What’s the deal with… Augmented Reality

13 Jul

Last week I wrote broke the news about a super secret summer project I had been working as part of my internship. Accompanying the MIA’s latest installation, Christian Morrisseau: New Directions 2010-2012, is the museums first experimentation with AR (Augmented Reality).

But what exactly is AR?

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, augmented reality is:

a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

In other words, you can “change” the environment you’re in by looking through your phone.

How it works

Similar to how QR codes are scanned, AR markers are also scanned with your smart phone. These markers could be anything from a physical 3D object like a sculpture or an image from a magazine or poster. A GREAT feature of the AR markers is that you don’t need to scan a weird looking box (those QR codes) every time you want to access new information.

AR developers can also make channels so you don’t have to keep looking for markers, scanning them, and waiting to be taken to a separate webpage as with QR codes.

Bearing in mind my poor analogy skills, imagine AR channels as being similar to television channels. When you tuning your TV to one station, you’re not limited to one program- you can watch a series of different shows all without having to press additional buttons. With AR channels, smartphone users only have to open the channel once and then they’re free to casually walk around and wave their phone in front of objects to reveal hidden content. Users no longer have to hunt for a QR code to scan and then wait for the page to load. Opening the AR channel means the content has already loaded and is waiting to be scanned by a visitor.

*AR channels also vary slightly from television channels since you control when you see the content, unlike TV where you would have to wait for a designated broadcasting time.

Why use it

As with any new technology, there is a huge period of experimentation as people try to figure out the best way to use it. Within the museum field alone, AR has been used in various ways – sometimes not even by actual museum staff!

In October 2010, the group WeARinMoMA created a temporary exhibition inside the MoMA. Without the museums consent, they virtually added to the MoMA collection by placing digital works inside the gallery space using GPS and the Layar program.

The London Museum has also included some augmented reality elements with their exhibitions. They also used GPS and Layar in order display thousands of photographs of the city that were hidden away in their museum archives. Rather than attempt the impossible feat of showing those photos in your typical gallery space, they decided to track down the original location of those photos and super impose them over the contemporary scenery.
And voila!

But of course, you don’t have to use AR for scholarly purposes.
During this massive experimentation stage everyone has been putting on their best Mad Scientist impersonations and created some pretty crazy things.
Here are some of our favourites:

AR for your skin?!

Decepticons Roll Out!

Childhood building blocks Updated

The Magic Kingdom Gets a little More Magical

Posted by: Brittany Holliss, MIA’s Educational Assistant


One Response to “What’s the deal with… Augmented Reality”


  1. MIA’s AR FAQ (and a bunch of other letters) explained « Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - July 19, 2012

    […] my past AR blog post I wrote about how other museums were using AR (augmented realty), and showed you a few clips of the […]

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