Awesome Snapchat filter shows how we’ll navigate the metro in the age of AR

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SmarTrip 1
Imagine being able to call up a metro map out of thin air.
Photo: Gerald Nash

Imagine riding the subway when you realize you’re not quite sure of the changes you need to make on your journey. No problem! Simply whip out your smartphone, aim it at your travel pass, and watch a virtual map pop up in front of you.

Science fiction? Nope. It’s a proof-of-concept AR demo created by computer science student Gerald Nash. It gives a taste of the future, courtesy of a Snapchat filter, that will turn your Washington DC SmarTrip card into a trigger for a floating AR map of the area. Check out the video below.

If you want to check out Nash’s demo — which was shared on Instagram by the official @MetroForward — you can download it from his website. You’ll also need Snapchat to check it out.

Is this the future of augmented reality?

As fun as this is, right now it’s more of a cool demo than something that’s massively useful. Even if this was to be implemented as a feature for every SmarTrip card, it would still be a bit inconvenient to have to whip out your phone and hold it up to your card to activate it. It would also be more useful if it pulled up a simple 2D copy of the map on a white backdrop, rather than a tilting version like this against a transparent background. (Although that wouldn’t look nearly as high tech.)

But what this does demonstrate is how useful AR will be. Similar criticisms could be made of early personal computer programs in the late 1970s or many of the first Apple Watch apps. In both cases, they were more about proof-of-concept tech demos than something revolutionary and immediately useful. In the case of AR, the big change will likely take place when AR glasses become a real mainstream thing.

Currently, there are differing views on when Apple will get around to delivering its Apple Glass. But making AR viewers into “always on” wearables will suddenly make applications such as this one far more useful. Picture walking through the world and getting contextual information that pops up whenever you need it. Sure, there’s the risk of the world filling with popup spam like a 1990s website if it’s badly implemented. However, done correctly, it could fundamentally change the way we view — and interact with — the world around us.

Are you convinced about the possibilities of AR apps such as this one? What’s the most impressive AR demo you’ve seen so far? Let us know in the comments below.