What Augmented Reality (AR) Means for Architecture
NBBJ asked me to look at how AR will impact the field of architecture. Here’s my take…
Futuristic projections about Augmented Reality’s ability to fluidly overlay digital information with physical space are exciting and compelling. At the same time, the chatter leaves a blurry concept of how AR will actually change things. I’ve spent some time looking at what this emerging tech might mean for the future, specifically focusing on the field of architecture.
Below are a few points of discovery, but first, a quick definition: AR is a live view of the physical world with a digital content overlay. The content can be graphic information, an interactive graphic user interface, 3D imagery, video, sound, etc. The goal of AR technology is to enhance one’s current perception of reality, not alter it.
A few ways that AR is currently being used:
Design visualization and presentation. Currently, AR is being used give clients a more realistic look at how their project will look in context of a site. One of the most compelling things about AR visualization is that digital models used for design can be published for AR viewing on a smartphone or tablet, skipping the print process, adding portability, and providing a better sense of scale and atmosphere than print or traditional screen viewing.
Wayfinding. Using AR to navigate space could be one of the most compelling uses. There are a few mobile apps out that have moved into this territory. Example “A” is a visual created by our studio, showing how one could navigate a space using an Indoor Positioning System and an AR wayfinding layer. Simply, the app provides an overlay of visual breadcrumbs at decision points along a path. There is also a huge opportunity for creating more navigable spaces for the vision impaired using haptic and audio capabilities of smartphones.
Location based information. AR currently has an active presence in locating information in an urban environment. Apps and services like Junaio and Layar are overlaying data on top of cityscapes, guiding people to destinations, or giving people a look at what goes on inside of a building. Of course, Google Glass is aligned to own this market, provided people are broadly willing to adopt wearable tech in the form of glasses.
Thoughts on what architectural designers can expect out of AR in the not-too-distant future:
AR visualizations and presentations will become a player with a seat right next to print and traditional screen viewing.
Indoor navigation will find a new tool in the toolbox. It won’t replace traditional signage, but, as smartphone adoption increases, signage could be reduced to emergency egress and very basic navigation and identity.
Location-based information will get away from heads-down 2D, and move toward heads-up 3D (less Google Maps, more Google Glass).
Building facades, color palettes, patterns and materials will become canvases for individually-based, user-selected (or user-generated) content, feeding right into Experience Economy-based expectations of hyper customization.
How to start using AR:
Companies like Metaio, Vuforia and Augment let designers jump into AR with little investment. If you work in 3D modelling software like 3D Studio Max or Blender, there are scripts that allow one-click publishing of models via plugin scripts provided by the software makers. I’ve found Paris-based Augment to be the easiest to work with in terms for prepping and publishing a model, but each platform has advantages and disadvantages. To take it a step further, many companies offer an API for mobile devs that are interested in creating their own mobile app. Most of the APIs (some free) allow mobile devs to skirt the AR science knowledge, and simply build an Android or iOS shell for their project. We’ve decided to experiment and will be posting our AR public art app on www.lumit.io and www.digital-physical.com in the near future.