What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality, a capability that has been around for decades, is shifting from what was once seen as a gimmick to a bonafide game-changer. The layering of information over 3D space produces a new experience of the world, sometimes referred to as “blended reality,” and is fueling the broader migration of computing from the desktop to the mobile device, bringing with it new expectations regarding access to information and new opportunities for learning. While the most prevalent uses of augmented reality so far have been in the consumer sector (for marketing, social engagement, amusement, or location-based information), new uses seem to emerge almost daily, as tools for creating new applications become ever easier to use.

Augmented reality (AR) refers to the addition of a computer-assisted contextual layer of information over the real world, creating a reality that is enhanced or augmented. AR was on the mid-term horizon for 2010, and throughout the year, enjoyed widespread attention in conferences and industry showcases internationally. The Augmented Reality Event in June 2010, for example, featured keynotes by Bruce Sterling and Will Wright, which suggests the technology’s growing cultural significance.

Various forms of augmented reality, starting with early head-mounted displays, have been around for more than 30 years. Over that time, increased bandwidth and smart phone adoption, as well as a proliferation of AR browser applications, have helped AR evolve from a family of cool gadgets on the periphery of graphics and visualization technologies to an increasingly central player in the technology landscape. Further, the powerful significance of the concept of “blending” information and the real world in an increasingly experiential environment has pushed AR to the forefront in the realms of business, technology, entertainment, branding, and education. Companies are developing augmented reality brochures, packaging, and kiosks, while game developers are using augmented reality to create new kinds of entertainment.

Augmented reality is often described with reference to its two predominant modes of gathering information. The first mode relies on a visual metaphor and the second relies on spatial positioning. In the first method, the position of “markers,” which are visual cues, are “seen” by a camera on a computer or mobile device. The marker is interpreted by software that brings up information in response to physical reference points. These points (markers) are used to interpret the device’s precise location and the nature of objects in their field of view. As marker-based systems continue to develop, many are beginning to recognize common real-world objects as markers, or even special gestures, increasing their flexibility dramatically.

Position-based applications are called “gravimetric,” and make use of a mobile device’s GPS and compass information, and then use the device’s location and position to discern what objects are nearby. Some applications also use image recognition, in which input to the camera is compared against a library of images to find a match; more recent applications can detect and interpret gestures and postures as commands to perform certain functions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • As many students now have smartphones with cameras and GPS capabilities (at Colegio Bandeirantes, research shows over 50% of the students have smartphones), this is one way to create exciting gincanas and fieldtrips. Students have an accessible interface that allows them to collaborate and develop pre-planned tasks which can be presented to them through AR. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 21, 2011
  • So far I've only seen innovative marketing/business uses of this tool, but as the technology becomes more accessible, this will be a natural for education. I see a number of uses, easily, in history/social studies instruction. - alec.couros alec.couros Feb 25, 2011
  • Can become a new tool to add to those assistive technologies to support students with disabilities - physical, audio, visual. Provide additional information, guidance, and visual cues. - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011 - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 27, 2011
  • A lot of potential but maybe more outside the classroom - learning games / challenges in the local area, field visits, informal learning (AR can be an interpretative layer suited to self-motivated learning - than inside. Need some work on its enducational application and potential. - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 27, 2011
  • I agree with Roger. There is a great potential in adapting AR to students activities on study trips, museum visits or within their local communities. In my part of the world, we could use some low end (e.g. using smart phones) R&D projects showing the way. - claus.gregersen claus.gregersen Feb 27, 2011
  • I also see AR as vital and useful, with examples starting to show up for education in the research literature (e.g. Eric Klopfer; IEEE WMUTE publications) [- roy.pea roy.pea Feb 27, 2011]
  • As robotics develops in parallel with AR we are going to see many spaces once not utilized-- taken advantage of. I think AR fits not so much into schools as we know them -- but rather in schools as they will become. For example, think Libya and other places exploding in revolution with AR children could attend schools without fear of harm. In places with biohazard or disease such as the feared H1N1 breakout school could continue in meaningful ways. Students who are not able bodied could be through participation in learning activities that used AR. - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Perhaps it is useful to add perspectives on the creation of resources for AR, ie. how it can be done effectively etc. - horncheah horncheah Feb 24, 2011
  • Use of AR for special education - adrian.lim adrian.lim Feb 27, 2011
  • Use of AR with GIS and GPS to give spacial reality and real time interaction with physical elements. We are able to climb inside weather systems and hot magma rock or war zones safely and learn what we need to know to make the quality of life better.
  • Dispositions and values needed and possible ethical issues presented as a result of AR- what does it open the door to? Also this could lead to teleportation http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1874760,00.html And taking 3-d holograms to the next level of interaction and engagement (co-construction of knowledge in virtual real time) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/8f071d82-e765-11df-b5b4-00144feab49a.html#axzz14s1f10T0 - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • While learning within the AR environment can potentially deepen the connection between the learner and the skills/knowledge being presented, having the learner to co-create the environment could be equally useful. For instance, getting local residents, historians, researchers, teachers, students etc to collaboratively contribute to refining the info available on a specific historical object/artifact etc in a wiki-like way as part of learning. - horncheah horncheah Feb 24, 2011
  • It is a technology that has tons of potential for active learning; both in the types of activities that can be done, and the bridging capability to bring content and media into a real world space. - alan alan Feb 24, 2011 - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 27, 2011
  • I could be in several places at once. That means our greatest minds could too. We could replicate experiences (let's say a TED talk) to happen many places at once and it would be as if we were all there live. We could take learning into places we feared. Crime would be reduced. Much like this movie Surrogates (2009)- Tom Greer However, creative expression could take on some real ethical issues. Recent reading of Alone Together and the relationships folks are having and will have with robots suggests that AR would also create as many problems as it solved. - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.