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The mention of augmented reality as a technological pillar in the notion of smart city concepts has been steadily rising in the last few years with articles highlighting foreseeable applications in navigation, social experiences, visual search engine, contextual experiences driven by image recognition and so on.
It is true that certain aspects of the capabilities of AR are already demonstrating its viability in the smart city context, such as Google AR navigation recently released in Pixel phones, smaller scale way finding AR applications in airports/shopping centres or Holo Lens applications for urban planning, but the reality is that there’s not much other utility based AR applications that works simply on your phone out there. If a majority of the population are not educated in accessing AR or don’t have appropriate hardware, it’s not a worthwhile investment.
As a matter of experience, smart city concepts where there is a need for an augmented interface is far and few and that a direct navigation to a website is much more efficient. The true seamless augmented experience envisioned by futurists that encompasses a head user interface is still poses major technological and social barriers – Think back to the launch of Google glasses regarding video streaming privacy issues.
Despite some current limitations in the expectations of AR, there are still several innovative AR approaches that can be incorporated into urban environments today, which rely on QR and web technology being the most seamless and intuitive way to activate AR experiences.
Several of these applications will be highlighted below:
Indoor navigation with AR and Beacon Technology
AR navigation can be considered one of the most common applications reported amongst many AR articles, because it seems that the pain of direction finding is so prominent. While, Google Navigation AR provides a street level navigation relying on GPS, phone sensors and computer vision algorithms, it cannot be translated for more precise or indoor navigation scenarios.
For indoor AR navigation, a complete immersive experience can be achieved by using the phone sensors and beacons (Bluetooth sensors) to help determine the exact location of the user. Additionally, because an actual virtual space is constructed mimicking the indoor space to aid navigation, supplementary interactive touch points can be incorporated such as positional content, AR engagements, and tracking.
Mixed Reality Infrastructure Feedback
Functional AR on mobile provides new possibilities to imagine new land use and developments in the eyes of the public at the physical location as if they are touring the built infrastructure. Because of this accessibility, not relying on special equipment, government and development companies can now easily measure and obtain data on the social impacts of new developments whilst providing an immersive experience.
Interactive Points of Interest Information
AR becomes powerful when there is a need to augmented content for physical objects/markers located in close vicinity as a single interaction can contain all the required points of interest content, instead of loading different webpages separately. For example, environment with landmarks can now enable tourists to quickly access relevant information and also be invited participate in the digital experience of a city tour.
Outdoor Community Game Centres
The advent of QR and AR enables new type of digital engagements to be deployed in community spaces. The uniqueness of these digital engagements will help define the culture/theme of the location and also attract visitors from other regions. The effectiveness relies on gamification concepts that can be encapsulated from single/multi-player AR games accessed in the physical space.
The use case scenarios for AR mentioned above are low hanging fruits can be accomplished using existing technologies without the need to develop something new, and in doing so will contribute to the usefulness of AR in the smart city context. There are obviously more complex uses of AR such as a visual search engine with augmenting information, which in itself is a monster project that only unicorns can tackle.
To conclude, the use of AR for smart city initiatives is still in its early days, as AR only makes sense in certain situations, where it is beneficial to rapidly deliver different contextual content based on field of view. There is no doubt the hardware and software will improve driven by Google and Apple, and the extent of the type of applications that can created is still waiting to be discovered.
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