The two types of augmented reality
My favourite example of augmented reality is now a couple of years old:
While it might not be as flash as the xkcd enthusiasts might demand from this emerging technology, it remains practical and – gasp! – useful in the workplace.
And in one way at least, it is similar to this other famous example:
In both cases, artificial imagery is layered over the real world.
In the BMW example, the real world is on the other side of his glasses. In the Layar example, the real world is on the other side of his (or her?) smartphone.
Compare that with the wicked promo GE did for its Smart Grid:
I tried a similar thing at home when my local newspaper promoted Night At The Museum 2. I put the paper up to my webcam, and like magic a dinosaur skeleton came to life, a giant squid flailed its tentacles, and an aeroplane buzzed around my head.
But are these two latter examples really augmented reality?
By projecting both the digital imagery and the real background onto a computer screen, I would argue they are not actually augmenting reality. Instead, they are augmenting a representation of reality.
It’s just like adding cartoons to a movie set like they did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, using CGI like they did in Star Wars, or even scribbling a moustache and devil horns onto someone’s photo.
In all these examples, the background isn’t real. It’s film, or light, or paper. In other words, a copy of reality.
This insight was genius – at least in my own mind – until I realised that a smartphone doesn’t actually show reality on the other side of itself as do goggles or the viewfinder of an old camera. Instead, the device digitises the image and represents it as pixels on the screen, like a modern camera.
With that in mind, the Layar example is closer to the GE example than it is to the BMW example. Damn!
This was bugging me, and after a period of reflection I think I’ve identified why.
To me, the exciting emergent form of augmented reality has the following characteristics…
1. It adopts the user’s personal POV.
When a webcam captures reality and projects it onto a computer screen, it’s not real in the sense that you don’t look at the background in that way (unless you constantly carry a mirror around with you).
A smartphone similarly projects the background onto its screen, but because you are mobile and pointing the device in front of you, it is for all intents and purposes real.
2. It is live.
We don’t live our lives by watching a recording of it. We live it here and now.
Reality is in real-time.
The two types
In light of the above criteria, I recognise two types of augmented reality:
Type I Augmented Reality (AR1), whereby the artificial imagery is layered over the background from the personal POV in real-time;
Type II Augmented Reality (AR2), whereby the artificial imagery is layered over the background from an impersonal POV or not in real-time.
So this is an example of AR2…
…because while the background is certainly real and the POV is personal, it’s not in real-time. It’s a recording.
Compare it to this example of AR1:
I know I’m being really pedantic, but for workplace learning purposes, it helps to be clear on what we’re talking about.
I think Type I Augmented Reality has amazing untapped potential because we see our workplace from our personal POV in real-time.
Type II Augmented Reality certainly has fantastic uses, but Type I is so much more authentic.
I’m sure we’ll see more AR2, and I hope we do.
However, I’m really looking forward to more AR1!