What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR), a capability that has been around for some time, is shifting from what once required rooms of equipment to a set of simple-to-use tools with tremendous potential. The layering of information over 3D space produces a new experience of the world, sometimes referred to as “blended reality,” bringing with it new expectations regarding access to information and new opportunities for learning. While the most prevalent uses of augmented reality so far have been in the consumer sector (for marketing, social engagement, amusement, or location-based information), new uses seem to emerge almost daily, as tools for creating new applications become even easier to use. A key characteristic of augmented reality is its ability to respond to user input. This interactivity confers significant potential for learning and assessment; with it, students can construct new understanding based on interactions with virtual objects that bring underlying data to life.

As augmented reality is becoming increasingly used in education, there are more services and tools available to author AR resources. For example, tag-based augmented reality applications are being replaced by image-recognition systems to remove the unsuitable tags from the environment. Additionally, teachers and students are embracing location-based AR applications, such as Google Goggles, because it makes for more authentic and immersive learning experiences. However, the development cost of these technologies is still very high and only available for developers. As a result, new authoring tools are emerging so that this technology is more affordable for institutions, which will is the key for the widespread adoption of augmented reality in education.
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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Oct 12, 2012 I think AR has a lot of potential for learning. The ROM in Toronto used AR with their dinosaurs exhibit, the Natural History Museum in London also used AR effectively. So far, I think science museums have been the best at atempting to harness the potential of AR. Archaeological site restorations/Architectural restorations are also obvious candidates. Also, I could see AR being used in something like the (going back several years) Sistine Chapel, where extensive restoration work was done; it would be nice to see what it looked like before restoration *while* you are looking at the paintings.
  • - elka.weinstein elka.weinstein Oct 13, 2012 I have to say I got quite excited about augmented reality, especially for sites that could "come alive" with the technology. That said, it is not affordable for most museums, although it might become so eventually.
  • - len.steinbach len.steinbach Oct 13, 2012 Augmented reality has tremendous potential, with respect to what we could not otherwise see, what could not be otherwise demonstrated or interacted with, or what could not otherwise be imagined. Embracing various kinds of interfaces including smartphones, tablets, headsets and soon glasses, and created through a variety of software, and ever more responsiveness to motion and location detection we have just begun to see the potential start to emerge...and those demonstration that are not so good... from those we learn. More profoundly, much as we have seen "rogue" audio tour development we will see more rogue...or let's just say crowd-created and unauthorized AR developed with respect to museum content. Augmented Reality may evolve to be (it is not there yet) the most wondrous educational, interpretative, and inspirational tool yet. The most effective means yet devised for mitigating, moderating, or mediating what Peter Walsh once called "the unassailable voice of the museum." This is not without its peril. While it might be nice to view dinosaurs lumbering around their natural habitat, the natural history museum that has tolerated its displays used by creationists to make their own points might now have to contend with an AR app that shows man and beast frolicking together.
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 AR is an interpretation layer over what we see, that word is pretty much in all of our missions. It has to be one of the most significant technologies here.
  • - ssbautista ssbautista Oct 14, 2012 In my experience with art museums, AR has potential from the humorous to the serious, from introducing new artists into the traditional museum space, to providing a fun way to interpret serious art, to curatorial processes such as layering historical photos and paintings with contemporary ones that share the same subjects, placing comparative works onto the blank walls next to artwork, or creating an immersive environment with works from storage that cannot be placed on exhibit.
  • Interesting point above about user/visitor generated content via AR, thought there might have been more of this already. Does AR present more problems that any other type of 3rd party interpretation? Might it just be harder to 'see' and monitor? - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Oct 15, 2012
  • I believe that AR along with wearable computing devices will be come a standard in developed nations worldwide. In today's NYTimes, and article dealing with ubiquitous, wearable media was feature and the terminology applied was "augmented intelligence" meaning that the user has at his/her disposal a vast range of information available via heads-up displays, audio feeds, and the like. Today this phenomenon is characterized by the new conversation style in which any question that arises in a group is quickly dealt with by someone "googling" the web for answers and delivering such information for further discussion within the group. Already, in museum, patrons arrive, want "more" information and google for answers in the gallery on their smartphones. The fact that "google" is now a verb in our language is a key indication of this trend continuing and advancing as technology improves and shrinks to become less and less intrusive and more ubiquitous in daily life. Many, if not most, museum visitors arrive at our doorsteps equipped with mobile devices capable of delivering instantaneous information and those people will increasingly expect us (museums) to provide relevant content for personal exploration.- david.dean david.dean Oct 15, 2012
  • Speaking in the broadest of terms, being able to marry physical interactions with computer-generated behaviors is immensely powerful. The fact that it still hasn't got beyond the "hold up the glyph to see an object" phase shouldn't distract us from the potential of connecting real-world objects with behaviors that manifest themselves digitally, and that these interactions can be influenced by multiple inputs: Object A = Behavior 1, Object B= Behavior 2, Object A+B = Behavior 3. - ed.rodley ed.rodley Oct 15, 2012

