Over the past few years we have seen two important trends, the consumerization of GIS technology and the proliferation of affordable smart phones. These trends converge to provide geographically-enabled applications for mobile devices in the consumer market. Consumers can get shopping, weather or routing information with respect to their current location and more importantly share that information with other devices.
Application developers have access to device peripherals like a digital compass, accelerometer, assisted GPS and camera. Developers can use these peripherals to transform a mobile phone into a spatially enabled (or “geographically-aware”) sensor. Whether photographing oil spill damage or recording your mountain bike trail, the smart phone is essentially a real-time GIS data capture device.
Augmented reality (AR) is just one technique that can leveraged by GIS developers on mobile devices. AR involves the overlaying of graphics on real-time georeferenced video feeds. App developers like LAYAR use AR to reveal the locations of nearby restaurants and hotels but AR can and should do a lot more. Smart phones could be used to view subterranean infrastructure such as electrical transmission lines or water reticulation pipes. AR could be used by firemen to visualize the three dimensional route in and around buildings. The applications are endless.
To conclude, the practical usefulness of AR can only be achieved with the application of real-time spatial analysis. What if there was as AR app that could highlight diseased grass or display routes to family members in a crowded stadiums? GIS can “add value” to augmented reality.