Sunday, May 22, 2011

Libraries & augmented reality, adding video reviews to books - Aurasma

Augmented reality is one of the technologies that education and libraries industry is looking at, that might be the next big thing by complementing mobile. If you are unfamiliar with the idea, you point your device (smartphone or tablet) camera at an object and when you look at your device it not only shows the object but additional information overlaying it, typically some text, image or movie.

I've never really played much attention because it seemed like something that would be very difficult and costly to do. I did play with one app (Junaio a while back) that allowed you to add pictures and some animated stuff , but it was Aurasma that caught my interest.

Okay, so it wasn't very professional (I don't do videos much), but the effect is pretty cool. I recorded a video of myself doing a short review of a book. Then used the app to add the video to a image of the book cover. So when the user views the book cover with the app, the video appears superimposed over the book cover creating a "talking head" effect.

Several mistakes in the video. For example, I said it works only for iPhone 4 and iPad 2 "due to front facing camera". That's nonsense. Though the description says iPhone 4 and iPad 2 only, it works fine on my iPhone 3GS.

This also works for pages in books or magazines.

At the risk of being accused of trying to self promote, here I attached a video of myself to a page in the Library Journal where my bio for Movers&Shakers 2011 is listed. I aligned it as much as possible so the talking head video appears in just about the right place for my bio.

Again not very professionally done, but you get the idea.

It was pretty trivial to do all this, I probably spent more like on the video of the book review. Steps are as follows.

1. Capture the image where the AR is going to appear. It this case it's the book cover. You can expand and shrink the area captured.

2. Next, you select where to grab the image or video from. In my case, I took it from my iPhone/iPad but you can use blinkx video search engine to search for videos from Youtube etc. I could have used professionally made videos from my libraries' Youtube account for example.

3. Once it's loaded, you can then align, rotate etc scale up or down the video and position it. Initially the video is too big, so i scale it down etc..

4. This is what I settled for in the end, with my video appears just below the author and title.

5. That's pretty much it.

Here's a professional version by Aurasma themselves.

Not everyone can create a powerful Augmented Reality app that can be used to do shelf checking but apps like Aurasma (others include Junaio - I tried earlier version) makes it easy for librarians with no technical skill get involved.

Obviously the true potential of Augmented reality goes beyond just adding static videos or images (how about dynamic display of "likes", user comments on a book?), but to some extent what I showed can eventually take the place of some of the use cases of QRcodes (at least those that link to videos or images).

Currently Aurasma has a number of drawbacks, it works only on iPhone 4 (and also 3GS) and Ipad 2, but I suppose there's no reason why it cannot get an Android app eventually.

More seriously I believe any Augmented reality case - they call it a "anywhere", you create on device only works on that device, which makes its practically useless except for very specific use cases (though you can share with friends it seems I haven't tried).

There are "super anywheres" which don't have this restriction, but I'm not sure how much it costs to create one (maybe paid app?) but currently only the Aurasma team can create the, and they have done so for things like NBC logo, Kelloggs logo etc. Looks like Aurasma is seeing a marketing opportunity here.

It's really exciting, and I'm starting to see that the future portrayed in the movie Minority Report and in particularVinge's Rainbow end might actually be coming. Imagine a next-generation wikipedia but one that uses the cognitive surplus of millions of people on the internet to populate the augmented reality world. I suppose the same issues of authority, trust will emerge again, who should be allowed to edit an Augmented reality wikipedia? If you think editing an online encylopedia is explosive, this makes that look like child's play.

Once I got Aurasma to work, my brain was bursting with ideas, I'm sure you have them too so I won't elaborate. The key point here is not whether Aurasma in particular is the right tool to use (currently it is not), but rather it represents a class of products or services that I will be keeping an eye out from now.
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