Hyperlocal websites enter augmented reality dimension

An experimental project to develop "augmented reality" (AR) web content for citizens at a community level, in partnership with local public services, was unveiled this week.

The "hypARlocal" trial will seek to add an AR dimension to "hyperlocal" websites as pioneered by the non-profit network Talk About Local. Hyperlocal sites are focused on small local communities such as a few streets in a town or city.

Augmented reality adds a graphics or data "layer" to live video footage of a street, building or local feature viewed on a smartphone or other mobile device. For example bubbles containing review comments could appear when a phone is held in front of a restaurant; or complaints about roadworks might be presented over a live street view.

The technology works by combining "geo-tags" - web addresses linked to the latitude and longitude of a location - and positioning and orientation technologies within the mobile device. Although it has a futuristic image - people tend to think of science fiction films, and data written by laser onto eyeballs - the technology is already available in rudimentary forms using mobile apps, and is set to improve and enter mainstream use.

The hypARlocal project will work with volunteer hyperlocal websites to create geotagged content into different AR environments, explore those environments and seek feedback from users, including people with disabilities. An initial technology demonstrator phase has been funded by Nominet Trust in partnership with NESTA.

"Most stuff published in augmented reality environments right now is commercially-driven and often uninspiring", Talk About Local founder William Perrin says in a blog post published to mark the project's launch. "We wanted to bring some of the public service ethos of hyperlocal sites into AR."

Since the technology is so new, "the process isn't easy, many things don't quite work as advertised", the blog says. "We want to learn lessons and share them so that others don't have to. As well as feed back to software and platform developers what independent local publishers might want from their products."

Speaking to UKAuthority.com on launch day, Perrin said councils and other public bodies would be key to this work, and encouraged any bodies interested in supported future projects to contact Talk About Local. "The local public sector in all its forms is the major custodian of local information that is tied specifically to a place, and we'd love to work with local authorities, health trusts, schools, transport bodies and others to see if new augmented reality technologies on mobile phones can help people make more sense of complex local information.

"At the heart of our technology demonstrator is the spirit of traditional public service. It's early days yet for these technologies, but modern organisations should always have an eye to the future and engage in a little cost effective R&D."

Talk About Local http://talkaboutlocal.org