GEOG 583
Geospatial System Analysis and Design

Technology Trends: Augmented Reality

Technology Trends: Augmented Reality

A quickly growing area of location-centric technology concerns the development of Augmented Reality systems, which are systems that are designed to present digital information to users as overlays based on what they are looking at in reality. For example, using augmented reality glasses, you can look at a building on the street and the system could overlay details about who owns the building, the number of occupants, and when it was built. Augmented reality tools are rolling out now across a variety of platforms, and for a bunch of different geospatial use cases.

Video 1: Google Maps AR First Look (3:41)

Here's a short (but compelling) video demonstrating Google Maps AR, which is a navigation-focused augmented reality app that builds on top of Google Maps. Although the fundamental tasks it supports are quite simple, I am sure you can imagine the potential for this sort of technology.

Click here for transcript of the Google Maps AR Video.


Layar is a platform where everybody can create their own fantastic augmented reality experiences.

Augmented reality is a new mass medium. That's where the real world is combined with digital.

We're gonna bring these digital experiences into reality. You’re going to engage into reality with this new medium.

Today with Layar you can experience history, art, ATM finder, real estate for sale, how things looked 10 years ago 1,600 years ago, Foursquare, Twitter, tourism, sports, commerce, gaming, social… Gaming, and augmented reality is a completely new job. Interacting with objects right in front of you… you know, we got crazy s**t on there. It's you moving around, experiencing it. Whatever you want, whatever you want to see, it's all in there.

One of the best things about augmented reality is that you can create anything. You can make your own world. There are no barriers, there are no limits to what is possible when your reality is your canvas.

The medium is really in its infancy. We’re only getting started. We're in the 1994 of the Internet. We're at the moment when radio became TV.

The future of Layar is bright. I see a future where augmented reality is a very prominent place in everyday life.

It's exciting, you know. Every day at Layar we get one step closer to realizing our dream and every day brings more confidence that we are on the right track. With Layar, we want to bring impactful augmented reality into the everyday life of people.

Video 2:  Resurrecting Heritage Sites - Bringing Virginia’s Past to Life through AR and VR video (15:13)

In the next video, I’d like you to watch Alisa Pettitt of George Mason University discuss her use of augmented reality and virtual reality in representing historic archeological sites. She provides a brief overview of the technology, but more importantly, she discusses her development and assessment process using VR and AR applications. She is concerned with what effects these visualization strategies may have on how people consume and process this information.

Click here for transcript of the Resurrecting Heritage Sites: Bringing Virginia’s Past to Life through AR and VR video.

ALISA PETTITT: So I've been working as an archaeologist for actually 11 years. Eight years of those have been with Fairfax County in northern Virginia. And I'm finishing up my PhD. And my research focus is virtual reality and augmented reality applications for archeology sites. Largely, I'm working with Fairfax County data, because that's the data I have access to. And I've worked on a lot of these sites.

So before I start, who's familiar with virtual reality? Augmented reality? OK. So that's a good number.

So I'll kind of just start my talk with what these technologies are. And then I'll move into why we want to use them as archaeologists, and then show a different kind of case studies that I'm working on right now.

So really quick. Virtual reality-- computer generated environment where the user is experiencing a different reality. So it's a digital environment. You're being immersed into a digital world. There's digital data versus-- so you're going to see something like this. This is Subnautica, which is an Oculus Rift app.

So you're being submerged into this alien world where you're swimming around, and alien fish are attacking you. It's kind of scary.

Versus the augmented reality, where you're bringing the digital into your world, into your reality. I think the application that many of us are familiar with-- an augmented one, is Pokemon Go. So you have your mobile device, and you're out in your world. And you're capturing these digital Pokemon.

Another one is Snapchat. And this is my little brother, who unwittingly is involved in this presentation. You can see it's his world. But he has this fun digital mustache, which is something he's never going to be able to have in real life.

So he's enhancing--


He's enhancing his real world with this digital data. And for archeology sites, you go out, and a lot of the tangible history has vanished from the landscape. So you can really add to a visitor's experience at sites by adding this augmented reality.

Some of the data you can use to build these applications. 360 video is a great one. We're all pretty familiar with using cameras and videos. So that's one that I use a lot.

I also use these photogrammetry apps. The one I use the most is PhotoScan. There's also RealityCapture, Pix4D. These are kind of high end. You can also use [INAUDIBLE] 299. That's what I use when I'm not so concerned about scale. So if I'm doing corn or squash or grass or something like that, I might rely on this guy.

And then capturing the data. This is kind of my favorite thing to use right now is the drone. So I'm capturing data that I'm actually using for photogrammetry and the videos and the stills as well. It's a fun little sky robot. It goes up, it can get the tops of buildings that I can't get.

