With the release of the original iPad, there was notable excitement surrounding the Starwalk application. This GPS-enabled software allows viewers to use the iPad as a virtual window onto the stars: wherever they hold the device, it depicts the celestial bodies that exist beyond its picture plane—regardless of the time of day, weather, or physical obstructions.
During Paris Design Week, the French company Urbasee demonstrated a pair of applications that utilize this kind of augmented reality functionality for architecture. Urbasee Project brings 2D drawings to life, tethering virtual models to tabletop plans. Urbasee Future operates similarly to Starwalk in that it locates virtual models on their proposed sites via GPS, allowing audiences to envision future projects in their designated settings.
Both programs require KMZ format georeferenced files such as those produced by Sketchup. Both applications may be downloaded freely from the iTunes store, although Urbasee requires users to initiate an account, and the visualization of more than one project necessitates a hefty subscription fee. Nevertheless, these tablet-based augmented reality tools will bring an unprecedented capability to architects—the potential to immerse project teams in architectural visions that are connected to context. Given the compelling benefits of this approach, Urbasee will likely receive a lot of attention—as well as future competition.