You may not realize it but your reality has been augmented. Most of us see life through lenses of various sorts. Those lenses may include a PC, a tablet, or even a smartphone. As we observe life through these devices, we can also benefit from a digitally enhanced view of the world around us. This is called Augmented Reality (AR). AR isn't coming at some time in the future – it is integrated into our lives right now.
Let's start by differentiating AR from virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are simulated environments that are not dependent on reality. These worlds exist in their own space, typically independent of any event happening in the real world. Second Life is one of the most popular virtual worlds. AR, on the other hand, is dependent on reality. It incorporates stimuli and information from the real world: sound, video, graphics, or your current location (via GPS). Wikipedia defines AR as a live, direct, or indirect view of a physical, real world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input. Let's look at some examples.
AR in your car … and elsewhere
Most automobiles today have a GPS feature as a standard. As you drive, the GPS audibly gives you directions or augments your view with a digital map that navigates as your car moves. This is a form of Augmented Reality. Your GPS is taking latitude and longitude readings from satellites and overlaying that data into a series of directions or a visual map. We could almost think of AR as our sixth sense. But driving a car may not be the focus you are concerned about as a learning professional. You want applications that impact workforce performance.
Let's look at real problems. You have a workforce of mechanics. Traditionally you may create some manuals or even videos to provide performance support to help them do their job. With AR you can provide a more interactive support system. With a book, the mechanic may turn to the pages and try to interpret the visuals with what they see in the equipment. With AR a mechanic could place a smartphone over the actual engine and see tags that identify specific parts. BMW has a research project using AR goggles to simulate this feature.
The BMW scenario is one of many. What if you were training managers to recognize priorities? Could AR help you in this effort? The answer is yes. Information can be relayed to a mobile device as the manager explores a workspace. For example, information about employees, equipment availability, and inventory levels can be displayed as the device scans its environment. The images In Figures 1 and 2 are a simulation of what this could look like.
Figure 1. The workplace, unaugmented
Figure 2. The workplace, augmented
Creating AR environments
Needless to say, we don't all have the budgets or even the technical expertise to write the code to generate augmented reality applications but there are some fairly simple tools that can enable even the most inexperienced developers. The AR Toolworks toolkit is an open-sourced software program with several tutorials supporting it. This tool can help you make some simple AR experiences for your learner.
There are alternatives to writing your own program. You can use the many AR browsers for Android and Apple devices:
- Tagwhat (www.tagwhat.com) I interviewed Dave Elchoness, CEO of Tagwhat. You can see the video interview here.
- Wikitude (www.wikitude.com)
- Mixare (www.mixare.org)
- Panoramio from Google (www.panoramio.com)
- Google Goggles (http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text)
In these browsers, you essentially use the app browser and input your content into the program through layers or channels. You give up flexibility and security for ease of use with these.
Gaming and AR
Some learning professionals may want to amp up the engagement levels even further by incorporating gaming into AR (or vice versa). Some AR developers have taken real spaces and incorporated digital activities over those locations. For example Zombie, Run shows you an apocalyptic outbreak over a map of your location. (Figure 3) The zombies are moving down the street and you have to avoid them by changing your location. This augments gaming elements with the reality of your physical location. What if you replaced the zombies with potential employees and turned it into a recruiting game? If zombies aren’t your thing, you can go fishing at any location (watch YouTube video here) or play a number of games with Sekai Apps.
Figure 3. Zombie, Run is an example of a game that uses AR.Augmented Reality is another opportunity to engage your learners. Studies have shown an increase in retention and engagement when AR is incorporated into learning initiatives. A little fun never hurts. So the next time you are designing training, think of activating that sixth sense, Augmented Reality.