Although philosophical idealists will argue that there is no such thing as a common reality, in everyday practice we have chosen to believe in one. Through our senses and communications, we live in a shared reality that we refer to as the real world, but by degrees, this shared reality is being extended, enhanced and personalised through the use of tools that allow for a richer interpretation of what is considered to be “real”. Such tools exist in many forms, from cognitive frameworks right through to actual physical devices that extend the senses and create “new forms of human presence, half-real, half-virtual” (Ascott, 2003, quoted in Bayne, 2010). Perhaps the most conspicuous of these is the growing use of augmented reality as an layer of information on top of the physical world. “Augmented reality (AR) refers to the addition of a computer-assisted contextual layer of information over the real world, creating a reality that is enhanced or augmented”, (Horizon Report, 2011). When one first uses augmented reality to view the world, the experience is uncanny in the extreme. The physical world is suddenly extended to include a rich layer of multimedia that the viewer can interact with to better understand their environment. High end augmented reality systems can be very complex and may include many subsystems, such as head mounted displays, data gloves or global positioning systems; but for the average consumer (and therefore the average student), something as simple as a smart phone application can achieve a similar result. An excellent example of such an app is Streetmusuem:Londinium.
Streetmusuem:Londinium is an iPhone app, developed in collaboration between the Museum of London and the History Channel, which recreates portions of London city as it might have appeared during the Ancient Roman era. Layers of video and text, maps and 3D models of ancient architecture can be viewed on top of the real world. As the user moves about their environment the scene changes in real-time. These layers of reality combine within the consciousness mind of the learner. “From two, one—something different, new, and tasty”, (Carpenter, 2009).
“One of the most promising aspects of augmented reality is that it can be used for visual and highly interactive forms of learning, allowing the overlay of data onto the real world as easily as it simulates dynamic processes”, (Horizon Report, 2011). When a person interacts with these layers of media, they are essentially engaging in a constructivist and exploratory learning session within a new reality. Because such media layers are fluid and may change based on user input, this new reality is individual and uniquely distinctive both for each learner and for each learning session. When we connect augmented reality systems with other networks, the potential of new layers of reality grows exponentially, as does our capacity to create new realities for ourselves, or to share them with others. One might argue that when we augment our reality, we simultaneously augment our own consciousness, and when we share our reality, we likewise share our conscious state with others. “Just as the brain needs the body to create conscious activity, so the body needs the environment to create conscious activity”, (Pepperell, 2010).
The interface to an augmented reality system is a tool that allows the user to modify their own reality, extending it in directions never before imagined. Graphical user interfaces allow us to visualise complex data sets but when those data sets correspond directory to our immediate physical environment, we suddenly gain the ability to understand that environment and our place within in it, in profound new ways. Through the use of symbolic languages and well designed semiotic icons, we allow humanity to communicate without regional linguistic variation, achieving precision of expression and clarity in the transfer of meaning that is simply impossible in the “natural” world.
Augmented Reality Examples
MovableScreen at Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam
35 Awesome Augmented Reality Examples
Bayne, S. (2010). Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies.
Carpenter, R (2009). Boundary Negotiations: Electronic Environments as Interface.
Pepperell, R. (2009). ‘Art and the fractured unity of consciousness’ in New Realities: Being Syncretic Consciousness Reframed.
The Horizon Report, 2011. Two to Three Years: Augmented Reality