Augmented reality set to enhance London Eye’s pods
From the London Eye to London Fashion Week, the latest technology to hit the mainstream is reconstructing reality itself. So-called “augmented reality” (AR), which uses a smartphone or a tablet to layer extra information over an onscreen image of the real world, is set to be all around us in the near future.
At the avant garde end of the spectrum, Google is said to be developing eye glasses that integrate the technology into a RoboCop-style vision of the future. Although Google itself refused to confirm the rumours, the New York Times reports that the glasses will use the same operating system as Google’s mobile phone, and cost about the same as a top smartphone.
Scrolling will be achieved via slight inclinations of the head and neck. Apparently, once learnt, such movements are “almost indistinguishable to outside users”.
Some applications, however, are already far beyond Google’s experimental stage. In fact, it is the simple assembling of technologies that are already commonplace for mobile phones. A digital camera and internet connectivity are combined with location data – so if you point your phone at Big Ben, it’s comparatively simple to add information to the image on screen. And while the obvious use is, say, historical information, there’s space for advertisers and social services to tell you where to meet up with friends for a drink, for example.
This may sound somewhat futuristic, but it’s certainly not the distant future. Visitors to the London Eye will, from next month, be able use a new app for tablets and phones based on Google’s Android operating system, and subsequently for Apple’s iPhones and iPads.
The app works by enabling users to “see” right through the bottom of the Eye capsule to the Thames below. The aim is to enhance the sense of being above London, rather than being stuck inside a pod. On-screen information tells users about the workings of the Eye itself, and about the sites you can see as you point your phone’s camera towards them. To further promote the app, there are audio guides from three perspectives and in five languages. Wi-Fi, too, will be free for all in the area around the Eye itself.
Retail and fashion are also in the vanguard with more advanced technology. As a YouGov report, commissioned by VoucherCodes.co.uk put it: “Augmented reality will migrate on to the high street and, once there, it will certainly be used extensively in shopping. This will change both high street and web shopping.”
In advertising, augmented reality has already made an appearance: smartphone app Aurasma is increasingly used in adverts to encourage users to look at much more information than a printed version can provide. Retailers such as Clarks are directing the new browser to show iPad users videos linked to campaigns and then send them straight to their websites.
Adapting such technology to explore shops themselves is simply the next step. YouGov’s report suggests that “High street shoppers will be able to browse retailers’ online inventories as well as what is physically present in their shops, but in the same physical space. They will also be able to socialise and play games and access other web apps while in shops.” And it adds that “on the web, they will be able to use similar interfaces to those they are familiar with in the street, as well as more familiar web ones”. It even suggests that, eventually, the boundaries between online and high-street shopping will be blurred.
Fashion, already much changed by technology, is beginning to use AR in a way that might even see the end of the fitting room. With brands such as Burberry already using apps and Twitter to show live feeds of their catwalk shows, increased use of such ideas is not surprising.
Yesterday supermodel Helena Christensen was at Selfridges, in London, to unveil the “Fantasy Mirror” in association with lingerie brand Triumph. The company plans to do away with the need for shoppers to try on clothes by deploying a full-size high-resolution TV screen to give the illusion of standing in front of a mirror in a changing room. Motion sensors scan anyone standing directly in front of it, and infra-red technology creates what the company describes
as “a highly accurate 3D reconstruction of the environment”. It says “the camera tracks the viewers’ body which is then translated on to the screen as a 3D silhouette of a female avatar that moves in real time to the viewers’ own motion”.
For now, that avatar is a kind interpretation of what many users may actually look like in the clothes they’re virtually trying, and such devices clearly blur the line between advertising and fitting. In that sense, however, it’s very similar to a virtual shopping assistant.
Triumph itself concedes: “The challenge was to show an elegant way for viewers to display and then try on the lingerie collection without the need for the user to remove any of their clothes. The high-quality 3D female silhouette of the application offered a graceful and sophisticated solution.” Viewers can take away some of the created video, and play back what is essentially an advert that they’re in.
None of this necessarily means that the high street need worry about being rendered obsolete. But it does underline that shopping, tourism and even trying on clothes are set to be remodelled by new technology.