Trauma centers prep for surge in augmented reality apps

As we know from extensive science fiction research, one day we will be equipped with unobtrusive and tastefully designed technology that will project before our eyes a heads-up display of information related to whatever real-life scene we’re looking at. That level of augmented reality, however, is a ways down the road, and unfortunately that road is likely to be strewn with the broken bodies of early adopters.

Thanks to the growth in smartphones equipped with large screens, cameras, compasses and GPS, location- and marker-based augmented reality (AR) is in the early stages of a hype cycle. Companies like Layar are building browser apps that look where you’re looking and pull in layers of data from reference sources and social media. Startup Wikitude on Wednesday launched a new update of its software for Android handsets that integrates social tagging of physical locations, and an iPhone version is on the way. Apple’s App Store recently got its first AR offering when an app called Metro Paris Subway added a feature that superimposes labels for station locations and points of interest over the view through your iPhone.

At this early stage in AR evolution, however, the displays are not heads-up, but hands-up, and that means we will be seeing a new class of situational zombies roaming our streets. We’ve already grown used to dodging around the people with heads bowed over their phones in the texting prayer position and the distracted pedestrians engrossed in conversation with their invisible companions over their Bluetooth headsets. Soon we’ll be seeing more folks shuffling around with their smartphone screen held up in their line of vision, absorbed in their augmented reality data, and we’ll be faced with a dilemma: keep a watchful eye on these people and tackle them before they wander into traffic or fall into a manhole, or just allow the Darwinian process to cull the herd.

Sadly, it won’t be just the AR aficionados at risk, as illustrated by a new app for the Android platform called Augmented Traffic Views. As The Boy Genius Report explains, the app “combines a layer of AR above the device’s camera view with live traffic camera images and traffic data. Simply hold the Android handset up and the AR layer displays all available traffic camera points in the direction you’re looking. Tap one to see the most current available image taken by the cam. The app also packs some added features, such as an automated predictive tracking mode that will pop up traffic cam images ahead while you’re driving.” Knowing what we do about the dangers of making phone calls or texting while behind the wheel, pretty much the last thing we need is a bunch of drivers dividing their attention between the traffic around them and pictures of the traffic ahead of them.

AR might turn out to be an overhyped gimmick, or it might become practical and useful in ways we can’t imagine right now. I suspect the latter, and I just hope we get to that point without too many casualties.


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  • RedRat

    Being a strong believer in Darwin, let’s start culling the herd.


    The problem is that the rest of us would not be safe in the process! Especially when the AR user is behind the wheel!

  • RedRat

    DKUVA says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    The problem is that the rest of us would not be safe in the process! Especially when the AR user is behind the wheel!
    Darwin would still play out in the end. We would get better defensive drivers :-

  • Those iPhone walking zombies need the Email ‘n Walk application. It turns on the iPhone’s camera as you write emails so you can see the ground below.