Augmented Reality is Here

The classic picture of augmented reality is having a large helmet on your head, wearing funny glasses, and carrying around massive laptop computers and batteries in a backpack.  Your view of the real world is continually overlayed with rich and complex digital information.

But I’ve started to see augmented reality appear in other ways. The first is Livescribe – a digitized pen (well, really a pen-with camera writing on digitised paper).  It’s quite amazing to see that your hand-written scratchings can be uploaded and then searched electronically on your computer. But even more powerful is that the pen can also record audio, and automatically index those audio segments by the scratchings on the paper.  So it’s great for meetings – you can take notes just like normal, but if you forget what a particular point meant, you can instantly replay the audio from the same time when you jotted it down.

Note: I think users will have to be very cautious about the management of audio recorded during meetings, under the constraints provided by the NSW Surveillance Devices Act 2007, and similar legistlation elsewhere.

So Livescribe is a kind of augmented reality – here you can think of “reality” as being the written notes on your paper, and/or the sounds made that got recorded.  The “augmentation” for written notes is the audio stream, and vice-versa.  The written notes are also augmented with a search capability when they’re uploaded to your computer.

The second piece of augmented reality technology is a little more “traditional”, but even in its prototype form it’s been cut back to be lightweight and inexpensive.  It’s work out of the MIT media lab, built from a mobile phone, portable projector, and webcam – all commercially-available “off the shelf” components.  See this TED talk for a glimpse.

A quote from William Gibson seems appropriate in this context:

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.