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - sheila.carey sheila.carey Oct 12, 2012 The discussion above touches on the technologies being high cost, and the fact that new authoring tools are emerging, but I think it could even be more specific and mention cross-platform issues and lack of any sort of standards for this.
  • - len.steinbach len.steinbach Oct 14, 2012
  • - ssbautista ssbautista Oct 14, 2012 I think it's important to raise the issue of screens with AR. Is the "augmented" reality being seen through a small screen of a smartphone, through a larger one of the iPad, through a stationary device in front of the object, or though wearable devices where the screen disappears (e.g., glasses).
  • agree re screens, and how broadly do we interpret AR - from personal small scale experience to larger scale and spatial - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Oct 15, 2012
  • As I mused in the first answer, I believe the definition of AR is expanding, as noted by the statements above. Museums need to embrace thinking in terms of, not some much augmented reality, as augmented intelligence.- david.dean david.dean Oct 15, 2012

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?..

  • "How to Make A Spy Exhibit Boring: Museums are using technology to create spectacle, not spark learning" This blog/review of "Spy: The Secret World of Espionage" talks about some of the pitfalls of augmented reality and quotes the 2011 Horizon Report- holly holly Oct 12, 2012http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/10/_spy_the_secret_world_of_espionage_and_other_museum_exhibits_that_use_technology.html

  • - len.steinbach len.steinbach Oct 14, 2012 There is a lot of potential for discovery based learning but the challenge will be creating simultaneously intellectually and emotionally driven learning moments. The inherent "surprise discovery" moments will facilitate this, and the need to deliver or assist the user in creating meaningful knowledge will be a multisensory challenge.
  • - ssbautista ssbautista Oct 14, 2012 One element that will impact education and make it more engaging and memorable is the cinematic quality of AR, bringing history to life, bringing the past to the present or vice versa. It is also this comparative quality that will impact interpretation I believe.
  • Lots of potential for layering of information in unobtrusive ways or exploring creative ways of offering additional information. Possible risk of information overload/unsuitable presentation of additional info, at least one app i've seen presents a huge amount of text alongside AR elements which seems to me to not be the best/most creative use of the tech - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Oct 15, 2012
  • - ed.rodley ed.rodley Oct 15, 2012 Where I've seen AR shine is in acting as an interface layer to complicated activities. A 3D screen interface is usually something you'd never want a visitor to manipulate; they're awful. But knowing how to interface with a 3D object is already built into us. If you want to see the other side, you turn it around.
  • - shazan shazan Oct 17, 2012 I am a little concerned here about competition with the unique object/artwork - in my experience when you place an amazing AR expereince in the gallery kids will press their noses (or fingers) onto the screen and forgo the real object - these kinds of interactions have to be developed with great care.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • The project/application which put me over the top in my faith in this type of application wasPure Land Augmented Reality Edition (2012) developed at ALIVE (Applied Laboratory of Interactive Visualization and Embodiment) in Hong Kong. Using a brilliant lucite ipad holder and artistically installed motion detectors, users could aim their ipads at a wall which represented the full size of the walls of an inaccessible cave in Dunhuang, but where brilliantly detailed cave paintings would be, there were on the walls only the basic outlines of the drawings depicted. But using the iPad devices, with no instructions at all, they became magic looking glasses depicting that which they were looking at in full scale an color, getting larger as you moves closer and more distant perspective if you moved away. At saw it as shown to the public at the Asian Art Fair in HK where is was a major hit, and I am told it was quite the sensation months later at the Shanghai Biennial. It fulfilled James Cameron's charge that technology should use its own magic wand to make itself disappear. Here is a link
    http://alive.scm.cityu.edu.hk/projects/alive/pure-land-ii-2012/ and a photo is below.
    - shazan shazan Oct 17, 2012 excellent example
  • Another perspective here.

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