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Augmented Reality: Beyond RFID and QR Codes For Mobile

By Melissa Aiken and Jason Collins, Alcatel-Lucent
RFID World
(06/24/08, 02:18:00 AM EDT)
Think of text, photos and videos on the Internet as a collection of content sitting on various interconnected servers. Consumers can access the content through machines designed in the 1970s and 1980s, during a time when the world relied on relatively large computing platforms comprised of keyboard, mouse and computer monitor. Since then, we have seen many advances in interactivity, the rich display and complexity of the content such as adding video and Web 2.0 functions. People, however, still get that content primarily through a URL/Web address.

A new revolution on the horizon makes the mobile platform a large, if not predominant, mechanism for accessing Internet content. We've seen how compelling the mobile interface is for voice as the percentage of calls on mobile phones increase, and percentage on wireline phones decrease. Mobile Internet access is poised to follow this trend, but truly, how many of us actually go to the Web address printed in an advertisement on a billboard or on a box of Cheerios, Corn Flakes or Special K?

A few key issues exist such as the display isn't a big monitor and a nice big keyboard to type in a Web address doesn't exist. Displays are improving, as the Apple iPhone demonstrates. The mobile device has become nearly all screen. However, as good as keyboards are on mobile devices, huge opportunities exist to rethink how end-users discover and retrieve content. Mobility provides the answer: use the user's environment to key into content. For example, my phone can trigger content from a product image on a billboard advertisement.

One well understood method is covered in this publication regularly"radio frequency identification technology. Of course this requires companies to implement RFID readers in consumer-grade mobile devices and RFID tags placed into the environment. An alternative is to retrieve content through a trigger in existing cameras on phones. Simple examples of this called QR Codes are becoming very popular in some locations around the globe such as Japan. QR Codes are simple bar codes. If you have the right phone and are motivated you can try this by downloading a client for your phone from a site like Kaywa. Coding a web address into a bar code is easy through various tools including the Kaywa QR-Code generator as well. This is only the first step for where technology is going.

A significant advancement in technology provides instant interactivity with network content. It is called mobile augmented reality. This technology combines real-world data with computer-generated data to "augment" the real-world experience for consumers. Examples of the non-mobile version abound in controlled environments for television such as the yellow lines placed on football fields or the replacement of advertisements around the field at soccer games.

Mobile augmented reality takes the same base technology and moves it out of the controlled environments and off of our television sets. With augmented reality, a Web address isn't encoded in a bar code. Instead, the picture is interpreted and information superimposed on a physical object in real time.

Imagine for example being able to look at a picture through the video camera on your phone and see not a static image but a full motion video where that picture "comes to life." The picture below shows what you might see if you were to look at an advertisement through your phone.

The effect is somewhat like the pictures in "Harry Potter," where the pictures aren't static, they move. This augmentation of reality with a moving picture can be used in magazine ads or on billboards, for instance.

A magazine advertisement is one way basic augmented reality technology can be used. Others include superimposing directions from online mapping software in real-time to provide directions or information on city landmarks/exhibits in a museum for tourists.

Georgia Tech and Alcatel-Lucent recently demonstrated mobile augmented reality by providing an interface into a virtual environment. Imagine setting up a conference meeting and having the attendees appear in 3D on a table in your home office. By using augmented reality a user could see this virtual conference superimposed on the real table.

To fully experience Internet content the end user will move to and from augmented reality to a more traditional Web experience, but the discovery and hook into the content initially comes from the environment, meaning the keyboard is much less of an issue and the discovery is more natural.

The architecture for mobile augmented reality must allow for content change, just like the Web does today. You may go to a Web site and see one thing on one day and then go back to the same site to see different content on the next. The architecture for mobile augmented reality must therefore rely on services provided by the network interpreting patterns and delivering content in real-time.

The idea behind the service is to essentially setup a video conference from the end-user to a server in the network. The server in the network can do all the "heavy lifting" required by augmented reality of pattern recognition, pattern tracking, and superimposition of content. The example architecture below shows how the IP Multi-Media Subsystem (IMS) standard can be used to implement a mobile augmented reality service. In this case, the IMS standard is used to setup a video stream (reality) from an end-user to an IMS application server. The IMS application server interprets patterns and orientations of those patterns in the video and matches them against known patterns.

Artificial content appropriate for the known pattern is then folded into the video stream (now the stream is "augmented reality"). The IMS application server then sends the augmented video stream back to the end user. In addition to this basic functionality, the IMS application allows for various types of interactivity between the content and the end user.

Mobile augmented reality, while possible on current networks and services, will improve with better cameras on mobile devices and the launching of higher bandwidth 4G mobile services such as WiMAX or LTE. This is, in part, why the expectation is to see 2D bar codes evolving into the full mobile augmented reality user interface, but this technology is compelling enough that it is extremely likely to be the main way of access content in the future.

The mobile phone has become one of the most personal devices people own. It is something they always have with them, twenty four hours a day, seven days per week. There are many choices of mobile devices available, allowing people to choose the device that meets their needs. Today, these devices have so much more computing power, more memory, and greater flexibility, and the network is increasing its bandwidth and availability.

The continuous improvements have brought new technology such as mobile-to-mobile video calls within reach of the every day user. Augmented reality, using your mobile phone, is not too far behind. Recent Alcatel-Lucent research finds consumers believe the augmented services have broad appeal, easy to use, and a service they would use frequently.

Augmented reality offers a new way to easily access Web content, replacing the need to type in URLs. Using object recognition and putting the computational heavy lifting on the network, AR opens the door to an easy to use, application that has broad appeal for everyday use. Once this technology becomes mainstream, look for "AR enabled" media and products to be commonplace.

About the Authors:

Jason Collins is the senior director of strategic solutions in Alcatel-Lucent's Chief Technology Office. Collins has more than 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry in technical research and development and marketing. Today, he leads an organization that identifies and builds strategic communications solutions at Alcatel-Lucent, including entertainment and augmented reality.

Collins has worked in academia and for service providers and equipment vendors. He began his career in R&D at Georgia Tech researching broadband communications systems, the physical and MAC layers. He held various positions for several service providers such as AT&T.

Collins holds a patent for digital video delivery over DSL and has patents pending for automated configuration of IP networks and automated diagnostics of IP network problems.

Melissa Aiken is the director of marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's Americas Region, Chief Marketing Office. She has more than 15 years of experience in the telecommunications and computing industry in sales and marketing. Today, Aiken works in the Market Advantage Program (MAP), an exclusive resource for ALU Customers designed to help them better understand market opportunities, gain competitive advantage, reduce time to market and accelerate revenue from new services enabled by Alcatel-Lucent products.

At Alcatel-Lucent, Aiken has held several roles, including strategic analyst for the services business, senior research analyst focusing on wireless technologies and applications, and global alliance product manager.

Melissa started her career at NCR selling personal computers, servers and software and then became a senior marketing analyst specializing in strategy and technology. At AT&T she was responsible for public relations research with key constituent customer segments.

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