Here at the Geodan research department there is much excitement about our upcoming acquisition of video glasses that can be used for location aware Augmented Reality (AR) applications. Using location aware AR applications on mobile devices – as provided companies like Layar, Wikitude or Junaio – can be considered common practice nowadays. But because the viewing window is limited to the screen of the mobile device, it is only a small part of reality that is being augmented. On the other hand, a person wearing AR-capable video glasses would be able to have augmented reality on her/his entire field of vision. And that is not all, she/he would still have her/his hands free and be able to still see the world in 3D!
Augmented Reality by itself is an impressive new technology, but we feel that its integration with the field of geospatial information will prove to be exceptionally powerful. We hope we are able to report and show some interesting products of our research in the field of AR here on this site soon.
A focal point
We think that location aware, mobile, hands free, full vision AR can be considered a focal point of many technological developments, some of which are:
Open data: Without it being visible, the cloud of geographical data around us is thickening each day. More and more georeferenced data are becoming available, whether crowd sourced or provided by companies or governments. AR can be a very natural way of making these data visible in our immediate surroundings.
Accurate positioning: With any location aware application, it is important to be able to measure position as accurate as possible. A location aware AR application has a high need for this. Real world objects are enhanced or even replaced by computer generated images. To be able to do this, the computer must know the exact position of the real world objects. These positions can be derived from the position of the user. So the better the location of the user is known, the better the computer generated images can be overlaid on the real world. Luckily, we are seeing much improvement in the accuracy of outdoor positioning, and hopeful developments in indoor positioning.
Speech recognition and gesture recognition: With AR applications being available everywhere and our entire field of vision being capable of being enhanced by AR we need some way of controlling what we see. Without a keyboard of a touch screen, other methods of control will have to be used. One possibility is voice control; we can give commands that can turn AR objects on or off, or alter the way they are rendered. Alternatively, or additionally, we could have devices record and interpret our gestures and translate them to commands.
Pattern recognition: A traditional and popular technology used in AR is recognizing patterns and using them as triggers for augmenting vision. In most cases, these are small, high contrast patterns that have to be applied to a surface. Using these kinds of patterns needs a certain level of preparation. If we imagine a mobile, location based AR system we can not rely on the visible environment being prepared. Instead, the AR system will have to be able to recognize objects anywhere in our environment. More and more 3D models of buildings and land marks are becoming available. These could play a role in triggering AR events and in enhancing the accuracy of positioning.
Amidst the potential awesomeness of having full vision 3D augmented reality for the masses, it is good to think of applications that are of real value to society. With Geodan being very active in the area of incident management, we do not have to stretch our minds to think of the possibilities of having emergency workers use AR applications. Be it a fire fighter, a police officer or a medical worker, a person active in dealing with an emergency has both a high need for up-to-date spatial information and a need to keep his/her hands free. One of the things we that will try is to create a AR extension on the Eagle crisis management system.
Like any upcoming technology, Augmented Reality is in need of standardization. Good standards make the life of application developers so much easier…
It is interesting to see a new Standards Working Group (SWG) being formed in the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), the main standards organization in the domain of geographical information. The goal of the SWG is to come up with an improved version of the Augmented Reality Markup Language: ARML 2.0. The current version, ARML 1.0, is a XML and KML based format for describing AR data that is primarily used by the Wikitude AR browser. Among the goals for version 2 are support of the standard by all AR browsers, improved support for complex spatial objects, and allowing programmatic interaction with the data descriptions.
It will probably be some time before the standard is finished. Only then can we see if the standard is useful and if it will be widely adopted. What this development does prove is that Augmented Reality can be considered a full and mature member of the GIS world.