms. The advancements in augmented reality and other technologies hold prospects for a richer and more meaningful training experience in the months and years to come.

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