Augmented reality on your mobile: the next big thing?

It’s been a while in the making, but augmented reality on your mobile is just about here. And by that, I mean that these applications are available for your mobile phone, and it will only be a matter of time before they gain critical mass. So what am I talking about?

In the research space, among others I can refer you to iCam (2006) and MARA (2006) from researchers at Georgia Tech and Nokia respectively. iCam allows the placement of virtual sticky notes on objects in the physical world, through a mobile device. This is neat, since the sticky notes only appear to those whom you want to see them. A limitation of iCam is that, while placement of these sticky notes is very accurate, it only works indoors. MARA overlays information about the real world (and even the people in it if information about objects is being streamed from a central server) in real time.

The there’s this concept device from petitinvention, which takes the idea a few steps further. The user can see information about buildings and locations overlaid on the video stream from the mobile device’s camera. But the same tool can be used to select text from a piece of paper (like a newspaper). Essentially, it’s an augmented reality search tool.

In the commercial/start up realm, a couple of companies have been creating a bit of buzz. First there’s Enkin. Enkin has been developed for the Google Android mobile phone platform. It enables users to tag places and objects on Google Maps, and then to see these tags overlaid on the real world as you walk around with the phone. My favourite is Sekai Camera from Tonchidot. I’m not going to explain it. Just watch the video below. But note that even products on the shelves in shops are tagged in the virtual world and overlaid on the real world. And it’s a very social application.

There’s probably still all sorts of hurdles to overcome, but what a great presentation.