The Isle of Wight is beautiful, few spots more so than the house we rented in Cowes this weekend: panoramic views over the harbour, the sea breaking on the beach outside, a roaring fire in the evening and plenty of sofas and armchairs for everyone to collapse in with a good book.
The Solent doesn’t provide wilderness views: it provides interesting ones. Across to the West, Keyhaven and fortifications that have guarded the channel of centuries. In front, Fawley refinery, with stark black chimneys and occult steelwork punctuating the skyline: low down, the old hangers of the flying boats: further along, Southampton docks, then off to Portsmouth to the East. Proud cities with a proud naval heritage, visible to this day in the hundreds of ships, large and small that dot the seas.
Vast cruise liners, cargo ships, oil tankers and bulk carriers. Swarming around them, the tugs, harbour master and Pilot ships. Sailing vessels in from the ocean, small sailing ships racing and the odd gin palace chugging by.
A veritable chaos of vessels. Which is why an App comes in handy. Something simple like ‘SD Free‘ provides an immediate layer of interpretation: fire it up and hit the ‘AR‘ button and the screen fills with a live view from your camera viewfinder. Hold it up, as if to take a picture of a passing vessel, and it overlays the image with data: the name of the ship, where it came from, what it’s carrying, where it’s come from, where it’s heading to. Scan the camera around the harbour and different signs float into view, hovering above their charges, providing contextual data that updates dynamically.
You can switch to a top down view, seeing vessels and buoys plotted out on a map, each boat icon clickable, providing yet more data.
Done with this? Activate StarWalk and turn the camera to the sky: now you see the real stars but with constellations mapped over them: on the Google Glass, it’s an actual overlay that you can watch right through. And as my glance settles on an individual planet, the headset springs into life and starts telling me what i am looking at.
Once i’m done, i can ask Glass to take me back to the ferry, and it will, projecting my route onto my glasses, in front of my eyes, and narrating the directions in my ear.
Augmented reality is not a thing of the future: it’s here today.
Early applications are entertaining and informative: visit the Lego store in Manhattan and you can pick up any box and stand in front of a screen: tip the box flat and the model will literally build on the screen, anchored to the box, in three dimensions. If it’s a train set, the train will chug into life and puff around the track. Or a model will unfold and open out: as you rotate the box, the model moves with it.
These applications add layers of interpretation, layers of data and meaning onto the reality we see with our bare eyes. The implications for learning are clear: imagine you are mending a valve in a refinery: bring out your binder of instructions, open the relevant page and an exploded model of the valve appears, in 3D, over the top. Rotate the binder slowly and watch the model open out: maybe add a layer of interpretation, perhaps a senior engineer giving you tips of what to watch out for, “don’t over tighten the nut at the front“.
We start to move learning out of the abstract and directly into application.
Developing these applications is not cheap, but neither is it rocket science: the ship App is already free, funded by adverts. Similar apps operate where you can look at planes at the airport and see where they are heading, where they have come from.
The future of learning lies in geolocation, contextualisation, interpretation and application: providing what we need to know, in meaningful ways, relevant to our instance, and ready to apply. Layers of augmentation are likely to be part of this, and not in fifty years time: within a short space from now. Google Glass mark one may be retired, but rest assured that it was just the start. Smartphones already have the hardware and computational power to deliver, and indeed are delivering in the spaces of entertainment and information. Application in more serious spaces is close by.
After my last month in Amsterdam, LinkedIn started to ask me if i wanted to relocate my ‘home’ address there, Facebook started to send out Dutch adverts. They do this not to be helpful, but because there is commercial value in geolocating and contextualising what they feed out to me: if it’s relevant for retail, then it’s relevant for us in learning.
The geolocation and contextualisation of learning, moving beyond just providing ‘data‘ to providing context and application, that’s within our reach if we are bold enough to play.