The new Lego display lets you see how a toy will look when built.
The new Lego display lets you see how a toy will look when built.

Like mushrooms after a rainy day, Augmented Reality (AR) is appearing everywhere. AR technology, which allows recorded and synthetic images to be blended and viewed in real time, is established in smart phones, marketing strategies, games, and entertainment. There’s way too many for us to discuss them all, but I thought you might like to see some of my favorites. Check out a whole slew of videos after the break!

Maybe the most important trend in AR is that, while it gets a lot of press in the US, it’s not really based on this continent. Total Immersion, one of the leading AR firms, is French. Layar, a Dutch firm that works with AR on mobile phones is mentioned below. If you’re using AR technology you’re more likely to be speaking Dutch or Korean than English. Which just goes to show how global the AR trend really is. Luckily for Americans, these companies are multinational and seeking to bring the insight and success of local developers to the world.

Welcome to the Layar Cake

Layar is set to revolutionize the way that you use your smart phone. The Amsterdam based company created an API to allow developers to create their own “layars”. A layar is basically a layer that can be applied over the image you see through your phone’s camera. That layer will include notes that indicate important things in your field of vision. Click on a note and learn about what you need to know: restaurants, hospitals, transportation, whatever you want. Each layer provides its own insights into your world.

By focusing on facilitating other developers in their layar scheme, Layar has helped create a really diverse catalog of filters that you can now view online. The catalog just went live on Aug 17th and is still a bit slow, but there are some amazing layars to chose from. You can use your phone to see information on real estate, social networking, temp agencies, banks, health care providers, or even the nearest automatic defibrillator. Each layar is geographically specific, so a developer has to be based (or interested) in creating a layar for your area. That may seem like a drawback, but I think it will lead to localized and customized layars that are based on realiable personal experiences. Check out a layar developer, Brightkite, in the following video:

For now, layars are only available on a few phones. The T-mobile G1, HTC Magic, and other Android phones can install the application. The company also plans on bringing the technology to the iPhone 3G S soon. Almost any phone that has a GPS, camera, and compass could support the application, so we may see Layars becoming much more common very soon.

Games, and Marketing, and Magic, Oh my!

Augmented Reality conquers table top gaming.
Augmented Reality conquers table top gaming.

The gaming industry is huge and continuing to grow. We’ve already seen how one video game is hoping to utilize AR to fight zombies. Frantz Lasorne from L’Ecole de Design in France has another approach: turn your toys into table top gladiators. Similar to popular franchises like Warhammer or Heroscape, Lasorne’s AR game allows you to enjoy a scale battle on almost any flat surface. Simply put on some head mounted displays and you’ll start to see your action figures holding weapons and ready to move in turn-based combat. Check out the video:

AR may allow you to find new life in old toys, but what about selling those new toys in the first place? Lego is rolling out new boxes into retail outlets in the Netherlands. These devices will allow customers to place the box near a camera and see what the fully built toy will look like. AR lends itself to eye-catching marketing schemes, such as the one we saw for the movie Coraline:

But a real innovative space for AR may be in traditional entertainment. While green screens and CGI may seem stuck in movies and weather reports, the versatility of AR may allow it to access TV, and stage performances. I was impressed with Marco Tempest’s approach to an AR magic show. It’s a good twist on a classic form of entertainment and it shows how AR could be a real boon to performers who are willing to experiment with the medium:

Of course, the biggest draw back to AR is that you need to have personal access to a screen in order to experience it. We all don’t travel with a HMD, a computer, or even a smart phone. That’s starting to change though. As viewing technologies become more ubiquitous, the opportunities for AR will grow in kind. Utilities like Layar could replace or augment websites like Yelp or Craig’s/Angie’s List, and the marketing/entertainment portion of AR will have greater potential. Overall, I think we’re moving to a world where everything we look at will have associated digital information. See a car you like in a magazine? Photo the page and you’ll be on your way:

As I said, there’s way too many AR companies and videos for me to mention them all. So you do it! Leave a comment with a link to some of your favorite examples of AR. If you’ve used any of these devices in person give us a micro-review. While you’re at it, maybe someone could explain this one to me? Enjoy: