A traveler checks for relevant tourist information of a place using his handheld device. Pic: Prasit Rodphan/Shutterstock
The technology works by super-imposing computer-generated information on top of a visual scene captured on a smartphone, tablet or other device. This produces a layered perception of surroundings that can be manipulated as desired.
While this has an obvious appeal for the gaming and entertainment industries, they aren’t the only ones to have recognized its potential.
For tourism, augmented reality has a number of practical applications, and various outlets are seizing the opportunity to digitally enhance the traveler experience in several key areas.
The Kspace app allows kids to explore the museum by finding characters from Kspace games. Pic: National Museum Australia,.
Museums and galleries around the world are harnessing this technology to develop their own apps. By augmenting a phone or tablets’ live screen display, they can deliver extra information or bring their exhibits to life.
At the National Museum Australia, AR tags work with their Kspace Trail app to launch interactive characters that encourage children to explore the historical displays.
Whereas visitors to the Indian Heritage Center in Singapore can get closer to artifacts than ever before without even touching them, using the gallery’s receptive AR guide.
Apps like Google Translate can help travelers on the go. Pic: Pe3k/Shutterstock
Language can be a challenge for travelers exploring new and unfamiliar places, especially if the alphabet varies wildly from what they are used to. But AR could make this a problem of the past.
Smartphone AR apps like Google Translate and WayGo can provide instant translation without an internet connection. The user simply points the device’s camera at the text they want converting, and it will appear on-screen in their chosen language.
Yelp Monocle uses AR markers to help users locate nearby businesses. Pic: Peter Morville/Flicker.
To successfully navigate a destination and get the most from a trip, travelers need quick and easy access to information. Using a phone’s GPS and camera functions, AR technology can go beyond a standard browser app to find transport links, places of interest or even amenities in real-time.
Yelp Monocle, for instance, uses AR markers to locate nearby businesses like restaurants and bars, and combines it with key details like distance from current location, ratings, and reviews.
The most comprehensive apps, however, act as an interactive travel guide. They augment the digital display to show more in depth information about attractions and a virtual path for the user to follow once they have made their selection.
Limitations of AR
AR definitely offers travelers convenience when they’re on the road. Pic: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock
For travelers, augmented reality certainly has its advantages not least because it allows for a more immersive and enriching experience by blending the real world with the virtual.
But while this exciting technology may have the potential to gradually transform the travel sphere; it’s not without its limitations. A particular user bugbear is the availability of apps across operating systems, countries and languages, with most having shortcomings in at least one of these areas.
Another drawback is that many apps require some degree of internet connectivity which can be problematic in areas with poor 3G or limited WiFi access. Travelers could also expose themselves to hefty data roaming charges if not careful.
Yet despite this, augmented reality is arguably still a promising avenue for the tourism industry to explore both in terms of apps and onsite technology.