Alumni Update

Augmented Reality bringing the future to life

Cardboard Google VR headset

It may sound like something out of a science fiction fantasy, but scientists at the Wearable Computer Lab and the Empathic Computing Lab at UniSA are conducting internationally recognised Augmented Reality research to solve real-world problems in design, health, training and construction, to help people understand and explore the world around them. Recently collaborating with Google to develop applications for ‘Google Glass,’ the team are considered to be among the leading researchers world-wide in the fields of Wearable Computing and Augmented Reality (AR).

Inspired by Virtual Reality (VR) such as that seen on Star Trek, Augmented Reality (AR) is the overlay of virtual digital imagery onto real objects in the physical environment. The technology, initially released through handheld devices, projectors and head-sets, can help people better communicate with one another, as well as offer the user in-depth information and advice on products, tasks and instructions.

The team including Professor Bruce Thomas, UniSA alumnus Dr Ross Smith and Professor Mark Billinghurst work with AR, VR and visualisation, with the aim of improving and advancing human-computer interaction. They are inventing a vast range of every-day uses for this progressive technology and recently explained just a few:

Allowing designers and clients to better understand needs and visualise designs

“There’s a huge place for AR in interior design,” Prof Thomas says. “Imagine setting out cabinets, countertops and appliances where you want them in the actual space – you can project it all into your existing kitchen, or an empty room, to see how everything fits and exactly what it will look like.”

Using AR to design a space will allow visualisation of a design at life scale, reducing chances of mismeasurement or miscommunication between designer and client. By projecting true-to-size digital images onto a physical environment, clients can see before them the end product of a design job, allowing them to discuss the smallest components of a design with designers and architects. On an A3 piece of paper even a pencil width can make a significant difference, so AR allows designs to be finished faster and without encountering costly design problems during the construction phase.

Prof Thomas and his team are in collaboration with Jumbo Vision International to create fully immersive visual rooms. “We’re going to fundamentally change the way people design things; this is the area I’m most excited about.”

Using Augmented Reality as a countermeasure for sleep deprivation

It is estimated that 16% of the Australian workforce are employed in shift work and are at risk of reduced cognitive performance due to sleep deprivation.

The team at the Wearable Computer Lab recently collaborated with the Centre for Sleep Research at UniSA to conduct a comprehensive experiment exploring how AR technology can impact procedural task performance on sleep deprived users.

Participants were kept awake all night and were presented with computer-generated imagery while conducting the procedural task of pressing a button, designed to simulate the interaction with a control panel - commonly seen on a factory floor.

The results found that when used correctly, AR could significantly decrease human error when workers are required to perform while sleep deprived. The next step is to take this information from the lab to test in a workplace.

Seeing through someone else’s eyes

Prof Billinghurst from the Empathic Computing Lab is using Augmented Reality to develop new types of remote collaboration. Using small wearable cameras, displays and computers his team is developing a system that allows a person to share a view of their workspace with a remote expert. The remote expert can see what the person is seeing and use AR to provide virtual feedback to help them perform a task. This has many possible applications, but initially they are focusing on industrial applications such as maintenance. For example, if a piece of equipment breaks down in a factory the technology could be used to enable a remote expert to connect in and help the person on-site fix the problem.

“With our technology a remote person can see through the eyes of another person and use virtual cues to show them exactly what to do in the real world. Fixing a problem is easy when you see a pair of virtual hands in front of you showing exactly what to do,” Prof Billinghurst explains.

The researchers currently have a working prototype and are looking to enhance it with additional features such as eye tracking and being able to share physiological cues to measure stress. This is just one of several projects from the Empathic Computing Lab which has a focus on using AR, VR and wearable technology to enable people to better understand one another.

How you can get involved

If your company can benefit from this world–class, cutting edge technology, please contact Prof Thomas at: to discuss your options further.

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