The buzzword “augmented reality” has come to be applied to everything from simple cubes mapped on markers to compass-driven locative overlays. And if that’s all you ever saw augmented reality do, you’d be forgiven for being… well, bored, frankly. By contrast, here’s a demo that shows some real expressive potential for the medium. A research group shows that augmented reality technologies could simply be a means for making drawing in three dimensions more creative. A hand-drawn, natural sketch becomes animated in virtual space in two or three dimensions.

The application is initially available for the iPhone, and it’s impressive to see something this creative working on mobile. (That also means your virtual sketchbook can be anywhere your mobile device is.) The work is the creation of a team lead by Nate Hagbi and Oriel Bergig with support from Jihad El-Sana and Mark Billinghurst.

If you love drawing, you’ll love what they’re doing. There’s so much potential here, in fact, that I hope there will soon be shared and open resources for building along these lines. Right now, unfortunately, the information is tough to access, but hopefully when this is publicly presented, that’ll change.

Terrific coverage: ISMAR 2009: Sketch and Shape Recognition Preview From Ben Gurion University

Via ReadWriteWeb: Devs Hack iPhone API for True Augmented Reality

Thanks to Tim Reha for pointing this our way!

Side rant – to me, what matters about this kind of development is often lost in the coverage of these technologies. People get hung up on how something works (whether there’s a marker or not, for instance), or which platform it runs on (oooh, look – an iPhone).

To me, that ignores the real story, which is the expressive potential of the medium itself, and whether you can develop techniques regardless of an individual platform. The ability to run on mobile should be freeing.

In fact, it seems that if that is the goal, there’s entirely too much focus on the iPhone – and a lost opportunity by Apple to open up the platform in the way desktop computers have been.

Let me be upfront about my personal bias: I’m platform atheistic. The less you have to rely on a specific, especially proprietary platform, the less you have to hack before you can start working, the better. The API in this case is a private Apple API, meaning not only can Apple block distribution of apps, but the work may be unsupported. I spent the last week playing with a camera application for Google Android, and the major advantage was that the camera API is entirely open, and every pixel, literally, returned from the camera is yours to play with on a byte level. That means no tripping over the interface Google thought would be good for you, and no worries about being limited in what you can do. That’s not an Android versus iPhone argument, mind you – I’m an atheist, as I said. On the contrary, I think camera input can take off in development on all mobile devices, but only if platform developers free up access to the video stream. Augmented reality is just the beginning; the reason byte access to cameras is important is because platform developers can’t conceive all the ingenuity application developers might bring. Platforms should be designed for anything anyone can dream up, and the incentive to build those dreams is greater if they’re not tied exclusively to one platform.

Ironically, one of the real strengths of the iPhone – the one that has enabled some of the most interesting applications — is the ability to write native code, not any Apple-specific APIs.

Anyway, to return to my original point: it’s really the creative application that’s interesting. The more the platform can get out of the way and allow people to do their work, the better. I hope Apple does take note and does get out of the way of this kind of innovative development. And I hope this development, in turn, leads to common, shared work that can improve over time. We’ll be watching.

In the meantime, we’d better practice our doodling skills.