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Smart Brands Are Using Geospatial AR to Get Close to Consumers

Even if imaginary pocket-sized Japanese monsters aren’t your thing, you’re bound to remember the success of Pokémon Go.

For several months six years ago, the virtual game had players glued to their mobile devices, wandering around to ‘catch’ all manner of minute beasts at different locations while avoiding collisions with lampposts and marauding cyclists.

But Pokémon Go was more than a game. In fact, it was a groundbreaking attempt to bring geospatial Augmented Reality (AR) to the attention of the masses. Fast forward to today and it’s rapidly becoming a part of everyday life.

To begin with a definition, geospatial AR is essentially a digital experiential layer on top of the real world that people can interact with as they go about their business. For brands, it creates the chance to develop marker-less, position-based digital assets anchored to a specific physical place.

That means marketers now have the ability to create compelling experiences that consumers can visit, enjoy and interact with in a chosen location. It’s a space to innovate, adding a sense of community, excitement but also utility to people’s experiences.

How geospatial AR technology works

Geospatial AR uses SLAM: simultaneous localization and mapping.

Simply put, a SLAM engine enables your device to understand where it is relative to recognizable real-world surroundings – whether that’s a house, office, shop, phone box, or so on. SLAM is present on most mobile devices.

By scanning and recognizing data points at a specific location, digital assets created by brands and other organizations can grant users access to assets they’ve created. These are anchored to the place where the user is. It’s similar to the LIDAR technology that will allow self-driving vehicles to understand the highway environment they’re in.

In effect, geospatial AR allows brands and developers to create a digital twin of the real world. It can then be used as a canvas to place assets and experiences within the same space. Most people are used to Google Maps and other virtual cartography by now; geospatial adds a “wow” layer of unique experiences.

As John Hanke, founder and CEO of AR firm Niantic says, this version of the Metaverse can help us create the world we want to build, as an antidote to simply retreating into a virtual shell.

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Brand geospatial AR assets in action

We’ve been involved in some inspiring and innovative early creations in the geospatial AR space.

For EE, we devised a 5G experience at Wembley Stadium that allowed football fans to virtually “meet” Liverpool and England player Trent Alexander-Arnold. It gave users an experience they were unlikely to access anywhere else (short of doorstepping Trent) and showcased the power of the technology for both consumers and business.

Meanwhile, in a collaboration with Tate galleries we produced a 360-degree, fully immersive experience. It used compelling films to coincide with Robert Rauschenberg, Georgia O’Keeffe and David Hockney exhibitions. The technology allows curators to place an exhibit within the public space so people can interact with it.

Underneath the razzamatazz it’s important to remember geospatial AR often needs to be as useful for people as it is fun and inspiring. To that end, brands are already beginning to embrace the practical side of geospatial AR as the technology matures.

In terms of what can be called practical life optimization, improving wayfinding with geospatial AR to help people navigate complex real-world locations – such as reaching your poorly explained Airbnb location – is an instance of the technology in use.

Visualizing the future of geospatial AR

The good news for brands wanting to try their hand at geospatial AR is that all users need to experience it is a smartphone. Technology will of course continue to develop and be honed to provide even better assets – not least Google Glass – but as a marketing strategy it’s ready to go.

While mass-market appeal may lie in the consumer arena the technology’s uses shouldn’t be restricted to B2C. It will have endless applications in business, too. Think about an engineer being able to visualize and understand what components – perhaps high-voltage and risky – lie under the surface of machinery they’re working with. For architects, too, it’s possible to envision any number of uses as they virtually construct the buildings of the future.

Fusing layers of virtual experience to physical locations in the real world is no longer a pipe dream. We can now immerse ourselves in virtual worlds, involving users in building communities where they want to spend time and add real value to their lives. As geospatial AR grows in importance brands and consumers alike will soon be saying: I choose you.

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