Augmented Reality

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Augmented Reality has helped marketers connect to customers. Developers are now writing mobile augmented applications around use cases that will help the technology evolve from being a wow factor to a business enabler. By Heena Jhingan

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply point your phone at a landmark to hunt for places to dine nearby? As it turns out, today’s mobile devices can fetch answers to such queries and, in some cases, the applications might even come back with the calorie count of the meal.

Thanks to the context-aware computing capability of the mobile devices and applications that help users get information in real time, all of this happens in a matter of a few seconds as the mobile browser digs through layers of contextual digital inputs about local points of interest such as historical sights, nearby bus stops and cafes to give you the results in real time.

According to Ganesh Swaminathan, Director, Process Management & Office of Innovation, CSC, Augmented Reality (AR) is the technology which superimposes digital enhancements to augment real time viewing.

Some big brands like Country Club and Shoppers Stop cutting across sectors have experimented with this technology.

Owing to the steady increase in smartphone penetration and growing adoption of mobile Internet services, the technology has immense scope to mature beyond being just a marketing tool, observed Arun Gupta, CIO Shoppers Stop. The retail chain recently experimented with this technology. It issued a newspaper advertisement that required the readers to download an app from the Android or iTunes market. Using this app, a reader could trigger an augmented reality set-up in which he or she could view certain surprise offers.

 

Suresh Narsimha, CEO and Founder, Telibrahma, commented “Efforts are being made to give the consumer an experience using the new technology alongside traditional media. The idea is to apply the technology to match the physical context with relevant engagement of the consumer,” he said.

“Developers are working on applications focused on marketing, product launches and location based services like navigation, search, maintenance and repair, e-learning, entertainment, games, advertising and publishing and retail with touch and feel for online customers,” Swaminathan said.

 

E-tailers like eBay have been quick to respond to such trends. The online retailers has launched a application called ‘sunglass finder’ using which the customers can upload their picture and try putting the sunglasses on it before making a final decision. “This has turned out to one of the most popular applications and we plan to do something similar for apparel as well. Applications like these make online or mobile shopping more interactive,” commented Murli Krishanan, Country Manager, eBay India.

Online shopping is a use case; this technology will also help in banking and financial services, improving agricultural production and simplifying diagnosis in healthcare.

Indian farmers are not trained to discriminate between insects that harm their farms and those that do not. Efforts are being made to develop applications using Augmented Reality that will help farmers identify the bugs and conduct pest management, accordingly.

Jagdish Mitra, CEO, CanvasM said that the technology was still at a nascent stage in India and that most projects that his company was working on around AR were still at a Proof of Concept stage and being tested as to how these could affect business. “We have developed an application for an airline using this technology and work is afoot on an application for a warehouse unit and the Indian Railways,” he informed.

Indian developers are innovating with concepts such as consumer motion sensing, wherein the consumer’s body movements is tracked in real time and his or her movements are superimposed on a virtual 3D model. In combination with technologies that include object recognition, real time sensing and real time data management, this is likely to overcome the limitations of existing gaming and sensing engines that only capture hand movements.

Also making inroads are several augmented reality solutions based on advanced image recognition technology. Image-recognition software coupled with Augmented Reality allows users to scan posters, print adverts, product wrappers etc. without an additional marker.

Since the technology is still in the initial stages in India, there are several challenges that have to be overcome.

Mitra said that there wasn’t a critical mass adopting these applications. As of now, there is no model to sell mobile augmented reality as a value-added service to a service provider and the best bet for developers is to work on client-specific projects.

“We have several brands on board and have designed applications for each one specifically,” explained Narsimha.

Moreover, although, the penetration of smartphones is rising in India, the number is not too large.

“Even as the penetration of smartphones in the country is going up, it is pertinent to note that most low-cost, entry-level handsets lack the capability to handle AR applications,” reasoned Arjun Jassal, of BlueAnt Digital Intelligence. He said that his company has tried running the some AR application on lower-end handsets and they had failed to deliver the desired experience.

Narsimha, however, said that this issue could be overcome. As most mobile users in India still use Java feature phones, Telibrahma is trying to build applications for this segment.

“Most AR applications require GPS and digital compass functions in order to provide rendering based on the user’s location and there are not many phones in the country that provide location-based engagement using AR. Therefore, we are using our own BluFi location-based network to identify the objects under focus,” he added.

It’s still early days for this technology but it does show promise. Once smartphone penetration enters double digits, AR will become a popular option.

heena.jhingan@expressindia.com


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