Ready for an experience of a lifetime? How about a trip to "MARS"? Don’t worry. You won’t get rocket sickness or need a spacesuit. All you’ll need is your smartphone camera … but you can bring some Tang if you wish.

MARS is an acronym for "mobile augmented reality systems." It is software built for mobile devices that displays Web data about the physical world where the device is located. The MARS user can access and visualize data that is tied to their physical location and environment.

Ready for an experience of a lifetime? How about a trip to "MARS"? Don’t worry. You won’t get rocket sickness or need a spacesuit. All you’ll need is your smartphone camera … but you can bring some Tang if you wish.

MARS is an acronym for "mobile augmented reality systems." It is software built for mobile devices that displays Web data about the physical world where the device is located. The MARS user can access and visualize data that is tied to their physical location and environment.

The physical world, in effect, becomes the user interface to digital information. It’s a sort of middle ground for reality and virtual reality. Still saying "Huh?" OK, let’s explore further.

On MARS, you simply point your cell phone camera at the physical environment and you will see an overlay of information (images and/or text) describing what the camera is seeing — information on buildings, businesses, as well as the location of bus stops, ATMs, places of interest, you name it.

Imagine walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City and getting a guided tour, courtesy of your iPhone. Unlike virtual reality, which seeks to replace the real world, MARS supplements it. This is not the future. MARS is here.

Some MARS applications:

  • Nearest Tube is a MARS application for the iPhone that displays the nearest subway stations as you move your camera across the street. Your camera will show you how to get there.
  • Wikitude will overlay information on landmarks and points of interest.
  • Layar is a MARS mobile browser. Many layers are available: entertainment, restaurants, transit, etc. (see this video). Trulia recently added its data to the real estate layer.

How is it done?

GPS, tilt sensors and a compass enable a handset to calculate location, while the Internet connection allows it to retrieve information on the surroundings and to display that information on the screen. The trick is having the data to put in the layers. Wikitude, for example, is tabbed into the vast Wikipedia database.

Houses on MARS

How about using MARS to point at a restaurant and see the menu (and ratings), or pointing your camera while strolling through a neighborhood to see which homes are for sale and which apartments are for rent in the area. You might also want to check out open houses, foreclosure properties and for-sale-by-owner listings. …CONTINUED

Point your "ray gun" to a particular home for sale and see the property details (maybe Zillow’s Zestimate value) and contact information of the listing agent. Schedule a showing by e-mail or, heck, call the agent.

Since MARS provides point-and-shoot information, there is no need to type search queries, no links to click, no chance for misspellings.

3-D mailers

MARS can bring you even further. It can morph two-dimensional images (from newsprint, for-sale signs, postcards or print ads, for example) into 3-D views. Think hologram.

You could experience a 3-D open-house walking tour by pointing your cell phone at the for-sale lawn sign or the floor plan postcard you just received in the mail. This version of MARS requires a QR-type code, also known as a "Quick Response" code (see related article).

Mixed reality and the ‘Wearable Web’

Right now you can reach MARS through your cell phone camera. Simply choose the layer you need — restaurants, homes for sale, landmarks, ATMs, bus, train and subway stops — and your camera will give you the information in your chosen layer.

Other companies, like Nokia, are playing with mixed reality. Put on your Web glasses to access the Internet and interact with others. Take a trip to the future here.

Augmented reality technology has existed since the early 1990s, but the devices were cumbersome and actually made you look like a Martian.

The addition of compass-equipped smartphones should result in a MARS attack of applications. Expect to see real estate Web sites add their data and build upon these applications.

Eventually, you will be able to point your camera at a person and get all the information on this person available on the Web. It will be like a virtual frisking. But that’s another article.

See you all in the future.

Joseph Ferrara is publisher of the Sellsius Real Estate Blog and a partner in TheClozing.com, a real estate news aggregator site. He is an attorney with 25 years of experience in New York, and he also coaches agents on the use of blogging and social networking.

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