How Would You Like Your Reality Augmented?

With devices such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift just around the corner, the stage is set for game-changing technological interfaces between ourselves and the world to shake up how we interact with and perceive our environment. Technology such as Pranav Mistry’s SixthSense device which he showcased on a recent TED talk looks set to transform not only our relation to data access and navigation, but also to other people.

One of the many features of this nifty portable projector-based computer pendant is that it projects on to the shirt of someone that you meet all the publically-known facts about that person. Say goodbye to first impressions, as even first meetings will be contextualised in the future.

As Google and Novartis sign an agreement to develop a smart contact lens, the world of technology is anticipating smart contacts being used for a wider range of purposes than healthcare, and institutions already checking for smart glasses, such as both casinos and examination halls, may have their work cut out even detecting the tech before long.

A world of augmented reality (AR) in which every aspect of our perception is overlaid with a digital layer of information is not only conceivable, it seems likely to be inevitable in the very near future. This will have numerous challenging implications, for security and for society. We may be able to pull files on someone even as we are conversing with them.

But we needn’t wait for the new tech to be released to start experimenting with AR. There are actually a decent range of apps available for smartphones today which we can play around with. It is starting to creep in through various aspects of our lives, from travel, to e-commerce, to education.

Steve Yuen references the 2011 Horizon Report which predicted widespread use of AR on US college campuses in a matter of a few years. He highlights discovery-based learning as a key area for AR in education, the process by which real world environments are enhanced with data allowing us to learn more about them from a certain specialist perspective. Students of history might be able to watch re-enactments of historic events overlaid on their real-world view of the location, for example.

In fact, the Museum of London is one step ahead, with a free augmented reality iPhone app which allows you to browse historical photos in various maps of the city, using a map or GPS/streetview function.

Google is of course getting in on the action, and their application Field Trip is believed by many to be a sort of soft probe into the augmented reality market. While reviews so far have been lukewarm, the complaints have been focused on the lack of updated content in this new app. The actual mechanism, of tracking your location and popping up user-specific recommendations of interesting sites to visit, is surely one with a lot of mileage in it.

The leading software development kit for augmented reality has to be the free to use Wikitude, which connects to databases of information including Wikipedia, Yell and Tripadvisor. It evens offers an augmented reality project studio designed to be useable by those with no knowledge of programming languages, so that anyone can create their own AR app. It is also compatible with a wide range of devices including smartphones, Google Glass and more.

There’s no question that AR is here to stay, predicted to top $60 billion in value by 2016. The only question that remains is, how would you like your reality augmented?


Yuen S., Yaoyuneyong, G., Johnson, E. Augmented Reality: An Overview and Five Directions for AR in Education. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, 2011: 4(1), 119-140.

Image via Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock.

Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA

Lorena Nessi PhD is an award winning journalist, researcher, and cultural sociologist. Her Bachelor's was in International Relations, Master’s degree in Globalization, Identity and Technology, and PhD in Communication, Sociology and Digital Cultures. She received the Avina scholarship for investigative journalism while working for the BBC. Her fields of interest include digital cultures, sociology, social media, technology and capitalism.
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