Q&A: Explaining the Hype Around Augmented Reality

Total Immersion's Bruno Uzzan Talks About Potential -- and Challenges -- of Mobile AR

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Tech circles are abuzz about augmented reality and the future of mobile utility and marketing.

AR, as it's called, marries real-time video and digital information. On phones, it uses GPS coordinates and the mobile camera to activate additional text, photos or hyperlinks relevant to a location. Platforms like Layar serve geo-tagged information, so pointing a mobile phone at a house for sale could, for example, overlay listing information from real-estate search engine Trulia.

Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion
Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion
Bruno Uzzan is CEO of Total Immersion, a Los Angeles-headquartered developer that's worked with augmented reality since 2001 and recently created the Topps baseball-card application that integrates players' 3-D avatars with traditional trading cards. We talked to him about the challenges of mobile AR and how marketers should be thinking about this promising technology. Here are his answers, lightly edited.

Ad Age: How does augmented reality work on phones?

Mr. Uzzan: To access AR, you need a screen, a computer and a video camera. Now we have all those on phones. The first AR apps on phones use the GPS and compass -- you can use your phone to look at a building and get some information on that building or know where the closest restaurants are. But that's only the beginning.

Ad Age: How will mobile AR evolve?

Mr. Uzzan: For now, you can do mobile AR on a building or location, but not on a fixed object, like a package, because right now the tracking requires external information from the GPS and the compass. To do the tracking directly on the phone [without requiring location data], we need video functionalities and enough computation capacity to understand objects the phone is looking at. ... That's one of the biggest challenges for a company like Total Immersion: How can we use less computation power than what's on computers, but still create a robust AR experience on mobile?

Ad Age: How can fixed AR tracking work for brands?

Mr. Uzzan: Brands are searching for new ways to expand the experience with a physical product. Clients want their package to not just be something that holds food or product, but a way to interact with consumers. How can the box itself trigger a marketing, information or even entertainment experience for the consumer? The package can become a communication tool.

For fixed tracking, you'd add black-and-white markers to the object you're going to track, or the other option is what we call "markerless tracking," where the object itself [is the tracker]. When you work with a large brand, one that's manufacturing one million packs per day, and you tell them they need to add a marker -- good luck closing your deal. But the object they already make could be used in AR -- [when] the tracker is the product. It could be a can, a bottle, a cake box or a toy.

Ad Age: What are the possibilities for package AR?

Mr. Uzzan: [Imagine you] take a cake box and look at the box with your phone, so that the screen is an interface and you'll see not only the package, but also a 3-D character emerge from the box, talking to you in real time. Or, you can look at a product with a phone and see reviews from other consumers superimposed on it. Though if you have bad reviews, that could be dangerous for the brand. ... I've had meetings with food companies, health companies, even movie companies. All brands could potentially benefit.

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