This is a guest post from a good friend of mine: Niels van der Zeyst (follow him on Twitter @zeyst), who is a thought leader on business technology and managing innovation in companies. He has set up the bottom-up innovation approach at Capgemini called Managed Innovation.
These past weeks I’ve been inspired and amazed by a number of real-life examples of augmented reality (AR) such as BMW, Mini and Playstation Portable. One of the finer examples that caught my attention recently is GE’s Eco Imagination site which shows windmills reacting to the user blowing in the microphone. Whilst watching the demos and reading up on the subject I cant help but wonder about the potential of AR, especially in this mobile era.
Augmented reality is the blending of real life with digital information into one seamless experience; an augmented experience. I cannot help but think about Umberto Eco’s Hyperreality; where reality and fantasy get mixed increasingly in the world we now live in. Perhaps the best known example of AR is Layar; A Google Android app that overlays real-time camera footage with a layer of information about what is happening in your proximity. Layar allows can access Information on real-estate, restaurants, bars, shops and more by pointing your camera-phone in the right direction, et presto; real-estate info of that great loft you’re looking at. There are plenty of examples, mainly in the advertising and gaming world where the awe factor of AR truly comes into its own.
With the coming of the compass on the Iphone 3gs, directionality is a vital input for any AR experience, AR is suddenly growing in attention. Word on the street is that in moving towards the mobile platforms, AR is gaining maturity. And with the Iphone rubbing of its mainstream technology sexiness on AR, the game is about to get a whole lot more interesting. The benefits of web-enabled mobiles with robust software capabilities, Gps, compass and high resolution cameras form the ideal setup for an AR experience. Combine this with the ever increasing number of webservices online and the increasing simplicity of developing mobile apps for third parties on platforms such as Android and the Iphone, and it is clear that Mobile AR is a sure hit.
The applications of AR seem endless, perhaps even only restrained by our own imagination. Just picture the overlay of product or recipe information on real time products. Or the ability to recognize certain items in a shelf line-up. A great opportunity for commercial applications that enhance the shopping experience using mobiles to blend on- and offline worlds into one immersive “augmented” experience. What about facial recognition, or the ability to focus and lock on a object to allow devices to follow it. Currently augmented reality mainly react on real life via markers, or fiduciary markers, recognized by software and overlaid by an object, image or piece of information. already there are growing numbers of libraries that can recognize objects without markers. Leave-shapes are the first that come to mind, or car-shapes, or any shape for that matter. Just point your mobile to learn the price and availability of that chair in the nearest designer store.
All in all exciting technology, and one we will be seeing a lot more of before the year is over. Be sure to follow the work of Papervision, the AR Toolkit, the Ismar conferences and for the sofists amongst you Umberto Eco’s Hyperreality. So what are your dream AR applications? What would you like to see?

Lee Provoost is a Cloud Computing and Social Media Strategist at Capgemini. You can follow his ongoing stream of thoughts on Twitter and Posterous