Friday, April 30, 2004

More on augmented reality

On April 2nd I wrote about an augmented reality game at Boston's Museum of Science that engaged children to use technology and be out in the world, not tied to a desk. (Scroll down the April blog entries for the piece.)

This blog entry talks about another such game being developed, called NetAttack. Players can be indoors or outdoors. The outdoor players use global positioning systems (GPS), inertial trackers, and video cameras to plot their positions. They communicate with indoor players using headsets. Through their 3D video display, they see computer images projected onto the real world view.

The pictures show that this technology is still pretty primitive. But what potential this blending of inside and outside has for making simulations that are more realistic than indoor, computer-based ones.

Imagine a simulation for police officers that can make criminals jump out of corners in any type of building--it wouldn't have to be fitted with physical pop-up representations so the police department wouldn't have to own the building, just borrow it for a couple of hours. The officers could go through the building just as they would in real life, but would shoot with specially fitted electronic guns--kind of like laser tag.

Or think about being able to simulate all types of situations for firefighters or rescue workers. I know an actor who is often hired to role-play criminals or sick patients for police officer or rescue worker training. Augmented reality would make this unnecessary. Training that required other people to be caught, rescued, etc. would no longer require real people (saving on expenses) or would improve by becoming more realistic than cardboard mock-ups. The training wouldn't put anyone in danger or even make them uncomfortable (this actor said the police officers were pretty rough with him). And the types of situations you could simulate would be almost infinite.

Augmented reality also has great potential just for information flow. In my Intelligence column in May 2003, I wrote about how wearable computing will annotate the physical space around us, so that as we look at buildings we can get information about them, or get the bus schedule on our eyepiece by looking at the bus sign, or see arrows down the streets we need to walk to get to our destination.

This type of integration of the electronic and real would be a great new electronic performance support system (EPSS). With their augmented reality eyepieces, factory workers putting engines together could view diagrams of what the finished piece should look like, without having to look away from their work and slow the assembly line down. Doctors could review medical textbooks while in surgery. This article discusses such uses and others.

There's lots of potential, I think. What other uses do you see? Click the comment link and let me and your fellow readers know.

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