When 2Simple's Max Wainewright demonstrated Augmented Reality to teachers at the North East London TeachMeet (left), jaws dropped almost in unison.
Within little more than a minute, an on-screen car he had designed appeared to be "projected" in three dimensions on to his hand via a webcam. Here he explains what Augmented Reality is, why it is becoming important and where you can see it at BETT 2010...
"Augmented Reality (or AR for short) has been with us for a number of years, but has recently started to become a mainstream technology. AR is the process whereby a real-life image (usually viewed via a web cam) is enhanced by computer-generated graphics superimposed on top of the image.
"How can this benefit us? For example an iPhone camera might be pointed at a busy street. The iPhone uses GPS technology to figure out where it is, and which direction it is facing. It then overlays an arrow on top of the image, pointing the direction to walk to get to the nearest station. All very exciting, but how can this be used in an educational context to enhance learning?
"We have a number of projects in development at 2Simple that make use of AR. Our simple online design program '2Design and Make' was released earlier this year. It enabled children to design a car, house or other object on screen, then print out a 'net' and build it.
"Anyone who has taught young children to design something in side view, or asked children to draw a plan view of an object will be aware that this can be challenging. We produced an AR module for the software which allows children to place a specially coloured card in their hand and hold it up to the computer's webcam. The webcam 'looks' at the image it 'sees' and works out where the card is and which direction it is facing in. It then superimposes an image of the car/object (viewable on the video screen) in the child's hand. By turning their hand around, the image is rotated in real time – giving the illusion of actually holding the object in one's hand (watch video below).
"We have a much more basic, yet very magical interpretation of AR coming out in a new piece of software this BETT. 2Create A Story 2 allows children to print out their stories with an AR marker in the corner. By visiting our website they are then able to hold their story up to the camera and see a simple animation appear on the webcam image of their page - bringing their story to life before their very eyes.
"How does this work? It's relatively simple. the AR software loops through all the pixels in the image until it finds the part of the picture which contains the special card or AR 'marker'. Typically this will look rather like a bar code, but with a series of black squares rather than stripes, arranged in a pattern to signify a particular piece of information. Once it has found the marker, the software is then able to figure out which direction it is pointing and pass this information on to the rest of the program to superimpose whatever is needed. A modern PC is fast enough to this in 'real time' – taking a couple of milliseconds at the most.
"This is relatively straightforward technology, much simpler than 'face recognition' for example. The software is looking for something that has already been created to be 'machine readable' – the AR 'marker'.
"Future developments will offer AR technology that can process real-world imagery, for example superimposing clothes on to your image in an AR 'mirror'. AR glasses will enable you to see the superimposed image on top of your 'real' vision rather than in a webcam. As AR develops we will continue to look for opportunities to use it to enhance learning. Watch this space..."
Max Wainewright is co-founder and director of 2Simple Software
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can find out more about augmented reality and new 2Simple software on the company's stand at BETT. Stand F59
Other YouTube examples of Augmented Reality below: