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Augmented reality: gimmick or a new way to look at the world?

Published on  01 September by Jim Peters , Chief Technology Officer, SITA
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One of the more intriguing technologies emerging from the smartphone revolution is augmented reality.

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 A sci-fi term for using your phone's camera to get a view of what is physically around you through a graphical and textual overlay of the camera's view. For example, you could be in a city and based on your location (using the phone's GPS) and the direction you are looking (using the phone's compass), the camera's view can be overlaid with highlighted points of interest. These points of interest could be tourist destinations, like museums and parks, pointers to restaurants or ATM's, places for rent or purchase for those in the market for real estate, or directions to the nearest subway station. What is a point of interest is really as open as one's imagination.

There are a couple of AR phone apps that provide a framework for overlaying your camera view with whatever category of points of interest a company wants to create. These frameworks are called "AR Browsers", and they include:

In the SITA Lab we developed an AR pilot application for Malaysia Airlines called MHDeals, which shows the destinations Malaysia Airlines flies to and overlays it with current air fare specials to those locations. If you tap on the special, it opens a browser page with more details and the ability to book a ticket right there on the phone. This may not be the future of airfare shopping, but it is a fun way to interact with your customers, and shows an appetite to experiment and innovate in new areas of emerging technology, such as AR.

For the air traveler, another potential use of AR could be at the airport to help find your way to the gate or a particular shop or service point. This does conjure up a strange image though of a crowded airport with everyone staring into their smartphone screen as they hold it in front of them as they walk to their gate. It may need to include a collision warning system! Of course, AR isn't just a visual overlay on your smartphone screen. You can also have Audio AR which can provide discrete prompts to passengers, briefly interrupting the music they may be listening to. Passengers can be given notifications about when a flight is ready for boarding, walking time to the gate from their current location or even directions on how to get there (turn left now, run run!)

SITA Lab is currently in a trial with an airport for such an application, and depending on the results, you may soon see it available as a trial in particular airports. We'll keep you posted. Until then, experiment with some of the AR browsers and let me know what you think.

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