The cover of a magazine and the launch of a new Sony PlayStation game herald the arrival of augmented reality in the mass market in South Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Tourists do it. Diners do it. Kids do it. It’s a form of browsing that sounds like something out of science fiction, and it is, but it is also slowly intruding into our daily lives.
Augmented reality (AR) is a computer-generated overlay of information, text, video, graphics or even games on a real-world scene, object or image. The overlay is invisible to the naked eye but, using the viewer, one can not only view the material but also interact with it.
One of the first mainstream examples of AR in South Africa arrived on magazine shelves last month with the September edition of Rolling Stone SA. The only clue that something is ‚”hovering‚” in the air above the cover photo of Arno Carstens is a small logo reading ‚”view with Layar‚”.
That’s the hint to download the Layar browser from an app store it can be found in the Google Play Store, Apple App Store and BlackBerry App World and focus your camera on the magazine cover. Layar analyses the cover and finds the code that launches Carstens’ new music video, Two Dogs.
Aside from affirming his creative powers, it also signals the first mass market attempt at popularizing AR locally.
By sheer coincidence, however, it came just weeks before the launch of a new AR gaming platform in South Africa. At the rAge games expo last weekend, Sony unveiled the Wonderbook, a device that looks like a book, but each page is covered in coded patterns. The equipment that gives life to the book includes a Sony PlayStation 3 console, a motion-sensing game controller in the shape of a wand called the Move, and a webcam-style camera called the PlayStation Eye. Link these to a TV screen, wave the wand over the Wonderbook, and you see yourself on screen, transported into a magical environment depending on the specific game loaded onto the Wonderbook.
The first Wonderbook game is, appropriately, a Harry Potter title, the Book of Spells. Once you synchronise the Move with the Wonderbook and Eye, the wand appears on screen, in your hands, as a magic wand in the Potter tradition. Each page introduces your image into a new scene, which appears to take form around you. By focusing on the screen and moving your wand in specific ways, you are able to manipulate the AR environment, casting spells, zapping monster bugs, levitating ancient goblets or negotiating with dragons.
PlayStation aren’t the first to bring AR into gaming. Nintendo achieved that 18 months ago with the 3DS handheld console. It comes with a set of game cards, each containing a code that launched AR games ranging from monster battles to roboto puzzles.
The device itself also includes a variety of innovative AR games. For example, Face Raiders uses the built-in 3D camera to capture someone’s face, place it in a floating helmet that seems to appear in the air, and then uses your own environment as the backdrop for a shoot-em-up game. Miss the helmet, and you seem to blast holes in the wall.
In a panel discussion on AR at the rAge expo, Grant Hinds, games expert on the Top Billing TV show, made the point that AR would help get gamers off the couch. Videogame blog editor Lisa Trollip and games reviewer Pippa Tshabalala suggested it would get the entire family involved in gaming.
Both of those objectives have already been achieved by Nintendo , whose stand at rAge happened to be one of the busiest in the Northgate Dome. While its Wii has waned in sales and coolness relative to new PlayStation and Microsoft products, its new Wii U is expected to go a little way to restoring its fortunes.
Meanwhile, AR has escaped the boundaries of the gaming and music world. For the past year, a South African AR restaurant guide, produced by Dining-OUT, has allowed diners to point a phone camera at a shopping complex or tourist site, for example, and immediately see it labeled with information about all the restaurants in the area. It can be used to navigate to a restaurant or call up a menu and alert the budget-conscious to the typical price range before they get there and embarrass themselves.
AR may not be the next big thing, but it has finally emerged from the shadows of virtual reality.
* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and MD of World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest on @art2gee