The Layar Reality Browser “shows what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of the real world as seen through the camera of your mobile phone. This technology is called Augmented Reality. We augment the real world as seen through your mobile phone, based on your location. The idea is simple: Layar works by using a combination of the mobile phone’s camera, compass and GPS data to identify the user’s location and field of view, retrieve data based on those geographical coordinates, and overlay that data over the camera view.”
This simply has to be seen to be believed. When you open up Layar (available on iOS and Android) your phone’s camera switches on and takes over your screen. A wireframe grid is overlaid on the screen (think Battlezone
and you’ve got the picture) and onto this grid are placed any layars
you download. It works much like the way layers operate in Google Earth
, but the orientation is at ground level in 3D space.
Most of the layars are highly customisable, giving users the opportunity to filter out results and control the sensitivity i.e the range of Layar’s radar. You can also flip from reality view to map view which gives users a more familiar experience for navigation.
There’s a surprisingly high number of local layars
, including a superb one for the Melbourne Zoo
. I’ve been doing some work with the Zoo this year and this app would have been a wonderful complement to the activities we conducted on site. Imagine students walking through the zoo and having information popping up dynamically as they approached certain enclosures. The app provides pictures, links and directions. For example, clicking on the paw symbol for otters gave me an image, a link to Wikipedia
and a handy button that gave me directions to the enclosure (which included distance that updated dynamically). Apps like this give users autonomy which can’t be a bad thing.
' Noticings Layar' by STML (James Bridle) 2010 Non-Commercial, No-Derivs Creative Commons Licence
It’s quite amazing to see the emerging applications for this technology including scavenger hunts
and guided tours
. Layar also encourages users to create layars
; this is a space that is rapidly evolving and well worth monitoring over the next year or so.
It’s still early days so it’s a little bit clunky and imprecise. Depending on which layar you choose, the results can be a little overwhelming – the screen clutter takes some getting used to. Much like Google Earth’s layers, I am expecting a greater level of interactivity to be built into the app (such as video, chat, audio etc.) but it’s still very impressive as it is.
Also, it’s a bit of a power hog. When running Layar, my display was using 71% of my battery and the app itself was using 11%. This is to be expected when running such a resource hungry app, but I doubt my droid could last a day at the zoo with Layar running all the time.