2009 Augmented Reality Holiday Gift Guide

by Paul D'Alessandro on November 27, 2009

christmasgift4A primary theme of this blog is place-space convergence.  Nowhere today is there a more explicit manifestation of the confluence of our digital world with our physical world than in the area of Augmented Reality (AR).

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality.  While mobile devices like the most recent iteration of the iPhone or those associated  Android platform are finally putting AR experiences within our grasp, this is still admittedly an area in its very earliest stages of maturation.  Regardless, there are some very real, eye-opening and fun products out there that if you are a real place-space convergence junkie they should be on your Holiday Wish List.

Under the Tree

41l7DbJWQAL._SL500_AA280_Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium is a gift I received under the tree a couple of years back.  Just point it at a planetary body and you get the whole story on the location and discovery of that object.  While kids love the educational experience, it can even be helpful to experienced astronomers in discovery mode if you tell it what star or planet for which you are looking and it gives you directions until you are pointed right at it.  Even though it has been out there for a few years now, Celestron continues to release new SD cards with more data that provide you even more new and interesting information.  Take it on a campout or even in the backyard.

21vX7bSy7HL._SL500_AA280_Myvu Crystal Head Mounted Display (HMD) Until your local ophthalmologist starts offering retinal implants, other than pulling your mobile phone out of your pocket, HMDs are your best option for a rich visual interface on-the-go.  Myvu as a manufacturer is as close as these things come to mainstream.  While I would not call this a true ACE experience because of some of the problems folks have had with setup and service, you can count on Myvu for as much innovation in the space as is taking place today.

IMG_126637GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Mini DPL900 I loosened up the definition of AR a bit for this one but if you are looking for an inexpensive product that is able to overlay rich data on top of your non-GPS enabled digital camera this product is for you.  The DPL900 takes advantage of the time-stamp on all digital photographs to synch up its history of where you have been at what time to label all your photos with a latitude and longitude.  It is so small that you can clip it to your camera strap or even throw it in your camera bag.  For those more “inventive parents” you can even throw it in your kids backpack or in their car for a rich history of where they have “really been”.

In the Stocking

Nearest Tube by AcrossairNearest Tube by Acrossair is just one of an awesome collection of AR apps for the iPhone from Acrossair.  One of the first augmented reality apps to go live in the iPhone AppStore. Nearest Tube is just one of 9 major world cities’ mass transit systems for which Acrossair has launched an AR app.  They also have a Nearest Tweets and Nearest Places app that they have developed for their platform.  Forget boring 2D tube maps! Try this amazing new application that tells Londoners where their nearest tube station is via their iPhone’s video function. When you load the app, holding it flat, all 13 lines of the London underground are displayed in coloured arrows. By tilting the phone upwards, you will see the nearest stations: what direction they are in relation to your location, how many kilometres and miles away they are and what tube lines they are on. If you continue to tilt the phone upwards, you will see stations further away, as stacked icons.  Another one of Acrossair’s newly launched apps is Nearest Wiki which overlays all the rich information of a wiki entry including some pictures of that on which you point your iPhone.  This is the app for you whether you are interested in brushing up on your general knowledge or are keen to learn about your surroundings in a fun interactive way.

GeoVector World SurferWorld Surfer by GeoVector While not as sexy as Acrossair’s apps, GeoVector has a large base of information and is not limited to the iPhone platform.  GeoVector World Surfer is a directionally driven location application that provides you with easy access to both practical and compelling information about places which are of interest to you. Point World Surfer at a place of interest to trigger the search for data about it. Your search will show you places in the direction you have selected from closest to you to farther away. Pick someplace interesting: World Surfer will provide phone number, web links, YouTube movies, Flickr photos and more.  You can also use World Surfer to:

  • Bookmark your car
  • Bookmark your hotel
  • Bookmark any location you like and be guided back to it

Designed to be an indispensible assistant to both local pedestrians and travelers, GeoVector World Surfer provides you with the excitement of discovery as well as the security of always knowing where you are and how to get safely back home.

Screen shot 2009-11-28 at 10.24.31 AMKooaba is another app not limited to the iPhone.  Kooaba creates a world where no more typing is necessary to get digital information about products, ads, and other real-world objects. Just take a picture with your mobile phone and Kooaba turns it into a smart visual. Each smart visual is instantly and automatically uploaded to an online account, the Kooaba library, so you can easily collect, share and organize the things you see. What I really like about Kooaba is that this is not just a fun toy but one that the inventors have already turned into a real business.  With Kooaba’s object recognition technology, images like print ads or physical products become hyperlinks. Consumers can interact with these dynamic objects through their mobile phone camera. Snapping a picture is enough to get linked to a mobile website for additional information, enter a sweepstake or instantly buy the product. It’s as simple as it sounds. Furthermore, the information is stored in the user’s phone history and can be accessed anytime later.

There are so many AR products and applications out there in the labs that 2010 promises to be a great year for those thirsting for more information.  But in case you cannot wait, the suggestions above will give you a nice little leg up if you want to delve into the emergent world of place-space convergence made possible by augmented reality.

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Jason Kunesh December 2, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Hi Paul-

Great content, and ideas. I’ll take the planetarium for me and that creepy PhotoTrackr for the kids.

Nice post!

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