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In Library Hi Tech News, 31, Iss 1

Is Augmented Reality science fiction?

Augmented Reality (AR) allows the enrichment of the real world using digital information and as it is still unknown, is often considered as science fiction. But is it really science fiction? From its beginning in the 60s, this technology was used for sciences, industry and military affairs, due to its cost, the complexity of its development and the infrastructure required. With the development of mobile technologies, especially devices and tablets which bring together all the necessary components for its operation, Augmented Reality is now very closed to take an important place in the real world and in our daily life. In this column we will explain what is AR and see possibilities offered by AR in libraries (Part One). In the future next column on the same topic, we will be focused on AR in libraries.

History of AR in short

Cultural institutions mostly in English speaking countries were the first to understand the extensive possibilities offered by such a technology, in education for example or to reduce the gap between physical and digital services. QR codes or geolocation become more and more common and widely used now, and they are the first components of AR. Let’s have now a quick look to the beginning of AR.

The term “Augmented Reality” is introduced for the first time in 1992 by Tom

Caudell and David Mizell, scientists working for the Boeing Company, in order to

point out computerized reality. Two years after in 1994 Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino, professors and engineers, wrote about a mixed reality as "...anywhere between the extrema of the virtuality continuum." (VC), where the Virtuality Continuum extends from the completely real through to the completely virtual environment with augmented reality and augmented virtuality ranging between”.In this model, there is one side completely real and one another in a complete virtual environment, which can melt one into the other to be what is called a mixed reality. In 1997, a second definition is set out by the researcher Ronald Azuma: according to him “Augmented Reality allows one who uses it to collect virtual objects linked with the real environment, so that it should be under the impression that these last coexist in the same space, as it is the case in some movies where the actors interact with virtual creatures (e.g. Star Wars). Augmented Reality has the three following characteristics:

- combination of the real and the virtual;

- real-time interaction;

- alignment of the real and the virtual environments in three dimensions.

Understanding what is Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality enlarges the individual’s perception of the real world overlaying digital information. It does not replace the real environment as virtual reality does, but complete it. Different kind of technologies can be associated, because they contribute to “blur the boundaries between the physical and virtual environment to provide information and an interaction depending on the context and the location » as Brigite Jordan said in her article “Blurring Boundaries: The "Real" and the "Virtual" in Hybrid Spaces » published in 2009 in Human Organization. Thus, the information added to reality is not necessarily three-dimensional or two-dimensional, but may takes the form of a web page that opens on a mobile terminal or action that is automatically activated (sending an SMS, dialing a phone number, etc.).

Which Technologies can be associated to AR?

The following typology for the Augmented Reality can be established:

- Markers in two dimensions or QR codes;

- Augmented Objects;

- Geo-tagging and geo-location;

- Near Field Communication (NFC).

QR Codes

QR or Quick Response Codes are a type of two-dimensional barcode that can be read using smartphones and dedicated QR reading devices, that link directly to text, emails, websites, phone numbers and more! QR codes are slowly beginning to become commonplace. Soon enough you will see QR codes on product packaging, shop displays, printed and billboard advertisements as well as in emails and on websites. The scope of use for QR codes is really huge, particularly for the marketing and advertising of products, brands, services and…libraries !

Augmented Objects

After its recognition through an image by a camera or through a marker, an object can have three dimensions or two-dimensions: it is necessary to launch the application in Augmented Reality (on a computer for exemple), which will capture the image of the augmented object, or allowing the scanning of the marker. For example with a radio: the software activates when a user points their smartphone or tablet at an object, in this case a radio. Once the augmented reality application recognizes the radio, it then brings up an intuitive graphical interface to program the object's behavior. In this case, the user was able to use an iPad to drag several songs from a playlist to one of the radio’s knobs, reprogramming its stations on the fly.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

Mobile technologies with its applications for information services and libraries are expanding. The NFC Technology – or the Near Field Communication technology - seems promising: a simple touch on the cell phone which contains the necessary information, plus a connection to a terminal, and it is possible to pay its purchases in a store, to get into a train, a plane or a bus. Other developments are or will be soon in hand, such as the delivery of tickets (for concerts, or matches…) or in museums wishing more interaction with their visitors. NFC allows exchanges of information at short distance from an object to Internet. The object has to be placed in front of a NFC sensor and is automatically linked with Internet. It is especially useful for seniors if they are not at ease with technology: they do not need to know how to type or use a mouth pad, what they have to do is placing the object containing the NFC technology in front of the screen and they could get information from Internet.

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