Augmented Realty starting to show potential for DS and DOOH

July 7, 2009 by Dave Haynes

On the urging of some industry colleagues I have started paying a little closer attention to something called augmented reality – a fast-emerging technology that stitches real-time video together with computer-generated graphics as overlays.

The first things I saw were kinda cool, but gimmicky. Eye candy stuff that had a short shelf-life.

But the more I see in this area, the more I think there is something there, and something that people working in the digital out of home and in-store retail sides of this sector might want to pay attention to.

Consider the virtual shipping box simulator the US Postal Service has online. As the description lays out, you use your webcam and our Virtual Box Simulator to project box holograms onto the image from our camera. Then, compare the size of the real stuff you want to ship to size of the virtual box
on your screen.

Interesting and actually useful.

Then there is a webcam shopping thing by a company called Zugara, which uses a Webcam and a printed, oversized symbol to overlay clothes you want to virtually try on, and then use gestures to switch styles.

I could easily see this used in a storefront window, using rear projection technology to drive a screen.

Same with this: Specially-printed bags of Dorito’s Late Night chips allow people to log in to a Web site and using the Web cam, launch virtaul concerts that pop out of the bag. Users can change the video performance by moving the bag around.

Or a very nice creative job for the BMW Z4 (my idle daydream car, if you feel like treating me).

We’re also now seeing apps that leverage GPS technology to overlay directional information on to things like iPhones, as with this example for finding stations and directions to London Tube system stops.

The British national newspaper, the Independent, had an interesting look at this Monday in its Media section – the writer suggesting the potential is there to literally change your world.

Lego is already at it. In some of its toy shops you can now pick up one of the special Lego boxes and hold it up to an interactive kiosk to see yourself holding a 3D animation of what the fully constructed toy will look like. Point of sale promos have never been sexier. But AR sits comfortably with advertising too.

I’ve written before in this column about the AR campaign created for BMW’s Z4 by Dare. It’s probably the best example yet of using AR to get consumers closer to brands. It’s easy to take part: you print out a 3D pattern recognition symbol from the BMW website. Then, using your computer’s webcam (which interprets the 3D symbol as an image of the car itself), you can create an AR that allows you to drive the car around your desk.

If all this AR activity seems a little playful when set against the harsh realities of recessionary marketing, with its focus on price and special offers, then don’t underestimate the seductive power of allowing consumers to actually interact with ads and brands in a virtual-real world. It’s a fantastic way to engage people and engagement is the first step to a sale. It is particularly potent for brands targeting a youth audience hooked on gaming, but its marketing potential goes much deeper than play appeal. Combining AR with GPS location technology on your mobile opens up a whole new highway of possibilities for marketers. Web-based interactive communications can be overlaid with real-world data and tailored to where you are in space and time.

Nokia is already working on applications that allow you to point your mobile phone camera at a building to see information about what’s inside, overlaid on the image of the building itself, so AR can let you know when a store has special offers or sales and where to find the bargains.

The time will come, too, when you won’t need a cumbersome screen to converge all this real and virtual information and imagery; it will be projected directly before our eyes by special visors or contact lenses, or even (don’t imagine it’s not a possibility) wired directly into our brains so that the web becomes to all intents and purposes a part of the real world as we experience it.

There is also a good piece in AdAge from a couple of months ago. If you go through the copmments there is a sense out there that retail is where this thing will be at, not the Web. 

If you search YouTube or Google on Augmented Reality, there is no shortage of news and the pace of reporting appears to be picking up. I do not think this means all that much to mainstream software companies or panel guys, as this is technology that should easily plug in. But if you are hanging out a shingle calling yourself a digital signage solutions company, it is probably time to start understanding this stuff and thinking how it might be used by your clients.

I sat in a meeting earlier this year with a major retailer, and the visual merchandiser was interested in just one thing: something different and cool.

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