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Augmented Reality technology can add value to our lives

Matthew Gooding

Cambridge News

23 December 2014


This article first appeared in Cambridge News.

If you’re hoping to find some brand new Google Glass under your tree when you open your presents on Christmas Day, you could be ready to experience augmented reality.

Google’s clever, if slightly conspicuous wearable device is one of a number of products on the market that are making widespread use of augmented reality an, er, reality.

So what is augmented reality? We asked Dr James Matthews, pictured, a technology expert at PA Consulting Group in Melbourn, to give us the lowdown.

“It’s about enhancing your vision by adding computer-generated objects,” he said. “You see the real world on your phone  or a wearable device, but there might be a virtual information marker overlaid telling you about a building or area.”

Dr Matthews has worked with a number of PA Consulting’s clients on projects involving augmented reality, and believes there are several areas the technology could be employed for the benefit of consumers  and in industry.

“I think it could be useful for military helicopter pilots who have to land in ‘brown-out’ situations,” he said. “This is where they come in to land in an area where visibility is poor because of all the sand and dust that is thrown up.

“For shopping, there might be a way of you providing a list when you get to the supermarket and then a marker appearing in your view when you go past an item you want to buy.”

Representatives of PA Consulting  took part in a Cambridge Wireless future technology interest group seminar earlier this month entitled ‘Living in the virtual world’, which focussed on applications of augmented reality.

One of the speakers was Caspar Thykier, CEO  of Zappar, an app which uses codes placed on products to display an augmented reality view on the user’s phone.

Their technology, developed by Cambridge University graduates Dr Simon Taylor and Connell Gauld, has been used in promotional campaigns for big-names including Coca Cola and Asda.

“Augmented reality has been around for 50 years – for a long while it was a solution waiting for a problem,” said Caspar.

“It was a question of how did we take this technology out of the lab and make a worthwhile augmented reality experience, rather than something that’s just a gimmick. I think the advances in phones and digital cameras in recent years have helped with that.

“I think Zappar is something which can add value to people’s lives, but we’re still at the start of a journey as far as augmented reality is concerned.”

While augmented reality technology provides plenty of opportunities, Dr Matthews said there are also ethical questions to be answered.

“There is a cultural debate to be had about the sort of information that is displayed, and there’s the issue of people being recorded all the time,” he said. “The social implications will need to be considered.”

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