Augmented Reality: Toys, Education, MIT Fun

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by Jeff Gray, KET

News from the 3D front…

3D televisions (most to be used with glasses, as in film theaters) have arrived. There’s some public interest in them, but holding things up in big way is a 3D -technology war going on among manufacturers. More on that as the situation develops. But first, some news about some other interesting developments…

So I was shuffling through our local Target store with the spouse, collecting bargains on household cleaners and dog bones, and it was time for my disappearing act: “I’ll go check on those light bulbs; see you by the vitamins.”  At one of the electronics end-caps there was a new toy-looking item, “My3D” by Hasbro. Priced at around $35.00, I’d seen it described at home in Target’s Sunday newspaper ad. It offered a “…3D viewer for your iPhone and iPod touch. Download incredible 3D apps for gaming, videos and 360-degree entertainment.” Remember the “ViewMaster” by Fisher-Price? Put a paper circle of small photo-pictures in it, push the lever down, and rotate them around for a 3-D view of people, animals, adventure stories — a magical experience from our youth. The ViewMaster is still available after 65 years. Target didn’t have a demo My3D out to test, so I walked on.

Today, I remembered that there was another product from the newspaper ad that I’d meant to check up on: the new, $250.00 Nintendo 3DS handheld game system, which was said to deliver “…3D without the glasses. Includes depth slider to increase or reduce 3D content, adjustable stylus, six Augmented Reality cards and built-in software.”  It was “Augmented Reality” that piqued my interest, since we’ve been hearing about that descriptor for a new-ish development in technology-education circles for a while. So far, it’s looked interesting but has appeared to be still underdeveloped. I’d seen it presented on a couple of times at education technology conferences, but the presenter had had a lot of trouble getting the pc laptop/document camera/card marker’s 3D visualization system to work properly, and it seemed as though it would be a while before we’d be seeing products we could easily use in the classroom or at home. Since Augmented Reality (or “AR”)  has made it to the game market, and since smartphone and other iDevice AR apps are being developed as well, we might see more soon.

So what is “Augmented Reality” anyway? Basically, it’s just a new name for technology that enhances our physical perception of reality in some way. Often using 3D projections, it can be as simple as that moving yellow 10-yard line that’s superimposed by television broadcast equipment over the picture of football playing fields — it’s enhancing, or augmenting the reality of the field with a useful indication for the viewer of where the moving 10-yard line happens to be at the moment. That’s different from other technologies like Second Life, which substitutes lived reality for a 3D graphical one, immersing the viewer in a new and contrived world as viewed on a pc. Second Life has been used for some interesting education applications, including virtual tours, meetings, and classes.

Joel Buckland has posted a nice collection of Augmented Reality example videos on his website.

Here’s an online slideshow overview of Augmented Reality use in education by Karen Hamilton, of George Brown College, that gives some good examples: Augmented Reality in Education.

Apple and other smart phone manufacturers have been developing, along with educators, AR applications for a while now, and some look promising such as the ones that enhance field trips and tours with more information about places, people, and things visited. Apple iDevices (iPads, iPods, iPhones) and other smart phones with cameras are being used for such projects using AR technology’s “QR” (Quick Response) codes: printed card markers that trigger additional information display about a subject when sensed by devices’ cameras, sometimes in conjunction with GPS place identification. Invented in 1994 by Denso-Wave, a Japanese company, to track auto parts in manufacturing of cars, the QR barcode is a 2-dimensional barcode — but whereas standard barcodes read information only horizontally, QR barcodes also read information vertically, allowing for the storing of hundreds of times more information. Of course, manufacturers of goods for sale have been using them more and more. Here’s an illustrative collection of 30 uses for QR-codes, by Joel Buckland, and here’s his page describing QR-codes.

Educational walking tours have been enhanced this way, for example. As one walks around a site and encounters QR code displays (usually printed cards), one aims a camera-phone, iDevice, or computer with a camera and QR reading software at the QR code. The code’s information is then interpreted by the QR-reading software, which brings up corresponding web pages, documents, videos, or other media associated with the codes’s embedded content. It’s pretty slick. Here’s an example QR-code walking tour of Grand Rapids, MI. Here’s a photo of a QR-code on a sign for a Long Beach, WA, QR-code walking tour, and a collection of  QR-example photos at Flikr. They get pretty creative (reader caution: I didn’t screen them all for content, viewer beware).

QR-codes are also being incorporated into art.  Here’s a Scott Blake print of Amy Goodman, the Democracy Now media host, comprised of 2,304 QR Codes that link to 9 years of Democracy Now videos. See more at the artist’s website, barcodeart.com.

One can also send SMS (“short message service” text) messages with QR-codes. You’ll also start to notice the markers — odd-looking 2D barcodes  — on or around items for sale and as an entertainment and marketing tool, as in this Esquire magazine example from 2009. Here are some video examples of QR codes used in various ways, from QRME. Here, from QR Stuff, are other examples of QR-codes being used.

Here’s a QR-code I generated from Delivr.com’s free online QR-generator that includes a URL to the KET web site’s home page. If you have an iDevice, smart-phone, or computer with a camera and QR-scanning software, just enable the software and point it at the code. Once read, the software should automatically open up a web browser and display the KET home page:

Here’s more information:

I hadn’t been too impressed with Augmented Reality stuff, but I had fun today when I tried GE’s online “Smart Grid Augmented Reality” activity. I’d seen the impressive GE site during an Adobe Flash class a couple of years ago, but had missed the page on the AR activity. Go there, print the AR marker out, and try it yourself with your pc and webcam (live Internet connection required). It’s a lot of fun and is very well-made. There are two 3D-AR tableaux to try. Here’s what one of them looked like for me, below.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

For those interested in Augmented Reality for education, here are some links to more information and projects:

Lastly, an interesting Augmented Reality application recently in the news was a large AR marker card that had been hung anonymously in an MIT building.  A student, Michael Snively, came into the building and immediately recognized the hanging card as an AR marker. He whipped-out his AR marker-reading Nintendo 3DS, pointed it at the hanging card, and viewed some impressive images.




It should be amusing to see how AR technology develops. Maybe it will speed-up as more computing devices with cameras and software applications become available and used. Educators seem to be interested in AR-enhanced field trips. Imagine the MIT hanging AR card example with educational content, say in a museum.

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