CIM-REPARTI PhD graduate Carmen Au - featured in New Scientist, September 2011 - Find your way around in a world of virtual mirrors
CIM-REPARTI PhD graduate Carmen Au's work, under the supervision of Professor Jim Clark, was featured in New Scientist recently -- Find your way around in a world of virtual mirrors 9 September 2011
We often rely on distinctive landmarks when learning to navigate a new city, but when they slip out of view it is easy to find yourself lost in maze of identical-looking streets. Wouldn't it be useful if you could instead peek around corners in the hope of spotting something you recognise? That's the thinking behind MirrorMap, an augmented reality system developed by Carmen Au and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and presented at the Mobile HCI conference in Stockholm, Sweden last week. Hold up a smartphone running the MirrorMap app and you'll see video feeds from CCTV cameras in the area appear as "virtual mirrors" hanging in space. This maintains the spatial relationship between objects and it is easy for us to interpret the location of a reflected landmark, says Au, who compares it to a "rear-view mirror for pedestrians". Of course GPS-equipped smartphones can help you get back on track without the app, but only if you know the name of your destination, and unfortunately Google doesn't yet recognise "that church with the tall spire" as a valid search term. Au suggests that MirrorMap could be incorporated with existing navigation aids, rather than replacing them all together. One problem is gaining access to the live camera feeds that make up the virtual mirrors and adding them to the map. Au was able to access CCTV cameras in Montreal, but had to mark their location on a map manually since the necessary data wasn't available. Another issue is having enough cameras in the area to actually make the system useful. "It would be nice in the ideal situation to have one at every street corner," she says.