Technical Options Appraisal

At the project outset, technical architecture and choice of software was considered integral to its level of success. As the project would not be developing any technical code or services, building on existing frameworks available as open source (e.g. AR browsers) it was imperative that the delivery solution would be intuitive,structurally sound and technical viable.

To build on work done from previous LTIG projects such as QR Codes – University of Bath, 2009 (http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/qrcode/)  and Unlocking the Hidden Curriculum – University of Exeter, 2010 (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/augmentedreality/), it was important to follow best practice and software recommendations that had been informed through their findings and technical reports.

The JISC Observatory report, ‘Augmented Reality for Smartphones‘ was paramount in selecting the AR browser the SCARLET project would use to deliver content. At the time(April 2011), there was a proliferation of Augmented Reality browsers available with development API’s such as Layar, Wikitude, Sekai, Google Goggles and Junaio. Due to the environmental constraints of the technology being used inside the John Rylands library, the traditional format of augmented delivery – POI’s (Points of Interest) mapped to GPS co-ordinates was problematic. Mobile devices would struggle to detect accurate location-based data with their inbuilt GPS, or in some cases would not work at all due to compass interference.

At the time, Junaio was the only AR browser to harness optical tracking functionality, linking 3D models, videos and information to images in the form of “GLUE” based channels. This coupled with an open API and compatibility on Android, iOS and Nokia devices would prove decisive  in the final reckoning. Subsequently, other AR browsers such as Aurasma and Layar have launched similar image recognition, but in Junaio the technology is far more mature having been available to developers for over a year.

Using data from the ‘Review of available Augmented Reality packages and evaluation of their potential use in an educational context‘ produced from Exeter University, it was clear that the smartphone market was dramatically growing in the UK (Doubling in two years from 2008) and that in an Eduserv survey over 49% of students at University of Edinburgh owned one. To maximise student benefit, tablet devices were seen to “offer increased potential for AR applications since they feature larger screens (typically 7-10” compared to the 3-4” screens offered by most smartphones)“.

The launch of the Apple iPad2 with rear facing camera meant that augmented user experiences could be enhanced immeasurably, particularly if these devices could be available in designated study areas for both casual and directed use. AR software could then be preloaded and bundled user support made available.

As a consequence of the cutting edge nature of Augmented Reality, a set of accepted standards has yet to be ratified by the W3C, although a working group discussing this subject has been formed to discuss a needs analysis. While most AR vendors are working on their own proprietary platforms, they are all relatively similar, so any future issues related to interoperability should be minimal. The majority use XML documents to hold the POI (or GLUE object) information with most nodes being generic (i.e. Longitude, Latitude, Name, Description, 3D model, Multimedia etc.).

It is hoped by the end of the project that the application of base level standards will be ubiquitous across most AR browsers enabling the outputs to be interoperable regardless of delivery choice.

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