Augmented reality! It sounds so futuristic and sci-fi! It's getting a lot of buzz lately, especially in the world of digital marketing. But what is it exactly? Reality is reality, right? How do you even augment it and why would you want to? At least that was my reaction when I first heard the term, but I soon realized augmented reality has been integrated in our lives for quite some time.
Augmented reality is simply a live view of some real-world environment that is digitally enhanced with computer-generated elements. Think any major sporting event that has been televised in the past 10 years. In the case of football, that bright yellow line that magically appears at the first-down line is one of the most prevalent forms of augmented reality today. These virtual elements are created by a technology called 1st & Ten, which became a huge hit after the 1998 Super Bowl and has since expanded to most televised sporting events.
So if augmented reality has been around longer than the iPod, why all the recent buzz? It all has to do with a new market. With the proliferation of smart phones and more advanced computers, the technology has found its way into our everyday lives and enhances how we consume information. Say you're walking around and decide you want to grab a bite. You can use Yelp's smart phone application to activate your phone's video camera and the application will provide an augmented reality overlay that shows you relevant information, like nearby coffee hotspots or the rating of a restaurant, about your immediate surroundings.
Brands are also investing digital marketing dollars in augmented reality to creatively engage with consumers. Doritos printed computer-generated symbols on special-edition bags that instructed consumers to hold the symbol in front of their webcams. A miniature band would appear on-screen and perform, creating a virtual concert experience. The U.S. Postal Service offers a less exciting, although far more practical, augmented reality experience with their Virtual Box Simulator which helps customers size their packages within 3D boxes.
I recently delved into the world of augmented reality here at Union (formerly Studiobanks), creating an interactive demo of a client's medical device product for use at a national convention. Our goal was to attract attendees to our client's exhibit, but also to keep them engaged in an entertaining yet educational way. We created a series of printed cards that attendees held in front of webcams that were connected to large screens throughout the experience. The webcam would read the card and then overlay a 3D model of the product on the screen that made it appear as if they were actually holding the client's device. By moving the card, people could manipulate the 3D model to rotate and even get a closer look at the device's inner workings, presenting a tactile and memorable experience that resonated with attendees.
At the rate technology is moving and the growing digital marketing landscape, the application of augmented reality seems to have no limits when creatively engaging consumers. Sure it's been around for a while, but it's only begun to explode in the social consciousness in the past couple of years. Augmented reality is an exciting technology and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it is used in new and innovative ways we couldn't even imagine today.