Location-Based Augmented Reality Networks
One of the core concepts of Augmented Reality is about giving users the opportunity to have contextual digital information displayed over the real world – where information relating to physical elements can be positioned with it in physical space. This idea of intrinsically tying together physical and virtual space is a very exciting and interesting area of development taking place in the AR industry. With headsets such as Microsoft’s Hololens and Daqri’s Smart Helmet providing the ability to digitally scan and recognise the physical space around the user, we’re taking the first steps towards a complete fusion of the real-world with a digital layer of information and extended interaction.
Adding a Digital Layer to the World
In Keiichi Matsuda’s short art-house film “Hyper-Reality” (https://vimeo.com/166807261) we see a glimpse of this potential taken to the extremes. The provocative video depicts a future where physical and digital realities have been merged to an extent that most would see as an overly colourful and saturated dystopian future where advertising is so prominent it obscures much of the physical reality. Although this piece is being critical of potential over-use of Augmented Reality, actual developments will likely be far more moderate. Looking beyond this it actually brings to the foreground some very likely eventualities in the development of AR systems – in particular the use of a location-based network of Augmented Reality to provide ubiquitous content throughout the world.
Location-based Augmented Reality systems are not a new idea, the use of GPS data as a means to position digital content in the real world has been around for some time – enabling users to create and show architectural visualisations in their real world setting, or highlighting points of interest in the surrounding area based on data from services like google maps. Undoubtedly the most famous example is the mobile game ‘Pokémon Go’, which gives over 75 million worldwide players the ability to find geo-located digital content in the form of Pokémon to catch. Like most of Augmented Reality development use of this technique is still in its infancy, however we can already see how powerful the current use-cases are. As such this area will continue to be a big component of many Augmented reality applications in future, and arguably one of the most important.
We can take Location-based systems further in a few key ways. By integrating on a deeper level with other methods of tracking and positioning AR content like Hololens’ Spatial Mapping system, as well as previously established techniques such as image-based tracking, SLAM, and Smart Beacons, we can begin to create a more robust system for AR content placement in all scenarios. Taking this one step further and networking this data across a multitude of users would create an extremely powerful setup for truly connecting all physical space with a digital layer – we call this layer the Information Space.
An Overview of Information Spaces
Information Spaces would be Augmented Reality’s equivalent to websites on the internet – Distinct physical spaces mapped out digitally, providing users the ability to create and position customised, persistent digital content and functionality. These Spaces would be tied to real locations and shared between users across a digital network, giving access to whichever Information Space is associated with the user’s physical location in the real world. Similar to how websites separate information across multiple pages, Spaces would be separated further by contextual borders such as rooms, floors, or distinct areas. Every workplace, shop, home, communal spaces and institution could make use of such Information Spaces in their own unique way.
Take an example of a house – The Information Space associated with the building, and potentially the immediately surrounding land, would belong to the homeowner. This digital space would act as an extension to their existing physical space, to do with as they please. The overarching space of the house would be broken down into its component areas – the rooms. Each room can have its own individual elements, and simply by entering the corresponding space the user would be able to access new areas of digital functionality they have pre-defined for the space. A kitchen could contain apps to help with cooking, potentially recognising what’s in the fridge and suggesting recipes, while the living room could be devoted to entertainment with a digital widescreen TV. The owner could share this space with trusted users, or allow certain limited functions to guests.
Similarly a user could enter a cinema and their Augmented Reality interface switches to the cinema’s local content, showing special offers at the snack bar, up to date screening information, or reviews and viewing suggestions based on your personal preference. Ticket purchase could also be made available through an AR menu, removing the queue bottleneck, with cinema employees able to digitally check ticket information without the need of a printed copy. As you enter the screening area, the subspace registers as a reduced functionality zone, preventing video recording functionality and disabling the use of other systems which may negatively impact other customers.
These users are of course not confined to just one area, they can exit these space and move freely into other entirely unique spaces. Their contextual digital overlay should reflect these changes of environment as they enter new Information Spaces connected through the network. As they walk down the street, through a park, into a shop or school – each of these places will have their own Information Space directly tied to their physical location, each containing its own relevant functionality personalised to the user, enriching their experiences.
Core Aspects of Information Spaces
Ownership and Extents
First and foremost in how Information Spaces work will be the question of ownership, and in turn accountability. Every space would be accountable to an individual or a set number of users, but the extents of these spaces must also be defined. Questions of where ownership of spaces extends can get murky with the distinction of personal property, public places, commercial areas and restricted spaces. These boundaries will need to be clearly defined, as well as regulated for the types of content available within them, but once settled will form the core of how the network of Information Spaces is structured and maintained.
The owner of a Space will have control over what content and capabilities are provided within the extents, but they should also be able to set different levels of functionality for different users. As an example a shop may have a set of features, services and content to improve their customer experience, but in conjunction have a second level of functionality reserved for employees to increase productivity and efficiency. They may even split this further into a system which recognises returning customers and offers special rewards, or tailors the available actions for employees by providing specialised features for distinct roles. This element of control will extend into what permissions the owners of a space give to other users to alter their space.
This covers two primary areas; How content in Information Spaces can be catered to individual user-preferences, and how the user can bring their own set of functionality into any Information Space. In regards to the first aspect, these sort of systems are already in use by many companies, such as Amazon and Google who gather information on what users are looking for and process it through AI systems to give recommendations to the user based on their previous actions. This idea can easily be extended into the Augmented Reality Content users experience, with shops showing special offers of likely interest to the user, or catering choices based on constant user information such as cloths size, or what items are running low in their fridge. With personalised content such as this businesses can provide a better individual experience to each of its customers, rather than attempting to create a general one-size-fits-all experience.
The second aspect of personalised content is the ability for users to bring their own functionality into the system. While Information Spaces is a concept reaching outside the context of apps, there will still be an app ecosystem of some description existing in tandem. Apps will still allow users to extend what functionality is available to them and fill any perceived gaps in their own AR experiences, but in such as way as to not override or conflict with the existing features and intentional limitations of a space.
The Road to Ubiquitous Augmented Reality
Like any new technology there are a multitude of problems that require solutions and questions which need answered before it can reach its full potential. These range from the obvious – how to actually create and implement such a system – to the more subtle but just as critical; moral and legal considerations.
Looking briefly at the potential legal issues, Augmented Reality is like a digital wild west: laws, rules and regulations have a tendency to not keep pace with technological advancement, and often intervene only once certain actions are called into question. It is unclear what sorts of actions may fit into this category, especially for those who are unaware of the potential uses of the technology, but these issues impact on the decisions to be made by businesses and developers.
One of the likely the first steps in getting closer to a system such as we’ve discussed will be increasing the accuracy of location-based systems by combining multiple techniques into a more generalised positioning solution. GPS alone would not suffice for outdoor scenarios, it is currently too inaccurate for precise placement of content (AR ideally needs sub-millimeter accuracy, but GPS accuracy is not yet past the sub-meter range) but used in conjunction with some form of indoor positioning system and more general procedures with no locational preferences the accuracy would dramatically improve.
We are just at the beginning of the path to ubiquitous AR content, the momentum is gradually building as the technology proves its worth and incremental improvements are made. There is still much work to do but the benefits of successfully achieving this goal would be massive and far-reaching for every aspect of society.
Augnite are at the forefront of making Augmented Reality a reality. If you are an executive looking to explore what Augmented Reality can do for your business then contact Augnite to start the conversation.