Augmented Reality is Here

Sekai Camera Evolution

If you like cool technology that looks like it could have come from the future then this is for you. Augmented Reality (AR) uses the combination of real-world and computer-generated data to blend computer graphic objects into real-time footage. The best way to understand this is to take a look at a few examples:

New York Nearest Subway

The acrossair iPhone app overlays directions to the nearest subway station on live video using GPS and compass data to guide you. Forget boring 2D tube maps but just be careful you don’t trip down the escalator while using this! There’s also a version available for the London Underground.

AR Business Card

This ingenious concept shows how a business card has been designed with a symbol printed on one side which can be tracked by a camera to spatially overlay a video message (or just about anything else). Make magazine has an article which shows how you can do something like this yourself. If it was combined with QR codes (visual hyperlinks) the applications could be even more interesting (update: looks like someone has already done it).

Sekai Camera

Sekai Camera

The Sekai Camera iPhone app from Tonchidot in Japan, which first wowed the audience at the TechCrunch50 conference, takes AR to a new level with functionality that allows you to tag and view contextual information about anything in the world through the live camera window. In essence, it combines virtual worlds with the real world using the iPhone as a viewer. Its usage is almost endless and ranges from being able to see product information to restaurant reviews, directions and notes from your friends but basically anything you can think of.

The video above is worth watching alone for the hilarious presenter answering questions at the end. “Remember look up! Not look down. Please don’t forget imagination!“. I can’t wait to play with this once it’s available.

Much of the innovation we’re seeing can be attributed to the combination of a number of key technologies packaged in today’s smartphones: video cameras, GPS, digital compass, accelerometers, touchscreens, and 3G/wifi/bluetooth. One thing which will have to improve is battery life if this becomes popular as currently, you’d be out of juice in a couple of hours or less.

AR Translation (idea)

I’d love to see an application where you could point your camera at some text in a foreign language and it would do OCR and then auto-translate it into your language. I’ve created a basic mock-up above. There would probably be quite a bit of heavy lifting involved in getting the character recognition working but could be extremely useful. Anyone interested in a collaboration to make this a reality?

Augmented Reality is opening an exciting new world of possibilities which people are only just beginning to realise and explore. The list of current and future applications on Wikipedia is enough to inspire anyone and once the viewing tech is built into your specs we’re only one step away from having a working holodeck (see concept video below)!

This is going to be big (if we don’t all die from information overload first).

David avatar

9 responses

  1. TomF avatar

    This could make hallucinagenic drugs a thing of the past

  2. Right now Apple is the biggest hold-up on bringing these mobile AR applications to your iPhone. A few of them will run on a “Jail Broken” iPhone, but Apple will not currently sell them in the app store. This is because Apple has not made the live-video feed API public yet. The video-feed API is known to programmers, but only as a blacklisted API. Until Apple makes the API public, these apps remain proof-of-concept. It is my understanding that Apple is very interested in seeing these apps come to their platform but for whatever internal reason (I’m assuming something like fully assessing all possible security vulnerabilities… giving the benefit of the doubt). Whatever the case, they’ve been dragging their heels on making the API public.

    In the meantime development on the more open Android platform moves forward but for only a fraction of the user-base of the iPhone market.

    A month ago, June 23rd, and again prior, on May 19th I did two pieces on my blog on Augmented Reality. They may interest you and/or your readers.

    GigantiCo – Augmented Reality Overview – June 23, 2009

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for your insight & the link.

      I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Apple give the green light for those private API’s to be made public but must be very frustrating for developers like you say.

      I think the examples in your article are very interesting but I’d be depressed if this just becomes an advertising tool. Things like Layar and the Seikai Camera are far more interesting to me.

      Once real and digital worlds begin to merge things are going to become very interesting. Traditional boundaries of both will be broken and the way we interact online will significantly change. Exciting times 🙂

  3. TomF avatar

    Out of interest, how long do you think it will be, if not already here, that a human can just live in the digital world, experiencing everything through screens, or maybe screen-glasses whilst only needing to draw sustenance from the real world.
    For instance role playing, working, visiting different sites of the world, meeting people, forming intimate relationships, whilst getting air and food / drink through a pipe, and be stimulated enough not to want to leave this world?

    1. In Japan they have a condition called Hikikomori where young people refuse to leave their parents’ house, and isolate themselves from society for long periods so I’d say it already exists somewhat but perhaps not to the degree you describe. I suppose the next logical abstraction would be the Matrix but that’s going a bit far.

  4. TomF avatar

    My comment also beggars the question – if you could live in a virtual world, in which you could be a Silvio Berlusconi, why bother with the real world?

  5. Hi David, I like your idea of AR Translation! We are starting a project with exact this idea and are strongly interested in a collaboration. We realized a demonstrator yet.

    1. Hi Lutzi – thanks for your comment – drop me an email to david {at} and we could discuss further.

  6. Lily avatar

    Hi David – I am looking for a vendor to produce AR namecard for the firm. Can you recommend me if there are any in HK / China? Please drop me a email of possible – thanks



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