AR, or Augmented Reality has been high on the hype-charts for several years now, but seems to be on "slow burn" when it comes to m-learning. This post is a quick update on what's happening, where, and what it means for education.
If you are unsure what AR is, here is a great explanation from those nice folks at Common Craft
So pretty much anything that helps you connect the real world around you with the digital, or virtual one classifies as augmented reality. You don't even need to superimpose it on the camera view if you don't want to. Examples like QR-codes, or bar code scanning also connect the real to the virtual, without requiring the real-live-view.
But for now, lets stick with live-view AR. One of the classic (and often quoted) examples of AR in workplace learning is this project from BMW. It isn't really being used, though. It was a demo made over 5 years ago by their R&D people, but if you haven't seen it yet, it tells a great story
Clearly an idea with merit. But what's been happening in the past 5 years? A lot, as it turns out!
Several companies (including my own) have been investing heavily to push this sort of technology out of the labs, and into the mainstream. There seem to be 2 main approaches when it comes to apps:
1: Geographical information, downloadable as layers.
The two main players here are Layar, and Wikitude. Both offer a free app in the app stores, and allow you to download many different layers of information that will pop up as you move your camera around.
Bear in mind that this is GPS data, so you need to be outdoors, and positioning is not 100%. But, nonetheless, great fun to play with, and surprisingly easy to make your own layers. Fancy setting up a history trail around your town? You can upload all the data as a new layer, and share with any other app users!
2: Visual (and other) Triggers.
But what about augmenting non-geographic things? This is where "triggers" come in, and the advertising world gets even more excited.
Your phone recognises visual images, and triggers an augmented response. Apps like Blippar do this - you have probably seen their logo on film posters, magazines and product adverts. Once you have downloaded the Blippar app, you can scan any known products / posters / images to triggers some form of media to be superimposed over your camera view.
Here is a super-stylish example promoting the new Hobbit movie.
Clearly the result of some slick media work, but the great news is that this sort of magic is no longer in the realm of impossibly expensive. In fact, all the software required to make the AR, and image recognition work for this sort of thing is available for FREE.
That's right, free.
You still need a developer to build it into your app, and some media skills to create something worth showing, but the heavy technical lifting has already been done, and all of a sudden AR becomes a lot more affordable.
The question is no longer "is this possible", but rather "how could I use it for learning"
Blippar use the "one app for all our AR" idea, much like Wikitude and Layar. But increasingly you also find apps dedicated to one specific theme, embedding the same AR capability within them.
Here is a great example that has the added benefit of NOT being about product placement.
The Science Museum in London have an awesome AR trail. As you walk around the museum, you can scan different exhibits to have a real-life 3D version of James May popping up on your screen to talk to you about it. (the app itself isn't free, but you can get a good flavour of it in this video)
Think about this for learning. You don't need a talking person to pop up. You could as easily launch animated diagrams of machines, or straight video clips
The free developer kit I mentioned before is called Vuforia. It is the engine underpinning most of the AR you will see
in the mainstream media today. Right now the majority of the use cases still seem to be in the advertising space, but I'm looking forward to see more educators playing around with AR.
Have you tried AR yet for learning? What did you do?
UPDATE: A few days after this blog post, there was a public preview of Big Bird's Words, a new app for kids that uses some of the very latest Vuforia features to help (surprisingly young) kids find specific words in the world around them. This is even-smart AR, including live character recognition. Super cool!