Augmented Reality: A technology that brings the virtual and real together

Aug 21, 2013, 09:54 IST | Hassan M Kamal

Although still at a nascent stage, Augmented Reality-based services are fast picking up in the country, thanks to an emerging set of companies who are creating new experiences and products for the Indian market

Imagine you are reading a story on the Gateway of India, and when you point your smartphone at it, a virtual 3D model of the famed monument appears out in thin air. You can move it around in any direction, see a top view, side view or perhaps even take a closer look at the engravings on top of the monument. It also offers you links to documents explaining its history, pictures and videos of events that might have taken place around the monument, as well as photos of sunset and sunrise.

PGL’s Snap2Life uses Image Recognition (IR) to create an Augmented Reality (AR)

“That’s Augmented Reality (AR) for you: a technology that brings the virtual and real together, by enhancing the real world,” says Shreeram Iyer, chairman and group CEO, Prisma Global Limited, a Mumbai-based company, which has been offering AR and Image Recognition (IR) based services in the country. IR is the technology used to recognise images to enhance the real world. AR is slowly catching up in India, from branding and promotion to virtual shopping and experiencing, an enhanced version of the real world, AR is being used in a multitude of applications.

An AR-based experience zone at the recently concluded Property Expo 2013 in Mumbai

PGL recently developed an app called Snap2Life, which uses IR technology to recognise any kind of graphic and text (for example, a news print story or ad) and eventually link it to associated content (website, pictures, videos or a multimedia presentation on the Web). So, in simple words, any information (text or graphic) that you see out there can be immediately discovered in the virtual world; almost in the blink of an eye. “It’s a very basic application of what IR and AR can do together,” he says.

The WOW 25 app, created by Blink for KFC, could recognise Indian currency, and offer products that could be purchased within that amount

A new virtual experience
Just a few months ago, visitors at a property expo in the city were in for a surprise, when they spotted themselves on a big screen, walking through Gateway of India, interacting with a virtual dabbawallah, participating in dahi handi, taking blessings from the Indian elephant god Ganesha and evading speeding cars coming towards them, in a virtual Bollywood film shoot. This experience zone, created by Transhuman Collective, a company that works on designing AR-based experiences, was just a glimpse of what this technology can offer. Blink, another IT company, that offers AR-based branding solutions, developed a special app for the American joint KFC, wherein one could see its new offers within a price range, say Rs 100, by pointing the camera to it. A virtual menu would show the user the different items it could buy within that amount, with a link to place order.

Beyond brands...
According to Soham Sarcar, founder of Transhuman Collective, “A lot of Indian companies are realising the importance of offering a unique experience to its customers using AR. And while most services in India are till now, limited only to branding and promotion, and creating AR-based experience zones, that’s not the end of it. The possibilities with AR are immense. It can be used inside classrooms wherein students could access all the multimedia content related to a subject by snapping a picture, in healthcare, and for skill training. Gaming is already offering plenty of AR-based consoles like the XBOX Kinect,” he says. Sarcar’s company is also working on creating a product wherein users could try new clothes without even having to actually put them on. Iyer adds, “What AR offers is magnificent. Imagine yourself, walking through a 3D model of a house -- through the hall, the bedroom, kitchen, every nook and corner -- before buying out your dream home. That’s the future of real estate advertising.” 

The challenges
But to make AR and IR-based services a possibility, one of the key requirements is good quality Image Recognition software, believes Iyer as it forms the basis to create Augmented Reality. In fact, his company is creating a visual and text database for its visual search app, Snap2Search, which it claims, “could do exactly what Google does, but here instead of typing words, you are required to click a picture.”

The second biggest
challenge, for AR-based services to be successful on mobile phones, says Sarcar, is the Internet connectivity. “So far, 2G data connection still rules in India. Once that changes, the services would improve too,” he adds.

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