Augmented reality holds promise and opportunity for the public works industry. With the development of this technology through efforts like the Smart Vidente Project and the recent release of development tools by Layar, we are moving closer to actual implementation on the job. And over the next few months, I plan to try to set up some layers for work using the Layar service. So I was discussing this with another engineer at work and trying to come up with some ideas to try out. We thought about setting up some virtual notifications programmed to pop up when we approach certain properties in the city. These notifications could alert us to drainage issues, special structures in the area, and other information in which we would be interested. But as we imagined this future of virtual objects left waiting to be discovered, the other engineer came up with a brilliant question. He wondered if anyone could set out virtual objects like this, what would prevent the world from becoming a virtual junkyard.
He had an excellent point. Right now the technology is so new, we don’t yet have this problem. If I walk through out city today with the Layar app on my smart phone, there is a good chance I will see no virtual objects. But once the technology becomes ubiquitous, we could walk through our cities looking for something with our augmented reality app and find ourselves bombarded by virtual junk. This virtual junk would also detract from augmented reality uses for wayfinding and utility location. And what could be worse is that people could leave virtual junk on our private property. Maybe someone gets upset with someone else and decides to leave a virtual sign with some not-so-nice wording on that person’s lawn. So there will probably come a day when there will need to be some regulation defining where virtual objects can be placed. But once you start considering this and how it fits into our current system of governance and regulations, it becomes quite an intriguing discussion. Local government regulates and permits placement of objects in the right of way, so should this permitting be extended to virtual objects placed in the right of way? And who should have the authority to regulate what is placed on private property?
Developing the framework for regulating augmented reality in public and private spaces will take some thoughtful consideration and time. But setting this up now will make it that much easier when we get the first call from one of our citizens complaining because someone put a virtual, 20-foot pink dragon breathing fire on their property.