From Hong Kong to Toronto, reality is being stretched and skewed, thanks to augmented reality (AR) apps. Running on smartphones and iPads, these applications are being used to guide tourists through unfamiliar locales, educate museum-goers about exhibits and generally entertain users with a fresh take on reality.
But just what is augmented reality? Essentially, it is a view of the real world with digital overlays in the form of graphics, video and audio generated on electronic devices and working in tandem with GPS data to create an experience of enhanced reality in special locations. Just hold up your iPad, iPhone or other smart device to a specially-designated marker and watch as a static real-world object comes to life on your screen. It is a cool new technology that’s taking the digital world of mobile media and making it almost as real as real life itself.
Last year, the Hong Kong Tourism Board developed a series of augmented reality apps, called DiscoverHongKong, specifically for travellers to the city. These apps do it all—they provide recommendations, give directions, translate texts in other languages, offer information about local attractions and more. Just point your phone’s camera to a given location, and points of interest in the area will pop up, appearing superimposed on the screen in real time. Tap on the point of interest that interests you most, and detailed information on it will appear right on your phone. Having trouble figuring out what a sign says? Just look at the sign through your smartphone’s camera and watch as Microsoft Bing Translator instantly translates it for you.
The app series is a great tool that helps tourists explore Hong Kong’s many offerings, and includes guides to 5,500 retail stores, 2,000 dining outlets, 100 attractions as well as current events. Special interest apps like Heritage Walks and City Walks are also part of the series. This is, truly, the future of tourism.
Closer to home, Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum has launched an app called ROM Ultimate Dinosaurs which creates an interactive, fun experience for its visitors. With iPads mounted in front of exhibits and markers for smartphones located throughout the museum, visitors can watch dead bones, dry bones re-animated on-screen into realistic-looking dinosaurs, complete with flesh, skin and predator eyes. Here, AR technology serves to inject some life into what may otherwise be just another lacklustre walk through a dusty museum.
Augmented reality technology is a booming industry, and it is set to undergo even more rapid growth in the years to come as smart mobile devices continue to flood the market. Apart from their application in tourism, AR apps are being developed for use in a number of different fields, including gaming, fashion, publishing, marketing and entertainment. Very soon, augmented reality will leave the periphery and enter mainstream culture as more and more apps are designed for an increasing number of eager users. This technology brings digital experiences into reality, with developers creating new worlds that can be experienced alongside and even beyond everyday life. Watch out for AR; it’s coming to a device near you.
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