Augmented Reality: A Practical Guide

cover of Augmented Reality book
I’m jealous. The Prags have just published a book I wish I’d thought of first: Augmented Reality: A Practical Guide.

I’ve been talking quite a bit about augmented reality lately, especially when people ask me about what I think might represent a discontinuity significant enough to represent a paradigm shift of the scale of the PC revolution or Web 2.0. Sensors instrumenting the world and driving collective intelligence applications that provide new information layers in our everyday experience is one big element of this next revolution.

The topic also comes up whenever people ask me about Second Life, because I’m much more fascinated by the possibility of SL to create additional information layers on top of this world than I am about the idea of it as a complete alternate reality. I usually point to an SAP project I learned of last year, in which SAP is working with a Swiss property management firm to build instrumented models of their buildings in Second Life. That is, you open a door in the building, a door opens in the SL model. The building catches fire, so does the SL model. And of course, that’s why I was so excited about Google’s acquisition of Sketchup. It seems to me to be a really important long-term play in the mapping space. After all, so much of the built world we interact with isn’t represented at all on the maps we use. An address on the 37th floor of a building looks just the same to our mapping system as one on the first floor. But does it need to be that way? Not in a future where we’ve populated our maps (at first perhaps Google Earth, but eventually web-based maps as well) with additional layers representing the human-built world.

Augmented reality is also coming at us in the news, especially forward looking news outlets (hint: “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.”) Take a look at these recent Slashdot headlines and think about them as all part of an emerging augmented reality trend: Smart ‘Lego’ Set Conjures Up Virtual 3D Twin, Cellphone App Developed that Could Allow For ‘Pocket Supercomputers’, Stanford’s New Website Converts Your Photos to 3D, and The Coming Wave of Gadgets That Listen and Obey. Add in the recent Radar posts The Future of Cell Phone Headsets and More on the Virtual Reality Audio Headset. Season with a dash of Nintendo Wii and innovative cell phone games like Mobzombies (Radar post.)

We’re clearly careening towards a world in which virtual worlds are overlaid on the real world, bits interpenetrated with atoms.

I should be clear that this broad-strokes definition of augmented reality isn’t what’s covered in the Prags’ new book. They are focused on a more traditional definition: “to create the sensation that virtual objects are present in the real world.” They provide some first tools for developers to explore interfaces and techniques for doing so, with an emphasis on overlaying rendered objects onto real time digital video. This is a subset of the big picture I’m drawing in this post, but an important one. And perhaps even more to the point, this book will help to socialize the idea and to get people started building the new skills that will be required as augmented reality interfaces go mainstream.

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