Internet of Things (IoT) technology has already begun to change the way we experience cities. “Smart Cities” that sense our environment and learn our behavior, have the potential to facilitate intelligent urban landscapes, creating efficiencies and enabling a new range of services.
Developments in augmented reality (AR) technology are promising to fundamentally change the way we see our cities. AR is emblematic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). By blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds, it adds an interactive layer that merges the real and virtual, opening up a new world of possibilities that have the potential to reshape urban society.
Augmented reality is the interaction of data, graphics and sensory enhancements over-laid on a real environment, in real time to immerse the user in an enhanced experience of a real-life environment or situation. It has the potential to disrupt the world we see, work and navigate by providing an all-encompassing experience that is contextual, visual and visceral.
Novel applications have already begun to introduce AR technology into the mainstream, for example, Pokemon Go became a gaming sensation in 2016 when it utilised smartphone screens and cameras to show players a new layer as they explored their real environment. In addition, Google Translate offers users the ability to read almost any language in real-time through on-screen translation. Its voice features even allow two people with no common language to have a relatively smooth conversation without typing a letter. And these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to AR’s impact.
By combining smart infrastructure with advanced AR systems, we can begin to interact with the world like never before. The sensory ability of the digital infrastructure that makes up a smart city allows us to create a digital version of the real world that enables technology to respond to dynamic environments. AR provides us with the ability to over-lay this data when looking at the city, allowing us to interact with the real world on a digital level. AR acts serves as a visual portal to access data across a city’s public and private sectors, adding huge value to prospect of data as true public asset and resource.
The trend towards open data in Smart Cities is creating a range of opportunities for AR:
Maintenance & Public Works
Consider the benefits of a municipal worker being able to “see” pipes under the road or pavement when fixing a water leak or seeing the electricity cables underground when maintaining urban power infrastructure. These essential processes could be completed in a fraction of the time and with minimal disruption for the public.
Citizen Engagement In Urban Planning
When a new road, building or park is being planned in a city, AR could allow the local community to ‘see’ how these changes would look in reality. Future plans could be projected into a real-world view, allowing the individual to walk around the project being considered and better understand how it would affect their lives. When multiple planning options are available, urban planners, designers, architects, engineers, construction executives and indeed, the local citizen, could switch between real world views of those options and offer their preferences before construction starts.
Enhanced Emergency Services
Using AR and the over-lay of collected data, a firefighter or rescue worker is able to see hidden dangers and people in need of help in a burning or collapsed building. Having this holistic view allows them to easily navigate their way through thick fog, smoke or fire. AR systems with access to blueprints and IoT data can therefore enable emergency responders to select the safest course through hazardous environments, allowing them to save more lives while protecting themselves from harm.
Improved Public Health & Wellness
Imagine if we could see air pollution, be it car-fumes, pollen or dangerous gas leaks. By integrating AI with air quality sensors, citizens are able to navigate a path through a city which minimises exposure to harmful pollutants. The same is true of noise and light pollution, similar to today’s map applications that allow us to avoid congestion and time delays.
Better Urban Mobility
Wayfinding applications like Google Maps or Waze have already revolutionised how we get from A to B, but by adding AR we take this process to another level. AR enabled windscreens could highlight hazards and signage or provide real-time information on traffic, route changes or vehicle health via display while watching the road. Equivalent information could be made available to pedestrians or those navigating complex public transport systems.
Augmented Culture & Tourism
Ever wondered about the history of the street you’re walking down or if a cultural gem lies hidden along your route? Using AR connected to cultural databases, visitors, or indeed locals, can understand their surroundings like never before, allowing the ability to appreciate the cultural wealth concealed in every street and building. For tourists visiting a city, ‘AR guides’ provide a knowledgeable, customised and highly interactive tour of new places.
Managing the Evolution
Not all forecasts suggest AR will enhance our lives. Some paint a picture of a dystopian future where advertising that already bombards our smartphones and inboxes will be taken to an uncomfortable new level. This award-winning video by Hyper-Reality presents a provocative alternative vision of our smart, augmented urban future, highlighting the need for this incredible technological revolution to be carefully planned and controlled. However, combining AR with the IoT in smart cities is the logical and inevitable evolution of our urban environments. If managed well, this cyber-physical evolution could redraw the very fabric of society for the benefit of all.