TECH-NOW-LOGY: The era of a-books

After audio and e-books, technology is making way for augmented reality books

TECH-NOW-LOGY: The era of a-books
However, it seems there is no stopping. From e-books, we are now starting at 'a-books'. The 'a' here stands for augmented reality.

By Shubhangi Shah

Earlier we had our good old-fashioned books. The advent of technology then paved the way for audio and e-books, which somewhat redefined how books came to be read. However, it seems there is no stopping. From e-books, we are now starting at ‘a-books’. The ‘a’ here stands for augmented reality.

A group of researchers at the UK’s University of Surrey have taken up this product. The intended product? A blend of the experience of physical books augmented with the flexibility and added information of e-books. It looks something like this, just like an e-book allows you to get meaning, background, and other information just by tapping, a-books allows you the same but on physical books. A simple gesture of swiping with a finger makes the intended information appear on a smartphone, laptop, or smart TV. Hence, the augmented reality here blends the flexibility of e-books with the age-old experience of flipping through a paper book, which makes up for a more immersive experience and handier experience.

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A hybrid solution
According to Radu Sporea, senior lecturer at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute, the way of consuming literature has changed with “so many more options than just paper books”. Many electronic solutions exist, “but no hybrid solution which is sustainable on a commercial scale”, she said in a recent university release.

“Augmented books, or e-books, can be the future of many book genres, from travel and tourism to education. This technology exists to assist the reader in a deeper understanding of the written topic and get more through digital means without ruining the experience of reading a paper book,” Sporea was quoted as saying.

The tech conundrum
This sophisticated product evidently requires all the requisite technology in the right place. It requires conductive paper that is pre-printed. At the same time, power efficiency is crucial. For a smooth experience, no wiring should be visible to the reader. Also, the experience should not be jarring and a simple hand gesture must trigger the sought information to appear on the connected device. And the efforts seem to be paying off. After experimenting with several techniques, the team has recently unveiled the third generation of its a-book, according to news reports. It has experimented with what is termed as a “magic bookmark” and is now working to develop a paper that is less “unwieldy and thick”, Sporea was quoted as saying.

According to Sporea, the main commercial use of tech in this space will be regarding travel and educational books. However, it has the potential to be adapted to fiction, she added. Similarly, George Bairaktaris, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Surrey who is a part of the project, said “the original research was carried out to enrich travel experiences by creating augmented travel guides. This upgraded 3G model allows for the possibility of using augmented books for different areas such as education.”

“What started as an augmented book project, evolved further into scalable user interfaces. The techniques and knowledge from the project led us into exploring organic materials and printing techniques to fabricate scalable sensors for interfaces beyond the a-book,” he said as per the university’s release.
The team has received £900,000 from the government. It is hoping for additional funds from the book industry and corporates to further develop the technology, The Guardian reported.

The first a-book
Surprisingly, the first augmented reality book goes back to 2016 with American artist Lucas Blalock’s photobook titled Making Memories. This whole new way of experiencing books included 3D renderings, along with animation and music, all by just a quick scan with the smartphone. Later this year, the Climate Domesday Book will be exhibited in the UK and Australia. A hybrid book, allows audio and video to be played on a screen related to passages highlighted by the reader.
Although it feels like futuristic technology, these a-books will surely allow to experience the best of both words.

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