Augmented reality (or AR) has been around for a while but the term in our culture is relatively new. Most people still aren’t familiar with what it really means. Take the recent Iron Man movies for example. When he is flying around in his suit there is information about the world around him displayed on the inside of his helmet in front of his face. Those graphics are augmenting reality. Google glass is another form of augmented reality. Even the GPS in your car could be considered augmented reality. Simply it is having technology enhance the world around you in real time. It is a bit different than virtual reality where the world around you is REPLACED by a virtual world. Augmented reality adds to and interacts with the world around you. The best way to understand what augmented reality is, is to experience it yourself and if you have a smart phone you already have everything you need.
Augmented reality with smart phones often relies on the motion sensors, GPS coordinates, and camera in your phone. Sometimes this also requires you to print out a specific marker to put on your desk or floor. If you have an iPad or tablet you can also just have the marker displayed on that instead.
AR can be incredibly useful and interactive. I recently went to an art museum exhibit where they had created an iPad app with information about each painting. With headphones on you could point the iPad at the painting and it would play an audio recording of the sign next to the painting, play music, and give additional insights and information about the artist and the painting. It was incredibly useful and made the experience at the museum much more educational and enjoyable. Here’s a list of some augmented reality apps for the iPhone for you to try out that aren’t quite as useful but give a great proof of concept in what can be done with AR (some you can find for Android as well):
RC vCar by Pop Culture Software $0.99
A super simple idea. You need a somewhat open area to point your camera at and then you just drive a little RC car around. There are upgrades and game modes but just driving around a little virtual RC car is kind of cool in and of itself.
Zombie Escape – GPS Game by Apps4Life $0.99
This game is a bit different than the rest of the AR games and one of the most fun. There is nothing on the screen other than a map and some colored dots. Think of it as a google maps app that gives you the location of every zombie in the world. A blue dot shows where your current location and as time goes by red dots (zombies) start to appear on the map and slowly move towards you. Now you need to run! There is no winning in this game, it’s all about how long you can survive because eventually there will be too many zombies to avoid them all.
Zombies Everywhere! by Useless Creations Pty Ltd $0.99
In this game you get to fight BACK against the zombies and not just try to avoid them. You can play in a completely virtual world OR have it use your camera. If you use the camera it is best to have an open area because you will need to be able to turn around 360 degrees to get all the zombies that sneak up.
AR Invaders by Quill Pen Studio $1.99
Basically the same thing as AR Zombies but this time with spaceships in the air. There is also an option to only play in front of you rather than 360 degrees around you.
Bowmaster AR by iOccam – Requires printed marker FREE
Alternatively you can also just show the marker on your iPad and play the game from your iPhone. When you point your iPhone at the marker a rotating target gallery pops up and then you just put your fingers to the screen and start shooting arrows. Graphically this game is pretty good. There is always a bit of cool factor when you see a building popping out of a flat surface.
Toyota 86 AR by Fuerte International – Requires printed marker FREE
Very similar to RC vCar Toyota 86 AR is a more graphically pleasing AR experience. It does require you to print out a marker to play and on their website they have options to download HUGE markers that basically make it so you are driving around a life size version of the car. They suggest you stand on some high platform to play at that size.
ARDefender by int13 – Requires printed marker $0.99
AR Defender 2 by Bulkypix – Requires printed marker FREE
Print out the marker for these games and start blasting away at the little bad guys attacking your tower. These are fun ones to play at your desk or print the marker out larger and play in the living room to get a bit more exercise. The marker for this one is pretty simple so you can get away with drawing one by hand. Your camera probably won’t track a hand drawn marker as well, but it can still work if you don’t have access to a printer. I much prefer the first AR Defender. The second one added in multiplayer support but ended up making the game much more complicated and focused less on the augmented reality.
AR Basketball by Augmented Pixels Co Ltd – Requires marker FREE
The marker for this one can either be placed flat on a table or vertical on a wall or other surface. Depending on it being vertical or horizontal the hoop will appear differently. This game is pretty simple and to the point with a neat concept of having the AR adjust to how your phone is oriented. I’ve seen other similar basketball games that work using a ticket to an actual basketball game at the tracker. Augmented Pixels Co Ltd makes another similar game called Reality Hoops that doesn’t require any tracker.
Money Games by Zhang Le – Requires dollar bill as marker $1.99
A slight twist on the printed marker augmented reality games. This time all you need is a crisp dollar bill. Back in the day I played paper football at my desk with my friends. They would put their fingers up as the goal posts and then you flick the paper football through the uprights. AR Basketball is essentially the same thing just digital. Put your dollar bill down and a little basketball hoops pops up and you flick the basketball into the hoop. I found that my phone has a hard time tracking the dollar bill as a marker but I generally have a dollar bill in my wallet where I usually don’t carry around the specific printed out markers for all the other games. It’s just kind of cool to think that you can make common items trackable in AR.
While these are just games they prove some powerful concepts with augmented reality. Imagine wanting to know if that new couch will really fit into your living room and being able see how it would look before hand. No problem, there’s an app for that. Lost where you parked your car in a huge parking lot? There’s an app for that too. As the technology advances and we’re able to track more things and be more accurate I see augmented reality becoming a natural extension of our every day lives.