Murphy notes that the Nokia project is similar to a commercially available application in Japan by a company called Geovector. The Geovector software lets a person search for businesses near his or her location, and then it provides a series of arrows to direct him or her to, say, a coffee shop. But, Murphy says, the application does not annotate a scene on a mobile screen like MARA does. This see-through annotation makes it possible to view objects on the phone that are purely virtual, he says, like an information marker in the middle of a pavilion, or a work of virtual art overlaid on the side of a building.
Salil Pradan, the chief technologist of RFID at Hewlett Packard (HP), based in Palo Alto, CA, is encouraged that Nokia, a major phone manufacturer, is putting effort into research such as MARA. Pradan worked on a similar mobile-phone project at HP called Websign that began about six years ago but is no longer active. “We always believed that this kind of augmented reality with a cell phone is the way to move forward,” he says. “I’m glad to see people like Nokia getting into that space.”
Pradan says that the truly interesting applications will arise when the technology is opened up to software developers outside of Nokia so they can modify it to fit their needs.
Letting developers play with a commercial version of technology based on MARA could be feasible, says Murphy. After all, he says, the programming tools are already available for creating location-based applications that use GPS in the Nokia Series60 platform. “Hypothetically, if orientation and heading sensors were also to be embedded in the platform, one could imagine they could be made available to developers in a similar manner,” he says.
However, at this time, Nokia has no plans to transform MARA into a commercial product. “Creating a prototype and creating a product are very different things,” says Murphy. Some of the challenges are technical: minimizing power consumption in a phone with multiple sensors, and extended use of the camera. And some of the challenges are logistical: addressing privacy issues, and deciding the number and type of objects to maintain in the object database.
If the research did make it into a Nokia product, it would be exciting to see how people would use it, Murphy says. “There are so many possibilities engendered by bringing the Internet to the real world–making people linkable,” he says. “It’s hard to know what would be done with the technology if it were available.”