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March 21, 2011

Augmenting your reality with Layar

GLOBAL – Do you remember virtual reality? We were promised we could see ourselves transported into digital worlds to escape the boring real one we all live in, but unfortunately it never really took off. Today, we have Augmented Reality which is VR’s second cousin: it combines the real world and the digital one in an attempt to make our view on reality more useful.

It’s probably a good idea to start with what Augmented reality (AR) is. It’s a term used to describe how the real world around us might be improved using computers and digital content. So imagine you’re looking for a cash machine in a new part of town. If there’s not one in plain sight, there’s no way of knowing where to find one. Now imagine, as your eyes scan the shops and the horizon that large icons were positioned in the direction of the nearest ATM, this is an example how the real-world can be modified to assist us in our day-to-day tasks.

So while we’re not going to evolve our eyes to be able to see large floating icons, here’s where our mobile phones can help. Layar from Ovi Store creates the icons and places them on your screen when you’ve got the camera lens open. Since set-up in June 2009:

Layar has been named as a 2011 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and TIME magazine, as a Disruptive Innovatorat the 2010 Deloitte Fast50 awards and won the Grand Prix 2010 at Netexplorateur.

Once you’ve opened the app you’ll be greeted with a calibration notice, which means you’ll have to stand there and wave your phone around in a figure-of-eight to get the compass working correctly, but it only takes about 5 seconds. Silly-hand-waving over, you’ll jump straight into the Nearby section where the direction indicator at the top will start to move from left to right as you start to move the phone, the list below that shows you a variety of local interests for you to look at. If you like, you can click one of the icons and the camera will come to life, displaying a series of blue dots on your screen that will move as you do. Looking at the radar at the top of the screen you can see what’s around you and turning to face one of the dots, you’ll be given a short blurb about it as a pop up at the bottom of the screen. See something that interests you? Click the popup where you can then select a map that’ll make it easier for you to find.

The Layers tab along the top is where you can select individual layers – a layer is a a piece of digital information – such as London Tube Stations (3D) for finding the nearest tube station with details of its zone and transport lines, Foursquare lets you see the virtual locations of local check-ins. On St Patrick’s Day, you might even have used it to find your nearest Irish Pub so you can celebrate after work. There are over 1,500 layers available so you’re sure to find something that interests you.

Search, unsurprisingly allows you to search for specific layers within the app, and Yours is where, well, we’re not sure, we assume it’s where any layers you might create reside and More is where you’ll find the settings and info about the Layar app.

Have you augmented your reality yet? Is AR the future? Don’t forget to let us know.