Augmented reality (AR)

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Augmented (virtual) layer placed on top of view of 'ground zero' in New York City
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 17 March 2016

Introduction

See also Data science portal | Digital classroom | Information technology topics | Mashups in medicine | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Social network analysis

"...augmented (or virtual) reality may be loosely defined as “a computer-generated component that is added to the real environment" — Bishop, 2013

Augmented reality refers to real-time augmentation (enhancement) of landscapes by adding digital information (virtual layers) on top of a screen, usually on a mobile device. Some futurists call AR making the implicit explicit or enabling the viewer to see beyond what's in front of them. According to Wikipedia: "...Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality....by contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one. Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV during a match. ..." This enhancement is a combination of real world live views and a computer-generated graphic, video or audio file. Azuma (1997) defines AR as "...augmenting the real world environment with virtual information by improving people’s senses and skills. AR mixes virtual characters with the actual world. He identified three common characteristics of AR scenes: combination of the real and virtual, interactive in real-time, and having the scenes registered in 3D...." The challenge in information organizations is to adopt the right blend of technology at a reasonable cost and ensure that the staff is informed about AR.

AR should not be confused with virtual reality which aims to create a completely separately computer-generated virtual reality. With the ability to combine reality and digital information, AR is being tested for training in medicine, science and librarianship and also in museums. Mobile devices are likely to be allied to portable holographic technologies that will render images as holograms. In recognition of the importance of AR, Google is working on Project Glass which requires the use of a head-mounted display. A heads-up display (HUD) is located in the upper right quadrant of one lens of a pair of spectacles, and users can control what they see. Gesture control (head tilt, wink of an eye) or voice control will be make Google Glass more natural and unobtrusive use possible in the future.

How might AR be used in education? Imagine rotating around the solar system, navigating through datasets in 3D, and interacting with simulated ecosystems on mobile devices. 3D virtual objects can placed over the "real world"; these applications hold potential for librarians and the services they offer from data visualization to a range of information technology topics. Massis provides a good overview of the use of augmented reality in libraries up to 2015.

What is augmented reality (AR)?

AR as educational technology

  • The American military and various private companies are developing AR but as educational tools they are untested. Jonassen (2006) says AR provides a potentially powerful constructivist experience for discovering connected information in the physical world. AR has application in libraries re: information literacy as it aligns with experimentation and exploration (Horizon, 2011).
  • AR has potential in game-based learning as it adds elements of simulation. The 2013 Horizon Report, a research report published by the education think-tank Educause, charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching and creative inquiry and says that AR could play a major role in education in geography, chemistry and history.
  • AR technology builds on the exploratory learning. Its unstructured nature allows for learners to construct knowledge themselves by making connections between information and their own experiences (Kaufmann, 2003). Within social and collaborative frameworks, learners construct knowledge by making connections between information and their own experiences. Augmented reality facilitates this process by offering semi-virtual spaces where there are opportunities to learn and use 2.0 tools to facilitate online learning.
  • As learners using AR devices are free to move about the physical world, novel opportunities exist for them to interact with the physical environment, reading the landscape as they conduct environmental investigations or historical studies (Squire and Klopfer, 2007). This allows them to build connections between their lives and education through addition of new contextual layers (Horizon, 2011).

Education uses

  • MIT's Teacher Education Program has used "Augmented Reality" simulations to engage people in simulation games that combine real world experiences with additional information supplied to them by handheld computers. One of these AR games is Environmental Detectives (ED), an outdoor game in which players using GPS guided handheld computers try to uncover the source of a toxic spill by interviewing virtual characters and conducting large scale simulated environmental measurements and analyzing data. Used at three sites, including MIT, a nearby nature center, and a local high school. Early research has shown that this mode of learning is successful in engaging university and secondary school students in large scale environmental engineering studies, and providing an authentic mode of scientific investigation.
  • The Augmented Reality Lab has been working with AR technologies since 1998. Its current work is focused on handheld AR experiences and games, mobile AR, the interaction between online virtual worlds and AR, tracking and sensing for mobile AR, as well as in the support of business collaboration. Augmented-reality scratch is the first augmented-reality authoring environment designed for children. By adding augmented-reality functionality to the Scratch programming platform, this environment allows pre-teens to create programs that mix real and virtual spaces.
  • AR is being used in medicine as a visualization and training aid especially in surgery. For example, in eye surgery, Mezzana et al (2011)used iPhone-based AR systems in real-time. In addition, it's possible to collect 3D views of patients in real-time using non-invasive sensors such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computed Tomography scans (CT) or ultrasound. Results are rendered and combined with views of real patients. These datasets and their visualization provide physicians with "X-ray vision" to see inside the patient's body. This augmentation is useful for minimally-invasive surgeries which reduce the trauma through small incisions or none at all. The problem with minimally-invasive techniques, however, is that they reduce a surgeon's ability to see inside the patient, making surgery more difficult.

Library projects

  • Librarian-in-black describes her AR experience at San Jose Public Library's historical walking tours project. A Layar-based mobile app allows users to take local history tours with augmented reality capability.
  • New York Public Library's Find the Future is another project that unites game-based learning and augmented reality. The project is a "game designed to empower players to find inspiration for their own extraordinary futures by bringing them face-to-face with the writings and personal objects of people who made an extraordinary difference in the past."
  • Miami University Augmented Research Group (MUARG) developed ShelvAR, an augmented reality application that uses the camera of a mobile device to "read" a bookshelf and flag books that are misshelved.
  • SmartLibrary is an augmented reality app developed and tested at the Oulu University Library for desktop, laptop, PDA and mobiles at the library. It allows users to locate themselves in the library and find what they are looking for by using landmarks. Landmarks guide users to other libraries on the University campus.
  • WolfWalk is an augmented reality app optimized for the use of mobile devices on the North Carolina State University campus. It allows users to explore the history of the university with a location-aware map and photo viewer for browsing historical photographs.
  • Expedition Deventer is a game commissioned by the Public Library Deventer and is a great example of the intersection of game-based learning and augmented reality. Users can learn about the past, present and future of the city of Deventer and the library as the city's information center.

AR apps

  • Layar uses GPS and video camera tools to position users in an information sphere; it feeds them contextual information related to their specific geographical location. This includes information about local environment, navigation of complex transport systems, weather, news and cultural or historical information. You can discover who in your location is using Twitter or other social tool. The opportunities to use such applications in education are obvious, but not everyone has access to the technology. One problem is the inconvenience of having to hold your phone up if you wish to interrogate your environment. A better, more intuitive application of AR is the use of large screens. Better vision and more natural interrogation of one's surroundings can be achieved using this technology; objects are rendered in 3D using simple marker technologies.

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