If you don't want to invest in a drone, you can use a selfie stick, which is ridiculous to buy. But you can extend it to four feet and kind of get the tops of buildings. And you can make a pretty nice model that way.

So sometimes you can't use some cameras. And to collect your data, you're going to use something like Blender, which is open source 3D creation suite. You can also use Autodesk. But Blender being the open source is the one that I'm relying on.

And Vuforia is my augmented reality SDK, because it integrates easily with Unity, which is the game engine that I use to build these applications.

My head set of choice is the Oculus Rift, mostly because this is what my advisor bought me. And he was like, learn this guy. So I was like, OK. And also it's highly portable. And it's the size of a briefcase. So if I take my laptop and the Oculus Rift, I can go around from park to park and show different programs pretty easily.

And that's what it looks like when it's on. It's a 360 immersive environment. So you're going to put it on and then maneuver through the world with these Oculus touch.

So those are some of the technologies. But why do we want to do them? And I think there's four main reasons. And these overlap greatly.

Interpretation. Preservation-- the digital preservation. Education purposes. And I'm starting to work with analysis, taking the site data back to the lab and having archaeologists that weren't in the field walk through the site and see if there's new perspectives or new narratives that are created.

So let's go up to Fairfax County. Northern Virginia, right across from Washington DC.

So I started building these applications first at Riverbend Park. And if you've never been to Riverbend, you should go. It's amazing.

It's just up the road from Great Falls National Park, about 20 miles from Washington DC. Just under 100 archaeological sites. And most of these with a Native American component.

So when I was looking to build my application, I chose this park. And I work there a lot too, so it was very convenient.

So I focused my VR application and AR application on this trail that runs by the visitor center on a pre-existing tour. So you start at the visitor center, and then you kind of parallel the Potomac going up. It's on the Potomac trail.

And you see different scenes from Native American life in the virtual reality application. So when you're at the park they actually have reconstructions of dug out canoes. They have two or three. A couple longhouses. And then you end with a bow and arrow exhibit.

But for the VR I'm taking stuff like photogrammetry models of the dugout canoe-- primary sources-- and putting it into the Unity game engine. And one of my advisors is Rose Powhatan, who runs the Powhatan Museum in Washington DC. Her family is actually from this area. So getting her perspective and her story into the application was important to me. And this is actually some of her art. So I'm putting that into my applications as well.

This is a scene that you would see in the virtual reality application, a harvest scene. I'm trying to work out like, how you would show gender roles as well. So see if this guy works.

So pretend you're in the Oculus Rift. You're dropped into Riverbend. Rose is telling you, welcome to Riverbend.

Use the Oculus Touch to explore the scenes in front of you to see what it might have looked like in Early Riverbend. So you're following the bear footprints down the trail, and at the end there's a bear. Not a scary bear.

So yeah. We're actually in the game engine right now. This is telling you about a dug out canoe, how you would build one. And then you can actually see the canoers in the background.

When I went on this tour, I went with a bunch of second graders from the city. And they could see the canoes, but they didn't understand what a canoe was. So having this visualization kind of adds that extra layer that might help you understand the site better, and some of the artifacts as well.

Some of the wildlife that you can see that you probably won't see if you're on the trail. A little copperhead. I actually stepped on a copperhead the other week at Riverbend. So you can see the real stuff at the park as well.

And in the Oculus, which you can't really see right now, is it's 360. And you're moving at your own pace. So you can stop and examine things. There's artifacts that you can pick up that you immediately put back down, cause I don't want to encourage looting. You can throw an atlatl. Eventually I'm hoping that you can interact with some of the people in the scene.

So that's the VR. The AR I use the wayside markers as my targets. So you're going to take your mobile device while you're walking along the trail, point it at the lookup, and you see something like the longhouse. And it would explain shelter, the importance of family. There's actually a story that Rose is telling there as well.

And in facilitating feedback, this is one of the state archaeologists. Because it can't just be my story. You know, it has to be the educators in the community, other archaeologists, Rose's perspective.

So it seemed like people were interested in the Civil War. So this is another site that I'm working on-- Mt. Gilead, which is a Fairfax County park. It's in historic Centerville.

So you can see this is where Manassas battlefield is. So when the Union troops got pushed out of Centerville, the Confederates moved in, and they wintered there.

And General Johnson wintered at Mt Gilead, which this house is still there. Someone's actually living in it right now.

Another [INAUDIBLE] map. This is a kind of a fun site to rebuild because of all the earthworks and the history behind it, as well as I've got this great data. I've got the LIDAR. I've got the actual earthworks. This is kind of weird to have in your front yard, like a little bit of readout.

And I've got a lot of the archaeological data. So the artifacts, the plan views, all the notes, kind of combining it all together. And then I also have these amazing photographs that show the scene as it would have been like when the Union troops moved in.

