This article looks at the uses of Augmented Reality or AR in learning to create engaging and fun training opportunities, and how LEO Learning created a demo of this powerful learning technology using the security features of the new British £5 bank note.
Augmented Reality (or AR) has been around for a while – the first head-mounted display (HMD) was created in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland at MIT. It was so heavy that it had to be suspended from the ceiling! Like its close counterpart Virtual Reality (VR), AR up until the last eight years or so has been inaccessible to the average user. Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones most of us carry around today, all you need to experience AR is an app installed on your mobile device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet. In recent years, AR has gone from niche technology to mainstream, thanks to the likes of Niantic, the team behind the worldwide game phenomenon that is Pokémon Go.
What is AR?
Augmented Reality is a combination of real-world environments with computer generated content. Simply put, Augmented Reality overlays content on top of real objects in the physical world. In its simplest form, no headset is required and the learner simply uses an app on their device to scan the object they want to learn about and access associated learning content. The ability to recognise objects and provide associated learning content in the form of text, images, audio, video and 3D models is a great tool for learning professionals.
I’ve been exploring AR for a few years, more as a hobbyist than a solutions provider, but now that it’s caught on, in my technical innovation role at LEO Learning a lot of opportunities have arisen for the practical application of AR in learning. In exploring the ways in which AR can be used to create an immersive learning experience, I’m going to give a breakdown of a simple AR demo that I created to show the basic principles of AR and how it can be applied.
The uses of AR in learning
Over a couple of days, I designed and built an AR app that explains the features of the new £5 note. The new ‘fiver’ as it’s commonly known in the UK was introduced to the British public in June 2016 with a number of new, ‘smart’ features. Using the new £5 note works well for AR because these British banknotes are easy to come by and anyone with access to the £5 note can try it out.
The first step in creating the AR app was finding a target. For those who don’t know, the target is the real-world object that your app recognises – in this case, it’s the note itself. I simply uploaded an image of a £5 note to the image marker database. The image is analysed and the distinguishing features are recorded. These features are stored on a database, which can later be pulled down and then imported into the Unity (a cross-platform games engines) editor. Now your app knows what to look for through your device’s camera.
These yellow points tell your app the orientation and location of your image marker in the real world. For example, if the note is lying on a desk at a 45-degree angle, the app recognises that and communicates it to the rest of your virtual objects, positioning them to your real objects. In this example, the virtual elements are buttons that activate images and text labels, which explain the security features of the newly-released £5 banknote.
The above image shows virtual buttons in the Unity editor. The white block is where the £5 note is situated. The buttons use that as a guide for their relative positioning to the £5 when the real £5 note is viewed.
The content that displays when a button is activated by the user touching it on their screen.
Photo of AR app running to show the integration.
This is an example of just one type of AR but there are various types of targets which lead to different AR types.
- Objects – using real-world 3D objects such as toys or tools
- User-defined images – users take their own images and upload them during runtime
- Cylinders – such as cans
- Boxes – such as packaging
- English words
- Barcode markers – these complex patterns can be integrated into logos or various
- Images – convenient for placing on specific items or areas that you want to be recognised
They all have their advantages and disadvantages, in this case the 2-dimensional image target was the best option, as the £5 note is essentially a 2-dimensional object.
The future of AR in learning
We are still in the early days of AR uses in training. People are starting to understand the potential and by 2021 the market is forecast to reach $83 billion. Augmented Reality is a rapidly growing technology and it’s here to stay, from head-mounted displays like Hololens to mobile devices and probably AR contact lenses in the near future. As Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said, “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.” That view was echoed at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum 2017 conference where one expert predicted that AR would prove to be more useful than VR in the learning sphere. Whether that prediction comes true still remains to be seen, but what is clear is that there are a number of exciting uses for AR in any organisation’s learning programme.
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