In Touch With Augmented Reality

I’ve been reading a lot about “Augmented Reality” lately. Just the other day, I saw this beautiful short film titled ‘World Builder‘, that also depicts this powerful holographic technology to express the fusion of the physical and virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR) is basically the combination of real-world video imagery and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time. The GE Smart Grid demo uses AR (must watch the video). It’s a fascinating technology, and I think it has a lot of potential in the consumer space as well.

Some startups (like Layar and Wikitude) are already developing AR geo-interfaces (GPS based) for mobile phones, which would allow anyone to simply point their phone camera in open space (say a market-place in a new city you are in), and get a location-based interactive perspective (say the landmarks, ATM’s, or pubs near you) through dynamic recognition.

Zugara’s Augmented Reality & Motion Capture Shopping Application (demo video) is also a neat example of things to come.

Nokia has also been building this technology on more than a decade of academic research into mobile AR. Nokia researchers have been working on real-time image-recognition algorithms as well; they hope the algorithms will eliminate the need for location sensors and improve their system’s accuracy and reliability.

One day, in the genuinely not so distant future we will live in two worlds; reality and augmented, neatly combined into one.

Further Reading:

The Tilt-Shift Illusion

Update (9 Jan 2009): TiltShiftMaker gives your photos that delightful tilt-shift look (via Boing Boing). After some playing around, I think that the manual effect in Photoshop or Gimp gives better results.

Couple of weeks back, I saw a sample video which had an impressive mix of time-lapse and tilt-shift effects. The tilt-shift technique allows to depict a very shallow depth of field. It creates an illusion of a miniature model. Here’s an example of a photo with tilt-shift (from 50 Amazing Examples of Tilt-Shift Photography):

While its been raining out here today, I thought I’ll play around with tilt-shift faking in Gimp. Based on some nice tutorials ([1], [2]), here’s what I came up with a photo that I took on a trip to Dalhousie:

Btw, here’s the original photo for the photo I processed above. Not too bad eh? I guess this technique works best with aerial photos/videos.

Briefly, here’s what I did in Gimp to achieve the tilt-shift:

1. Play with the photo’s color curves, brightness and contrast
2. Activate Quick Mask
3. Reset colors in toolbox with the ‘d’ key (so that FG = black and BG = white)
4. Select Blend (Gradient) tool
5. Set Gradient to FG to BG (RGB)
6. Set Shape to Bi-linear
7. Think of a focal point in the photo (i.e. where the key subject is based)
8. Use the Blend tool from your focal point on the Quick Mask (you’ll have to play around with this a bit to get the right size/shape)
9. Deactivate Quick Mask (you’ll see the selection outline now)
10. Apply Gaussian Blur (or Focus Blur for an even better outcome)
11. Invert the selection
12. Sharpen (Enhance) the inverted selection

I’d like to try out this technique on a video sample as well, but for that I’ll need the right tools (or an expensive lens).