And then to kind of create the scene, which is chilly and leafless trees, they're taking all the trees out there to build these little kind of famous log huts. So I'm starting my reconstruction by creating those guys. And I'm trying to stay with my mission of preserve, protect, enhance, and interpret, and use these applications to kind of stay within the park authority's missions.

So same thing. You're dropped in the world. You're in the Oculus Rift. I just want to kind of show the environment. So you can create kind of a miserable environment, the chilly-- you can have the wind. Now it's flashing. And then if you continue through, you can walk in some of the readouts and kind of interact with the artifacts as well.

So we're going to stay in the 19th century, another West Fairfax, and talk about the digital preservation. So this is another set I worked on. This is what the house looked like. And the drone got a pretty good model of it in 2018 before it was torn down.

What they did was they took it down piece by piece, because underneath there was this log cabin that we think is from 1823. It was pretty good condition, because it was hidden under this kind of ugly modern house.

But before it got destroyed I had the chance to go out and get a model so that people can study it in the future. And you can also take-- you don't have to make a VR/AR app. You can also take the data and put it in something like a story map. So I'm doing that as well. And I'm going to have a timeline so you can explore how the landscape has changed over time. And it will be available to the public.

I'm also going to try to 3D print this using wood filaments so that we can take it to different education events, and the kids can kind of put it together like Lincoln Logs. But it will be an actual structure that used to be there.

And we can end at the Eastern Shore in Virginia. The state was nice enough to let me use this data. So this is a hall and parlor house. It's a 17th century home, pretty popular in early Virginia. I just wanted to show this to show what we're going to see, in case you haven't been to an archeology site, what you might see if you're seeing the foundation footprint. So remember this guy.

And then that's the drone data. So I use the drone data to get all these different images to create my model later.

So that's the data I used. That's the 3D model from PhotoScan. And then I just drag and drop in Unity. And you can put it in the Oculus Rift. And then for an archaeologist that couldn't make it out to the site, they could-- or somebody that wanted to kind of revisit the data, they can go back in the Oculus Rift. And they can go down into that unit and explore with the cellar was like, see-- maybe if they had just a plan drawing and it wasn't clear if it was mortar or brick, they could check that out. So for analysis, I think you could really use these applications as well.

So as archaeologists we have all this 2D data. And we're trying to figure out how to put it all together. And I think you can really use these VR/AR applications too for analysis and preservation purposes, interpretation, and education. And I'm hoping that I can get these out into the parks relatively soon, and that we see more of these in the future. That's all I have.





ALISA PETTITT: I feel like it's-- VR has been around for a while. The AR's kind of new as the technology progresses. I think it should be more common.

It's getting easier to use these programs. Like, I don't think I did any coding for the VR.

And it depends on what kind of data you want to use. The 360 video, most people can use. The building the custom 3D models is a little more difficult. I think we'll see more of them next 10 years.

AUDIENCE: For your example of the park with [INAUDIBLE], walking down the path, are you purposely blending modern pathways with a scene in [INAUDIBLE]? That path seemed pretty wide.

ALISA PETTITT: That's a good question. The landscape, because it's above the dam at Great Falls. So that has changed a lot too. So I had to use a lot of the archaeological data that I had. And since it's not a developed park, I didn't have a lot of data to work with.

So I'm trying to figure out what-- the path is actually wider at Riverbend than it is in that one. But it's kind of the interpretation factor.

AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] modern ways that the user can feel connected to the place, but also connected to a previous time period simultaneously so that they have a reference in which they're walking, is there an additional locator map that you can grow into the display, so that they know where they are while they're in virtual experience.

ALISA PETTITT: Yeah. That would be a good addition. Like, the markers too. So then if they did the AR tour afterwards, they would know where they were. That's good.

AUDIENCE: You can do these obviously through Oculus Rift. And this is something that also you can just view on the web, because--

ALISA PETTITT: You can view it on the Web. You can view it through a cardboard. It doesn't have to be the Oculus Rift. I kind of try to have it be in different platforms for access.

Video 3: vGIS: The Most Advanced Augmented Reality System for GIS and BIM (3:17)

AR has also been developed by companies hoping to visualize spatial relationships and information in the field where direct observation may be difficult and/or costly. For example, vGIS is a company that has focused on visualizing utility information that is typically hidden underground. This video has no sound, but it doesn't really need it either - you'll see how an AR approach can work with field surveying situations where digging underground is hard and where it's crucial to see network interconnection and possible conflicts.

vGIS: The Most Advanced Augmented Reality System for GIS and BIM

How might these immersive visualization strategies affect how we engage with geographic information? What kind of analysis would work better with AR and VR? What applications might not be helped with immersive visualization?

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