Layar Brings Semi-Augmented Reality to Your Android Phone

Stunned, I’ve only begun to think of the possibilties for this type of technology. This will change alot of how we use our phones to get information. Imagine traveling out of town, you wouldn’t need to get a telephone book (not that anyone does now), you wouldn’t need to get out you laptop and get on Google maps, no need to even ask the locals anything. Scan your camera phone around the block and you have a complete city guide at your finger tips. Names and types of businesses, contact information, hours of operation, menu’s, prices, recent peoples comments and or suggestions. I mean this could create a sorta sub-website, that is based soley on a person standing there looking at a building with their Android-Layar enabled camera phone, instantly having ever possible piece of information about it. Crazy… I wonder when Android will become self aware? -Greg 

By Kevin Purdy, 5:00 PM on Fri Sep 11 2009, 1,151 views

In a true-to-form augmented reality app, a phone’s camera would be used to provide a live video stream, and the application would analyze objects in that stream and interact with them in some way. This video demonstrates what the future will likely hold for motion-sensitive, GPS-enabled, decent-camera-toting phones—with zombies:

Until phones catch up to developers’ ambitions, we have half-breed apps like Layar that pull in geographic data from your phone’s GPS location, check it against web databases, and then show the locations of nearby subway stations, restaurants, and more overlaid on the image of your surroundings from your phone’s camera. Android phones allow apps to access the video stream for overlays, while the iPhone 3GS picked up that ability with the 3.1 firmware update, as ReadWriteWeb details. Here’s how Layar’s developers demonstrate the app in their native Amsterdam:


For a real-world, smaller-city test, I grabbed a T-Mobile G1 and headed to Buffalo’s Elmwood Avenue commercial strip, with a side venture to Main Street, to see what Layar could show me. The app has a single view and function that pulls in your camera’s video stream, but you can switch up what “layer” you see over it on the fly. The layers, listed at Layar’s web site, come from web services with big geographic data piles, like Wikipedia, review site Yelp, real estate finder Trulia, and sites that mash up social apps like Flickr and Twitter. Yelp and Flickr (pulled in as “FlickAR” in this app) are, as you might imagine, the most densely packed of the apps I tried. You normally turn your camera, or yourself, to get thumbnail data on any “blips” that come up in Layar. When you come up with clusters of results in layers like Yelp, though, you’ll end up switching to the less impressive list view, because trying to pinpoint individual finds will have passersby wondering why it looks like you’re trying to rotate the world with your phone.

I didn’t get any results for local tweets or Trulia real estate findings, but an architectural society layer and Wikipedia yielded a few fun surprises. If you were new in a city and looking for something to check out, Layar might well be worth the time (and battery drain) to check out. Who wouldn’t want to check out the spot where President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, or the seriously creepy spires of the H.R. Richardson “State Lunatic Asylum”? Layar is neat stuff, and will probably get better as more developers buy into it.

Layar is a free download for Android phones only. If you’ve used the app for something useful, fun, or something in-between, tell us about it, and post pictures, in the comments.