Agencies innovate with augmented reality apps

NARA, Army among agencies that use new augmented apps

Picture a photograph of the Washington Monument, and in the photo’s center is a framed historic image of the same monument while under construction: a photo-within-a-photo.

That photo's from the National Archives and Records Administration’s new augmented reality photo contest where entrants are encouraged to juxtapose historical and new images in the same frame.

The contest is one of several federal government-focused applications that use augmented reality technologies and principles. In augmented reality, a geographic location in real life is overlaid with data about the location, such as geographic data, historic data or statistical data, often in a mobile application. For example, the popular iPhone application Word Lens offers instant language translation for users who point the phone at a sign written in a foreign language.

Mobile augmented reality is a growing technology that's predicted to expand in 2011, according to a Dec. 17 report by Forrester Research. “In the years to come, it will be a disruptive technology that changes the way consumers interact with their environments,” report author Thomas Hussan wrote.


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At NARA, the “History Happens Here!” online photo competition is advertised as augmented reality application that “allows you to see history in your reality.” Sixteen entries have been submitted to the contest’s Flickr site. The 20 winning photos will be printed in a postcard book to be sold at NARA's gift shop.

In one entry, an image of the Capitol steps is overlaid with an historic image of President John F. Kennedy and his family descending those same steps. In another, an image of the White House fence is shown in a mashup with a historic photograph of suffragettes demonstrating at that same location during President Woodrow Wilson’s tenure.

Other augmented reality applications related to government agencies include:

  • According to officials quoted in a report in Army Times, the Army is evaluating smart phone applications for soldiers both in the classroom and on the battlefield. The smart phones could let soldiers view real-time intelligence and video from unmanned systems overhead, and track friends and enemies on a dynamic map, the officials said.
  • Sunlight Labs and Layar collaborated on a mashup of Layar’s augmented reality platform as a way of presenting Recovery.gov data on spending from the $780 billion economic stimulus law of 2009.
  • Sunlight Labs created the Congress augmented reality application for Android smart phones, which enables users to use the phone’s location to automatically identify a congressional district. 
The contest deadline is Jan. 21.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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