I admit it; I’m a bit of a sucker for augmented reality. There’s just something magical about the idea of ordinary objects coming to life.
So when Autonomy (a company that came out of Cambridge University in 1996 and was purchased by HP last month) demonstrated its Aurasma 3D-I at DemoFall 2011 in Santa Clara this week, I expected to find it interesting. I didn’t expect to find it so slick (though with just a quick look it was hard to tell if it really is amazing technology, or just a series of well-done demos). But other consumer-targeted augmented reality applications I’ve seen to date, even ones I've liked, have been a bit cartoony, or didn’t seem to align themselves all that well with the reality they were augmenting. Part of the problem is that doing image recognition and simultaneously generating realistic three-dimensional graphics takes a lot of computing power, more than, until recently, most people walked around with on a daily basis.
But Aurasma’s team thinks that plenty of people now are indeed carrying around enough computing power, at least if they have iPad2, iPhone4, or Advanced Android devices. Enough that Lynch thinks it makes sense to build an augmented reality platform for those devices. And with years of experience in dealing with sorting through unstructured information, like images and videos, Autonomy had that part of the problem already solved. That’s why, the company says, it’s image overlays are positioned more precisely than those of its competitors.
The basic Aurasma technology has been available for several months, though it was released quietly. The version launched at Demo tracks 3D motion as well as static scenes, letting the user interact with the virtual images.
“We are at the dawn of the age of visual browsing,” said Aurasma’s Matt Mills, admitting that we’d look back on the crudeness of the technology, but that it’s still pretty cool. “It’s sort of like where television was in the 40s,” he said.
The Aurasma app is available free for iPhone, iPad, and Android—it lets you play with building your own versions of augmented reality and share them. But this is just play—it’s likely to become more useful when embraced by companies. It could, for example, mean a quick sunset for QR codes—publications, labels, and posters won’t need to devote space to a code when the image itself can trigger interactivity. Check out the augmented reality “installation instructions” and other demos in the video above.
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Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.