Augmented Reality and The Coming Tsunami of Location Learning Apps

Filed Under (augmented reality, e-learning, mobile devices, New Media, smartphones) by Chris LaBelle on 26-10-2009

Mobile devicbigbene enhancements in GPS, image capture, computing power, APIs and the wireless networks that move mobile device bits and bytes have all matured to the point where the desktop computer is in some respects now playing catch up with the mobile device. Case in point: Imagine a new technology that leverages many of the unique mobile device characteristics you’ve come to know and love and helps you navigate your physical environment with more intentionality. It’s here and it’s called Augmented Reality (AR).

Even though AR has been around for awhile, AR app support for both Android and iPhone devices is a recent development. So, what is AR? Let’s take a virtual reality trip sans technology for some answers.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking the Champs-d’elysee with your significant other. arc_mod1You hold up your iPhone and pan your viewfinder across the Arc de Triomphe. Pop ups appear directly on top of your image-filled viewfinder providing historical video clips and a marker where the tomb of the unknown soldier lies.

This overlay of information changes as you walk and you notice information about the Grand Palais appearing on the horizon of your viewfinder. Site seeing is stirring up a hunger. You point your iPhone street level, tap your screen a few times, and digital arrows appear indicating where restaurants can be found. You scan the virtual horizon for Indian restaurants and several pop up on your screen several blocks northwest of your current location. As you viewsoundwalk the row of cafes, patisseries, and restaurants and make your way down the street, your mobile device again dynamically overlays a digital layer of information about each establishment on top of your real-time view with links to menus, reviews and some online order forms.

You’re in Paris, so as the sun goes down, romance is in the air. Your spouse looks up to point out a bright star. You point your mobile device heavenward and activate your Sky Map AR application. Your spouse doesn’t look enthused, but within a few seconds a digital layer of content appears and your mobile device identifies the bright star as Jupiter. Not a star-starsgazing, Indian food-loving Francophile? How about locating subway stops, activating a digital docent in places of historical interest, fixing your car, navigating while on a bicycle or finding Twitter users who are nearby?

How big is AR for the world of E-learning? It’s obviously still a developmental technology in many respects, but I’m betting that if the chatter on the blogosphere and the initial AR apps are any indicator as to how big this wave will be, we might be looking at the shifting plates that hasten a technological tsunami for the world of location-based mobile apps.

Not surprisingly then, the initial salvo of AR apps has people (including myself) asking a wide range of questions and taking their turn at presaging the relevance of this technology for instructional potential. To put the discussion into perspective, two years ago, swissAR developers in Switzerland were strapping almost twenty pounds of technology to their end-user’s back, feet, and head to enable an AR experience; now an improved version of this experience is accessible via one small handheld device that fits in your pocket. How could this quantum jump not generate some level of speculation as to what the next iteration of this technology will look like?

Fast Company proclaims AR is no longer science fiction and with some qualification, states AR is the “killer app” that is both fad and future.

Steve Rosenbaum at the Huffington Post proclaims decidedly that AR is “here to stay,” while Read Write Web is looking to the future and has already posted their wish lists of potential AR apps. Amais Cascaio’s article at the Atlantic is an indictment of sorts on the “yet-to-be” abridgement of civil liberties perpetrated by AR proponents. He envisions the time when AR will move from the virtual yellow first-down lines on TV’s Monday Night Football to individuals who will aggregate data about their political opponents and push this information above AR-enabled views of a face or place of residence. augmentedreality2Ivor Tossen at the Globe and Mail takes a more philosophical tack and frames his discussion of AR within the larger world of epistemology, “AR…What does it mean to really know something?

Personally, the concept of a new AR-enabled browser (Layar) has me wondering whether the user will ultimately become both user and middleware as appears to be the case with some 3rd-world crowdsourcing apps. On the positive side of an AR-drenched future, should we be asking whether we might be approaching a time where our imagination will be the primary constraint when it comes to developing software to facilitate learning and parse salient characteristics of our environment? Look at some of these concepts (Some of these are more conceptual at this point) and imagine how this type of technology might redefine how you educate your audience. Currently, developing content for this space still requires a considerable toolbox of technical know-how, but I can only imagine the popularity of “off-the-shelf” templates that allow non-Cocoa programming app developers to create location-based AR learning apps like the ones that have begun to surface. A fad, the future or a more efficient way to map out ten yards on an augmented reality football field? What do you think?

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9 Comments Already, Leave Yours Too

Karen on 26 October, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

Thanks, Chris. Given the perspective you cite: two years ago, twenty pounds of stuff; today, pocket-sized device, it seems a large part of education is going to have to be about how to change, how to stay adept, how to adapt to an ever-changing information landscape. I’m not sure we’re doing too well with that subject yet.

Chris LaBelle on 26 October, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

Well put Karen. Jay Cross had a nice post on adaptation that I thought summed up a lot of the pressing issues around the need to maintain a change-ready stance within an organization.


Mark on 27 October, 2009 at 3:08 am #

I was intrigued by your comment on “Location Learning Apps” if I understand what you mean, is it that there will be an application able to recognize places?

Chris LaBelle on 27 October, 2009 at 6:04 am #

Yes, many of the new smart phones have GPS and can get a fix on your location, which is then usable by smart phone applications that feed data in real-time to your device.


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RobAid on 28 August, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

AR is definetely here to stay, the only question which remains is on which platform with smartphones, glasses, retina projectors, contact lenses, wearable projectors…

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