Augmented Reality (AR) has been listed as an up-and-coming education technology by the Horizon Report for the past two years. Poised to be a game-changer, augmented reality has often been pretty gimmicky instead.
Augmented reality layers additional information onto the world through digital technologies that present real-time data, photos, or sound, for example, on top of a direct or indirect view. Smart phones -- Internet-connected, mobile devices with cameras -- have spurred a lot of the growth of AR. Now, the addition of a camera to the latest iPad may (re)ignite interest in educational AR apps, particularly with all the talk lately about the iPad 2 and education.
The release of the Word Lens iPhone app may have been one of the things that made a lot of people exclaim "a ha!" and understand the educational potential of AR. The $9.99 app uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to translate text. Snap a picture of something in English, and the app will translate it to Spanish (or visa versa). Of course, neither OCR nor translation technologies are perfect, and this probably isn't an app you could rely on too heavily as your sole translation device.
ZooBurst is a digital storytelling tool that lets you build your own 3D pop-up book. The book-builder, suitable for elementary-school age kids, lets you add narration, images, animations, and speech balloons to a story. You can embed and view your book online and by switching to AR mode, your webcam can place you in the story. You can read my story about ZooBurst on ReadWriteWeb.
Google Sky Map
A simple app, only available on Android phones (so one of those things you can put in the Android "win" column), Google Sky Map helps you identify celestial bodies. Point your phone at the sky, and the app will tell you what the stars and planets are. You can also use the app to navigate to a view of particular star. It even works during the day and in Oregon where the cloudy sky means you never get to see stars.
No doubt, LookBackMaps is one of my favorite apps, only partially due to its AR element. LookBackMaps links historic photographs to their geolocation so you can pull up a view into the past based on a particular spot. The augmented reality aspect is pretty cool though -- the iPhone app lets you layer that photo over what you see through the camera. Creator Jon Voss lives in San Francisco, so the mapped photos are the richest there, but as this is a linked data project, other entries can be added. Here's my ReadWriteWeb story from last fall.
Layar is one of the leading augmented reality platforms. Best known perhaps for its browser, Layar gives users access to all sorts of additional data -- "layers" -- about their location (there are 1500 some-odd layers, in fact). There's a strong developer community building on the platform, and a number of very cool historical and educational layers.
Perhaps we're coming full circle again to AR-as-gimmick here. I'm not sure. But if there's going to be a gimmicky AR development that's cooler than the Star Wars Falcon Gunner, then it'll involve the Microsoft Kinect. I'm seeing some phenomenally cool hacks on the Kinect, and I anticipate that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of augmented bodies and education.
I'd love to hear about other AR resources people have discovered.