Over the years, we have seen some stellar instances of augmented reality that have quite literally floored us. Augmented reality is the perfect amalgamation of the real world with the virtual one, thus adding to your real-life experiences. Whether it’s something like Pranav Misrty’s SixthSense, a wearable gestural interface, or Google’s Project Glass, the possibilities are limitless. Today, the use of augmented reality is slowly becoming mainstream and it can be found in smartphones, cars, gaming consoles, table tops, movies, architecture, aircraft cockpits, magazines and much more. In the near future, we will witness increased use of augmented reality in our everyday surroundings. Here we take a look at some instances of AR that have stood out.

Nokia City Lens will provide you relevant information about the spaces around you

Nokia City Lens will provide you relevant information about the spaces around you

Information at fingertips
Possibly, the best use of augmented reality is bringing realtime information about places as you walk past them. There are apps that do just that. Developed in Austria and published in 2008, Wikitude is amongst the oldest freely available location based AR apps. As you scan your surroundings using your mobile phone camera, Wikitude will display information about them. Another similar app is Layar, which displays information in the form of digital layers while bringing you additional information in the form of videos, links etc. It also includes social media integration that allows you to share the experience via Facebook or Twitter and even email. You can also create a list of favourites. Recently, Nokia introduced City Lens, a similar location-based AR app. The app shows you places of interest, landmarks, stores, restaurants etc. Tapping on one of them will provide you with reviews, contact details, directions and more. It even allows you to customise your searches. Acrossair also offers similar features

Google's Project Glass is highly anticipated AR device

Google's Project Glass is a highly anticipated AR device

While these are apps dependent on smartphones, there are many wearable AR devices that have been around for a couple of years. However, one particular device has garnered a lot of interest; not surprising as it comes from Google’s backyard. Project Glass takes Google Goggles a step forward as a head mounted AR device that will display information about your surroundings and facilitate voice-based searches over the Internet. And they look cool too! Demonstrations of the prototype began in April this year and have managed to cause quite a stir. The one that particularly caught everyone’s attention was the live streaming of video captured by skydivers who were wearing the glasses. While this is definitely not the first instance of a wearable AR device, it’s certainly the most anticipated one. Other similar wearable AR devices include iOptik, EyeTap, Golden-i and SixthSense, to name a few.   
AR Apps
AR apps that you have to download to view advertisements cannot be used for anything else and thus become useless. That’s when Junaio, an augmented reality browser, comes in. You can use its various channels to experience augmented reality initiatives; it also includes a barcode and QR code scanner. Another useful app is Post-it PopNotes App by 3M. It allows you to post virtual notes on a real wall. You can even control and set the visibility of notes to only to those you are connected with or make them visible to anyone using the app. It also allows you to set reminders at locations of your choice. However, this service is currently limited to the US only. On the other hand, if you are looking for a social networking app based on AR, then Wallit is what fits the bill. How does it work? When you point your phone camera to a building or a monument, Wallit will display “marks” that others have posted. These marks could be text, photos or even videos. This information will be displayed on a virtual wall and you have the option to add your marks that will be visible to other app users. Just like Twitter, there is a limitation of 140 characters.

Star Chart will appeal to those who like star gazing

Star Chart will appeal to those who like star gazing

Another great AR app is Star Chart, which is available for Android and iOS. Those interested in astronomy would simply love this app. When you point your phone camera towards the sky, it will provide you with information of what you are looking at. If you see something interesting, then tap on it to get more information. The app can accurately provide information of over 5,000 stars and planets, and all 88 constellations. Another useful app we came across is the iOnRoad driving safety app, which makes use of the phone camera, GPS and sensors to detect other vehicles and sound warnings when you are in danger of a collision. It works even when the app is running in the background. Additionally, it also provides a warning if your vehicle is drifting off a road at a speed of over 60 km/h. You can also use it to locate your car in a parking lot using GPS.      

Marvelous Indeed
If you are worried that printed pages will soon be a part of history, then you can take hope from this Marvel Comics initiative. Aptly named ReEvolution, it was announced in March this year and uses an augmented reality app, Marvel AR. The app powered by Aurasma is available for iOS and Android devices. What does it do? When you come across a Marvel comic featuring the Marvel AR logo, you can unlock extra nuggets such as behind the scenes action, notes by the editor, exclusive footage, a writer’s script, original artwork etc. They promise up to eight extras per comic so while devouring the latest antics of Thor, Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man and others, don’t miss out on the extra action. All it takes is a simple app, but the initiative has successfully bridged the gap between the print and digital worlds. We only hope that other publishers take a leaf out of this book, as it will definitely save the print medium from dying as a passive form.

