TOURISTS do it. Diners do it. Kids do it.
It’s a form of browsing that sounds like something out of
science fiction, and it is, but it is also slowly intruding into our daily
Augmented reality (AR) is a computer-generated overlay of
information, text, video, graphics or even games on a real-world scene, object
or image. The overlay is invisible to the naked eye but, using the viewer, one
can not only view the material but also interact with it.
One of the first mainstream examples of AR in South Africa
arrived on magazine shelves last month with the September edition of Rolling
Stone SA. The only clue that something is “hovering” in the air above the cover
photo of Arno Carstens is a small logo reading “view with Layar”.
That’s the hint to download the Layar browser from an app
store – it can be found in the Google Play Store, Apple App Store and
BlackBerry App World – and focus your camera on the magazine cover. Layar
analyses the cover and finds the code that launches Carstens’ new music video,
Aside from affirming his creative powers, it also signals
the first mass market attempt at popularising AR locally.
By sheer coincidence, however, it came just weeks before the
launch of a new AR gaming platform in South Africa. At the rAge games expo last
weekend, Sony unveiled the Wonderbook, a device that looks like a book, but
each page is covered in coded patterns.
The equipment that gives life to the book includes a Sony
PlayStation 3 console, a motion-sensing game controller in the shape of a wand
called the Move, and a webcam-style camera called the PlayStation Eye. Link
these to a TV screen, wave the wand over the Wonderbook, and you see yourself
on screen, transported into a magical environment – depending on the specific
game loaded onto the Wonderbook.
The first Wonderbook game is, appropriately, a Harry Potter
title, the Book of Spells. Once you synchronise the Move with the Wonderbook
and Eye, the wand appears on screen, in your hands, as a magic wand in the
Each page introduces your image into a new scene, which
appears to take form around you. By focusing on the screen and moving your wand
in specific ways, you are able to manipulate the AR environment, casting
spells, zapping monster bugs, levitating ancient goblets or negotiating with
PlayStation aren’t the first to bring AR into gaming.
Nintendo achieved that 18 months ago with the 3DS handheld console. It comes
with a set of game cards, each containing a code that launched AR games ranging
from monster battles to roboto puzzles.
The device itself also includes a variety of innovative AR
games. For example, Face Raiders uses the built-in 3D camera to capture
someone’s face, place it in a floating helmet that seems to appear in the air,
and then uses your own environment as the backdrop for a shoot-em-up game. Miss
the helmet, and you seem to blast holes in the wall.
In a panel discussion on AR at the rAge expo, Grant Hinds,
games expert on the Top Billing TV show, made the point that AR would help get
gamers off the couch. Videogame blog editor Lisa Trollip and games reviewer
Pippa Tshabalala suggested it would get the entire family involved in gaming.
Both of those objectives have already been achieved by
Nintendo , whose stand at rAge happened to be one of the busiest in the
Northgate Dome. While its Wii has waned in sales and coolness relative to new
PlayStation and Microsoft products, its new Wii U is expected to go a little
way to restoring its fortunes.
Meanwhile, AR has escaped the boundaries of the gaming and
music world. For the past year, a South African AR restaurant guide, produced
by Dining-OUT, has allowed diners to point a phone camera at a shopping complex
or tourist site, for example, and immediately see it labelled with information
about all the restaurants in the area.
It can be used to navigate to a restaurant or call up a menu
– and alert the budget-conscious to the typical price range before they get
there and embarrass themselves.
AR may not be the next big thing, but it has finally emerged
from the shadows of virtual reality.
* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and MD of
World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest on @art2gee