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Deconstructing Augmenting Reality Apps by Constructing Them

Finally, we move on to the fabulous Steve Jones and his colleague Rich Wolf to finish this session (and day) at AoIR 2011. Steve notes the degree to which the mobile phone has become a coterminal device in our presence. Through a student project, Steve and Rich led the development of an app for observing and understanding the scaffolding of privacy, security, surveillance and connectiveness. The app provided a location-based as well as social network service for students on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

Rich says that this was using a REST-based architecture, in which clients request representations of resources from Web servers; this may describe any meaningful resource that can be addressed. It plugged into the Foursquare API as the underlying REST service, in order not to reinvent the wheel, and used Apple’s Xcode development environment for iOS applications. (There’s more technical information here, but reporting on all of that correctly is asking a bit much of me at the end of a long day…)

What this resulted in, then, is an augmented reality application. AR comes in two flavours: one which works through image recognition, and one which is location-based and builds on direction and orientation information available about the current position of the mobile phone. The UIC app used the second type of augmented reality, which also requires a range of complicated mathematical calculations to work out what’s currently visible to the phone user.

There are obvious privacy implications with apps such as this, of course – a great range of data can be (and is) recorded and transmitted by the phone as it checks into the Foursquare API, and other information is provided by users as they create their profiles and connect with one another. Not all of this information is intended for wider consumption; not all of it is relevant in isolation, but in combination it can reveal a great deal of information about the user.

The ‘deconstruction by construction’ approach which the UIC app-building course took provides a very useful indication of the complexities of such location-based services, highlighting both the opportunities and the problems associated with such services.