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View From CES: Augmenting Reality

Wed, 01/11/2012 - 7:05am
Andrew Berg

LAS VEGAS—It's hard not to be intrigued by augmented reality. The name alone sounds like it comes straight out of the pages of a Philip K. Dick novel. Indeed, there's something magical about watching our already precious and magical mobile devices superimpose another layer of information over the existing world.

But if you thought that augmented reality would remain a simple tool for finding the nearest McDonald's, think again. I've seen two impressive demonstrations here at CES that speak volumes as to where this technology is headed. To put it plain, augmented reality is going to fundamentally change the way we search for and obtain information, as well as the way we interact with digital content.

On my first night here in Las Vegas, I ran into Dave Black, a business development guy for Blippar, an augmented reality firm. Blippar makes an app that reads static images – print advertisements – and then offers up supplemental content – videos, animations, websites – on the phone. Where it gets interesting is when you consider that just reading a magazine can be a completely interactive and immersive experience. Point your phone at a Blippar image and the page literally comes alive.

Blippar's app is hindered by its reliance on native caching of content but the technology itself is nonetheless impressive. Black's demonstration of his company's app brought put the potential back on the my radar, but it wasn't until I stumbled upon HP's booth at Pepcom's Digital Experience show Monday night that I really had that eureka moment.

As I said, Blippar's technology is dependent on constant updates to its app to supply content that augments any given advertising campaign. HP's Aurasma "visual browser," which does pretty much the same thing as Blippar, takes things to the next level by hosting the processing, storage and delivery of content on HP's massive cloud.

Lauren Offers, director of marketing at Autonomy, a division of HP, demoed the Aurasma browser for me. Given that content is being streamed from the cloud, it can include rich, HD experience, especially over today's LTE networks.

What's more, the Aurasma browser allows users to create and connect content to a specific image, essentially turning the traditional, centralized Internet search engine like Google on its head. This is where it really gets interesting and where the fabled "Internet of Things" is actually realized. For example, a user can take a picture of their business card, then associate that card with the said video in the cloud.

"Aurasma actually learns that specific image, no QR code," Offers said, "and now anytime anyone scans that business card using the visual browser that video will render."

That Aurasma allows users to create their own associations between objects in the real world and unique content stores in HP's cloud is the real differentiator here and a major boon. You can see where this is going. As HP becomes proprietor of all these associations, it is essentially creating its own decentralized search engine. The possibilities (and profits) are absolutely endless.

The players currently innovating in the augmented reality space are many and varied. Even Qualcomm has its own platform, Vuforia, which the company's CEO, Paul Jacobs, demoed during his Day One keynote here at CES.

Augmented reality is one of those technologies that has organically emerged from the freedom provided by wireless devices. It's also one of those applications that will evolve parallel with the next-generation LTE networks currently being rolled out. CES has increasingly become a wireless show and it's innovations like augmented reality that emerge as the culmination of the wireless industry's bread and butter: networks, devices, content.

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