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Augmenting reality

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Ever wish your Facebook profile just hovered over your shoulder, so any friend, neighbor or colleague could pull down your vital stats and Bahamas vacation photos out of thin air? Okay, probably not, but maybe your kids would, and maybe you might find some more palatable uses for augmented reality, such as a virtual business card that follows you wherever you go or a virtual presentation your audience can access while you give a speech.

If you’re scratching your head, you should probably check out this video demo from The Astonishing Tribe, a developer of mobile device user interfaces that always seems to have some space-age project in the works. Lately TAT has been exploring augmented ID technology for mobile — the creation of 3-D, virtual information objects that are quite literally associated with your person. In the case of this demo, a user has a choice of what information pods can be seen and who can see them. For instance, the Facebook pod may be only visible to friends on Facebook, while a business card might be available to all. The user can turn them on and off as he or she sees fit, literally creating a different augmented ID — or virtual persona — each time they walk outside.

If you’ve watched the video, your first reaction might be that this is just a mock-up, and you’d be right, at least in part. The technology depends on face recognition software, which TAT doesn’t own, said Hampus Jakobsson, its vice president of business development, but the user interface is real. Once the software recognizes an individual, it can immediately attach and orient any number of applications to him or her. The design is actually rather simple for an augmented reality project, Jakobsson said, which is key to getting both users and developers to embrace the technology. Rather than force a user to learn to manipulate objects in — or developers to design application interfaces for — a complex virtual, 3D realm, they can tap on each capsule, which will activate a standard phone application. The Facebook icon, for instance, would merely open up the Facebook app on the phone or point the Web browser to a specific profile.

The big barrier to TAT’s implementation, face recognition, isn’t that big of a barrier, either. TAT is working with a facial and object recognition company, Polar Rose, which uses software to map the 3D contours of the face. The key is developing databases that can match that data quickly. “In 2010 we’re going to see this in applications,” Jakobsson said. “This is not a future thing. It’s really here now.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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