Book reference: p. 152
Augmented reality is one of those lofty, ambitious computer terms that tend to attract attention, both positive and negative. At the basic level of use it is a rather simple concept: the combination of digital information with normal or mediated perception of the real world. Good examples of augmented reality are astronomical apps like Google Sky Map: you start the app, hold your device in front of you and by virtue of the built-in GPS and digital compass the device knows which part of the sky map to show and from which viewpoint. What you see on the screen is what you also see of the sky. This makes identifying celestial bodies and constellations rather easy, even if you know very little about them. There are of course those who bemoan that with such aids an increasing number of people is becoming unable to read a map but we should also bear in mind that these aids also help people become acquainted with new things and, in the final analysis, they are efficient and generally reliable. There are several advantages to being able to compare directly a representation to reality.
Augmented reality programs fall under two main categories: those that make complete representations that complement what you see (such as Google Night Sky) and those that use overlays on other representations, including the view from a mobile device’s built-in camera. Two general-purpose apps that belong to the second category are the multiplatform Wikitude World Browser and Layar.
When you start Wikitude World Browser, the program first presents a list of overlays relevant to your current location. You can choose as many as you wish and then move to the Cam or Map view, where you can see respectively your device’s camera view or a map of your location. In both views items from the overlays appear as POI icons. If you click on one of the icons, you open a small pop-up window with some information on the POI. From there you can go to a larger window (whole screen) that includes more information on the POI as well as a link to navigation programs on your device so that you can plan your route to the POI. At my location, there are two architectural overlays available: the architecture guide of Delft (Architectuurgids Delft) which I have added to Wikitude World Browser and archINFORM, the well known world-wide list of architectural works. While I am glad to have archINFORM POIs on my devices and have made thankful use of them in my travels), their location can be off by some distance. Take care to double-check the address if you are planning a visit. Adding your POIs to Wikitude World Browser is quite straightforward: through wikitude.me you can add individual POIs or KML or ARML files containing a number of POIs.
Layar offers more or less the same facilities and an extensive number of layers related to architecture, including archINFORM, MIMOA, a comprehensive online collection of architectural works I have used with great pleasure over the years in a number of navigation systems, UAR of the Netherlands Architecture Institute and Funda, a popular real estate listing. Creating layers for Layar requires that you are a registered developer.
Architectural guides in augmented reality are useful because they facilitate identification of buildings but probably the most interesting applications concern the ability to add the unseen to what we see: visualize new projects in their prospective locations, unbuilt designs where they were supposed to come, alternatives that never made it, demolished buildings where they used to stand, buildings closed to the public. There are already several examples of this type of visualization and, despite the greater technical challenge, I am sure there is more to come.