Augmented reality has arrived in Palm Springs and Fort Lauderdale. Why you should be next

By Gregory G. Curtin, Ph.D

2015 was a banner year for Smart Cities. Across the globe cities of all shapes and sizes clamored to get “smart,” with more smart infrastructure, open data and data enabled “things” (the long awaited Internet of Things, or IoT) than ever before. There was for the first time real evidence of integrated and cross platform Smart City solutions, not simply one off technologies and disconnected applications. The past year also saw a record number of Smart City related conferences and events, with many of them reporting record attendance.

Something that was conspicuously missing from virtually all of the above in 2015 was Augmented Reality (AR). Are Smart Cities ready for this truly transformational technology?

Virtual/Augmented Reality has been heralded as the next big paradigm shift in computing, with the potential to fundamentally change user behavior and business processes in the way that the Internet and the smartphone have. This new Augmented Reality world will stimulate a highly visual, contextual and visceral user experience — much closer to how we as humans actually interact with the world around us (thus the “reality” in AR).

Leading analysts such as Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, Forrester and others have all signaled that the tipping point is finally here. The core technologies are in production and the delivery systems — smartphones, wearables, head up displays, etc. — are in market.  The missing link now, as Frost & Sullivan noted in their 2015 flagship report on AR: Applications! Without real world applications and solutions, AR is still just another “cool” technology that has limited value. That is where Smart Cities come in.

Some of the most profound use cases for AR are in the smart city (soon “augmented city?”) environment. From consumer facing tourism, transportation and citizen services, to sophisticated enterprise workforce applications for field work and maintenance, AR has a host of immediate real world applications that can significantly benefit citizen engagement, provision of public services, urban planning and management and mobile workforce productivity. Public safety, education and healthcare too all operate in real time with the kind of data rich, contextual and dynamic environments that are perfect for live AR (and its cousin VR for training.)

At Civic Resource Group, we are already seeding this new world with our CivicAR mobile augmented reality platform for Smart Cities targeting practical, business-specific use in government services, transportation, tourism, economic development, environment, utilities, healthcare and education.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Palm Springs, California, are already providing great examples of what this new world can mean for tourism. Both cities are showcases of how the technology can greatly enhance the experience for visitors, encouraging more people to visit and helping them to find and support great local businesses. I am excited to see the impact on economic development.

As one prominent Venture Capitalist with deep experience in computer visualization and AR recently commented (with a chuckle no less): “I would have never thought that one of the great opportunities for Augmented Reality would be in the public and civic sectors … but here we are!”

In 2016 Smart Cities need to prepare for this new world by readying all of their new smart infrastructure, sensor networks, treasure troves of open data and other “smart” applications for the Augmented City — it’s coming and there will be no stopping it.

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Gregory Curtin, PhD, JD, founder and CEO of Civic Resource Group International, pioneered the use of technology and data to transform the public sector, and is now regarded as a revolutionary technology entrepreneur. Having spent many years as a public school teacher, a professor at the University of Southern California and a municipal government attorney, Dr. Curtin brings deep knowledge and passion for the public sector to his vision for digital governance. Dr. Curtin is a Charter Member of Council on the Future of Government, World Economic Forum.