Augmented Reality: The Hype and the Hope

When we were at GDC in March we heard one particular phrase over and over: Augmented Reality.

In its simplest form AR is the melding of location sensitive hardware plus software that can overlay graphics or information on a view through a camera. In its Buck Rogers future it's the kind of supa swank heads-up display enjoyed by Masterchief, Ghost Recon units and every T-800. And without question AR is a very, very cool concept. It's the kind of thing we've seen in sci-fi movies for a generation with basically no path forward until very recently.

But for all the talk, AR applications remain woefully short of the promise.

By and large commercial AR applications are limited to a plain ol' video game that uses the camera feed as its background. It's 100% gimmick and the 'augmented' part is totally disconnected from the 'reality' part. If you go up market a few hundred thousand dollars and are willing to tolerate a pretty controlled environment then some folks are doing some really interesting stuff. A quick YouTube search for augmented reality will bring up several very neat concepts...but...if AR was only barely demonstrated at an expo like GDC it's safe to say that the technology is not yet mainstream.

That said, I walked away from GDC thinking that I wanted Soma Games to start working with AR in earnest. The zinger came when Nicole Scott from Netbook News told me about an upcoming DS game called Ghostwire. It's not that Ghostwire is especially ground breaking technologically (though they are doing some very neat things with this tiny little device) - what gave me the eureka fit was to see a truly innovative use of the main AR characteristics.

It convinced me that the near future of AR really isn't in the perfecting of the technology - it's in the creative use of a very limited technology, making that fun or useful anyway. With iPhones, Androids and Netbooks all sporting location services and cameras we're very excited to develop our first AR app this Spring and hope to pioneer some new ideas in this ultra-nerd-space called Augmented Reality.

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