Marvel comics included AR to add to the readers experience

Marvel comics include AR to add to the readers experience

Closer home, we have seen many advertisers making use of QR codes to provide a virtual connection. However, Outlook became the first Indian magazine to successfully make use of augmented reality with its August 2012 issue. It partnered with TELiBrahma and used its intARact app to provide readers with a taste of augmented reality. It allowed readers to take part in online poll based on a special story and provided them with additional information. However, we cannot quite forget the National Geographic's AR installations at malls in Hungary last year, where it brought to life everything from dinosaurs to dolphins and allowed people to experience walking on the moon.   

Shopping around
Already there are quite a few apps that allow you to scan the barcodes of products in stores to get more information. However, augmented reality can add a whole new layer to shopping. You can try out things to see how they suit you, get instant comments from others, compare prices and much more. IBM recently introduced a prototype of an augmented reality app aimed at retailers, which will allow them to provide information to their customers as well as gather information about customers' preferences. A number of international brands have been making use of augmented reality to entice customers. Some of them are in-store, while some allow shoppers to try things virtually from the comfort of their homes.

Quite innovative and useful, Tesco's AR installations to shop while on the go

Quite innovative and useful, Tesco's AR installations to shop while on the go

In June this year, an augmented reality installation at train stations in Germany allowed commuters to virtually try on shoes. They could walk around in them, share pictures online to get opinions from friends and use the QR code to make a purchase online if they wanted. It was done by German footwear e-commerce site Goertz and was achieved by making use of a Microsoft Kinect kit. A similar use of Microsoft Kinect was seen in Moscow, where fashion retailer Topshop allowed shoppers in its stores to virtually try out garments. Another interesting use of augmented reality came in the form of a fashion hunt organised earlier this year by online fashion site Mr Porter, to celebrate its first anniversary. Those interested were asked to download the AR app Goldrun, which guided shoppers to various locations in the city, where they had to watch out for virtual Mr Porter shopping bags. The bags contained giveaways from high fashion brands, right from apparel to shoes and other accessories.

On the other hand, offline augmented reality instances include the use of AR apps that allow users to get more information about the products featured in printed catalogues. Mr Porter, Ikea (a Swedish furniture brand) and Tesco (a British supermarket) feature amongst those who have added AR to their catalogues. Tesco has also installed virtual shops at airports, train stations and other prominent locations, which allow people to shop and make purchases using their smartphones. In India, Shoppers Stop became the first retailer to dabble with AR earlier this year during its annual sale when it urged customers to download an app named Shoppers Stop Secrets. This app took them to the web store, provided information about secret offers and allowed them to make purchases too. Other offline initiatives of AR include shopping sites that allow you to try things on, be they garments or jewellery or even cosmetics, before making the buying decision. All you need is a webcam and you can then try out stuff from the site. A number of luxury brands currently provide this facility.

Mr Porter's treasure hunt that made use of AR was quite popular

Mr Porter's treasure hunt that made use of AR was quite popular

Marketers were quick to realise the potential of AR, as it allowed them to engage with consumers digitally in the real world. Creative heads at advertising agencies around the world have come up with some brilliant ad campaigns for brands that leverage augmented reality. Nike spiced things up when it created an AR game. It hired 50 people to run around Vienna and their movements were tracked via GPS devices attached to their jackets. It then urged people to download an app to track the runners and their job was to take pictures of as many runners as they could. The person who managed to take the most pictures was the winner. Starbucks, the popular US coffee chain, which has always been at the forefront when adopting new technology, used AR to allow its customers to animate its coffee mug.

Hyundai took AR a stuff further as it suspended an actual car on the building facade

Hyundai took AR a step further as it suspended an actual car on the building facade

Axe, the body-spray brand, used AR that allowed people to pose with the angels featured in its ad campaigns. It put a signage on the floor at London’s Victoria train station that urged commuters to look up at a video screen. There they could see an image of themselves along with the angels. Needless to say, this created quite a buzz and the video is worth watching for the antics of some of the commuters. But what takes the cake is the use of augmented reality for promotion, as was demonstrated by Hyundai in April 2011. To promote its new Accent sedan, it took the AR route, but with a difference. Instead of just projecting an image of the car, it actually had a car suspended on the facade of a building and demonstrated its capabilities as it made its way through a changing computer-generated cityscape. What’s more, it also had a driver walking down the wall and taking the wheel. Besides these, it’s fairly common to find AR being used by advertisers to enliven their print ads.

Do let us know if there are any other instances of augmented reality usage that we have missed out on.

Main Image Credit: Getty Images

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