Layar: Augmented reality through mobiles in Amsterdam

Layar

Layar is one of the most visually impressive and powerful applications I have seen to date using a mobile. As noted on Download Squad,

“Layar uses the camera and location-based services of your mobile device — Android devices only, so far — and overlays information on the camera image. This is flying-car level tech, the kind of stuff that sci-fi nerds dream about, and it’s got plenty of practical applications for the average user, too.”

I last wrote about augmented reality on this blog around three years ago. At the time, this was experimental technology. That in just three years the technology has advanced to this degree I find quite incredible. I don’t for example know of a similar PC based application?

And as I said three years ago, the potential of such research to create devices that can support situation awareness, the understanding of a locale (important in Online Dispute Resolution) or just as a handy mobile phone based walking guide to a foreign city or region is fascinating.

Rather than useless experiments (such as getting Second Life to run on mobiles) this technology showcases just what is possible using mobiles today.

What Germany, the UK and the US will get anon I can’t wait to see come to my part of the world. What ideas can you think of for augmented reality applications in the real world, beyond real estate and commercial purposes?

Google Latitude: Real time location awareness through mobiles

latitude

At the time I last wrote about the potential of location aware web / mobile mashups and services, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence disallowed the sale of GPS enabled mobile phones. That seems to have changed in the past month. Airtel and Dialog both sport the Blackberry Bold, which has in built GPS, and Dialog’s Crescat shop now showcases the Blackberry Curve 8310 again – which was taken off the market because it also had in built GPS. 

I find GPS and location aware services fascinating. In the insecure environment for human rights defenders and other NGO staff in Sri Lanka, this sort of technology potentially holds much value in tracking staff movement in high risk areas. Brightkite.com on the iPhone pretty much defines this genre of software. The iPhone’s UI coupled with the social networking and location aware services of Brightkite open up a range of possibilities that were unimaginable just a year or two ago. 

Google’s now got in the act with Google Latitude. Unlike Brightkite.com which is only available on the iPhone, Google Latitude works on:

  • Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
  • most color BlackBerry devices
  • most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
  • most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)

with support for iPhone and iPod touch devices and many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices coming soon. 

Google’s video on Latitude sums it up nicely. 

I’ve used Google Maps on my Blackberry Curve 8310 (with GPS), the 8320 (without GPS) and now on the Bold (with GPS) and have been blown away by its accuracy in cities where location data is on Google down to street level. In Copenhagen, I was able to find my hotel just by using it. In Salzburg, I was able to find Mozart’s birthplace using it and the most heavenly chocolate gateaux I’ve had from a local patisserie. It’s fast on the Curve and faster on the Bold. 

With Latitude built in, the version number on the Blackberry goes up to 3.0 from 2.3.x. One annoying thing is that you have to sign into Latitude even though I have Google Chat running on my Bold. Given that I have an over 15 character alpha-numeric-symbolic password that I can’t even remember off-hand, it’s a pain to type it in all over again. And at the time of writing this, Latitude fails to verify my mobile number, despite several attempts. 

Not that these glitches detract from what can be a very cool tool. As the video shows, you add friends and you can then follow them as they meander through their cities. It’s a bit weird to be tracked thus, and it’s a relief to find privacy settings that allow you to update location data manually. For the moment, I’ve put it on automatic, to see how well GPS works in Sri Lanka. Proximity alerts I guess will only ever work with street level data sets, not yet available here. 

The neat thing about Latitude is that it allows for web based tracking of mobile phone location information. As the screenshot from my iGoogle shows, you get a Latitude gadget that links to a Google Maps mash-up. Very cool. Potential uses for this for real time election violence monitoring, IDPs and refugee movement tracking, Human Rights and Ceasefire monitoring, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and disaster management are impressive and beg to be explored.

The new Google Maps for mobile

Google Maps (on the PC or on mobiles) is not that useful in Sri Lanka, but I was in Copenhagen this week and using it on my Blackberry I was able to locate my hotel as I was walking along. The street level detail is quite amazing and coupled with the Blackberry 8310’s GPS, the accuracy in a city that Google has a lot of GIS information on is astounding. 

Google’s now released a new version of Google Maps for mobiles, which I just downloaded. It’s more responsive than the previous version for me and the graphics, even for Colombo, seem sharper. For select cities, the new version includes street views, a feature hitherto only found on the desktop client.

My only concern – roaming data charges. In Denmark it cost DKK 75 per megabyte, and while this is quite sufficient for emails, running data hungry apps like Google Maps could run up quite a bill.

That said, can’t wait to try out the new Google Maps version in a city that Google supports street view.

Sri Lankan Government bans GPS in mobile phones?

A news report today suggests that the Government has banned GPS on mobile phones. Unsurprisingly, the Defence Spokesperson when queried didn’t know what’s going on – but this wouldn’t be the first time the Ministry of Defense carried out an initiative without its own rank and file being informed

So it’s ok to sell GPS / Sat Nav units for vehicles but not ok to have the feature on mobile phones.

Someone please explain this one to me. 

Using GPS and maps on mobile phones

Over a year ago I wrote Mobile Phone futures, with a few key ideas on how location-aware mobile devices / phones could potentially revolutionise how we navigate and get information on unfamiliar surroundings.

Google recently announced Google Maps with “My Location” technology that does just this for all mobile devices, whether they have built in GPS or not. For phones with built in GPS like the high end Nokia N95, the maps displays a constant location indicator. For phones without built-in GPS, it displays the current position based on some form of triangulation of cell phone towers.

Google Maps for Mobile runs on most J2ME-enabled devices, including BlackBerry phones, Windows Mobile, Palm, and Symbian devices.

Clearly a technology that has uses beyond navigating London or urban areas.