Exploring the potential of augmented reality with the launch of Space Discovery app
"The world is about to be painted with data. Every place. Every person. Every thing." - Charlie Fink, Forbes.com and author of Metaverse, An AR Enabled Guide to VR and AR.
For years we have gone to our phone screens to be taken away to a different world.
We stare into them to check up on friends, see the latest news, check the weather and pass time with a game or quick streaming binge.
But now, a new technology has arrived that allows all of those things to enter our world for the first time.
It's called augmented reality (AR).
The basic tech has been around for years.
Most people got their first taste of it with Pokemon Go.
But now, competitors Apple and Google have refined it to the point where it is starting to feel like more than just a gimmick to encourage you to catch 'em all.
And it's available on millions of mobile devices around Australia right now.
Want to find out what that new couch will look like in your house before you buy it?
There's an app for that.
Want to play RPGs (role playing games) on your coffee table?
Or hunt zombies in your own home?
There's an app for that.
Want to get directions helpfully laid out over the real world in front of you?
There's an app for that, too.
The benefits for games, utilities and internet shopping are clear.
But what about learning?
That's what we wanted to test.
As families around Australia prepare to gaze upward together as part of Stargazing Live on ABC TV, we wanted to come to the party with a fun, interactive companion experience that also helps introduce everyone to the world of AR.
It's called ABC AR — Space Discovery and it's available for free for most newer iOS and Android devices and includes three activities:
- Explore Jupiter: Discover the many wonders of Jupiter with an interactive 3D model you can miraculously squeeze in your living room.
- Assemble the ISS: Become an astronaut and fly the parts of the International Space Station together piece-by-piece while learning about their functions.
- Space Debris: Defend the ISS from flying space debris — with lasers! A futuristic (if somewhat unlikely… ) look at one of the ways we could clean up space junk in the future.
This app has also been designed to be used simultaneously with the live TV program too.
As the presenters on Back to Earth talk about the International Space Station on the evening of May 245, you can explore it yourself at home through AR.
The app can even highlight the sections being discussed live.
All of this is a lot of fun — and if you can beat the development team's high score of 18,000 on Space Junk, you deserve an Olympic medal.
But there is a lot more ahead for AR than just fun and games.
ABC News aims to help all Australians to "know the story".
What better way to know the story than to explore key items for yourself, almost like they're sitting right there in your home.
You can imagine this with evidence exhibits from a major trial, or rare, delicate artefacts from a museum.
AR could also help create doorways to different places; a newly discovered Egyptian tomb, or the site of a coastal oil spill that you can wander into right from your lounge.
Or AR could give you a coffee table-sized recreation of a record-breaking innings during this year's summer of cricket — allowing you to see how high and how far every ball was hit around the ground.
And that's just what we can do now.
Soon, AR apps will sit on top of a cloud of information that helps them know the context around them.
So animations will disappear as you go around building corners and sit naturally against walls for everyone to see from any angle.
And in the future, AR glasses that seamlessly merge the real and the digital are expected to change computing as we know it.
On the upside, there are some big benefits.
Ever remember a face but forget the name?
Not with AR — you'll get a digital business card floating right by their face.
Struggle with motivation to get out and exercise?
It might help if you could race an outline of yourself running the same course last week.
And away from the TV for a moment while the game's on?
No worries, any surface can become a massive screen with just the pinch of your fingers.
But all of these conveniences might raise some interesting problems too.
For instance, if you can digitally put an advertising billboard anywhere on Earth, what's to stop someone putting a sign dangerously across a highway, or a competitor placing one right in front of your business?
Without rules or regulations, will the world fill up with endless streams of "digital clutter" that surround you with perfectly tailored ads from the moment you leave home?
And how does all of that work with driving? Or listening to someone talk? Or just having some downtime away from all the digital noise?
The answers to those questions are a long way off.
Right now, we just have harmless, fun AR space laser games to play.
So get your trigger fingers ready and learn all about space and the next big thing in tech, all at the same time.