I wish I were a software developer!

I was peripherally aware of Augmented Reality before attending the Mobile 2.0 conference in Barcelona a few weeks back but hadn’t really thought through its consequences/possibilities until I saw the video above by Dutch startup company Layar.

I realised that Layar’s offering was geographically limited but its potential (esp in the Green space) was enormous – how to tap it?

I mentioned Layar during a briefing with Krishna Kumar of SpaceTimeInsight a couple of weeks back in San Francisco and he immediately ‘got it’ and was very excited with the possibilities.

Then yesterday Layar co-founder Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald pinged me via Twitter to let me know that Layar has opened up its Augmented Reality platform and is giving out (a, for now, limited number of) API keys.

This means that any database with location data and a Layar api key now has the ability to create an Augmented Reality Layar! just stop and think about that for a sec.

This opens up enormous possibilities for Augmented Reality applications in the Green space. Imagine walking down the street and seeing emissions data for the companies/businesses simply by pointing your phone at them. Or pointing at machinery and seeing schematics, lifecycle emissions data, or…

A mashup of AMEE, the neutral aggregation platform which measures “the carbon footprint of everything on Earth”, with Layar would be an absolutely awesome. Or a wiki with a Green Layar UI. Or….

The possibilities are limitless!

I really wish I were a software developer right now – the applications of this technology are seriously awe inspiring!

[Disclosure] – AMEE are a GreenMonk client co.


  1. says

    Who would fund such a project (AMEE mashup on Layar)? As a developer I’d be interested in this (stuff that matters) but have no idea who is funding “green” software projects.

  2. says

    Great article Tom. Would be good to hear some specific thoughts about applications for AR. One of the challenges with many green messages is surely making them visible. E.g. if we could ‘see’ causes of energy inefficiency, or carbon emissions, it would be far easier to drive engagement.

    I don’t know if you saw this from @pachube: – this is an environmental AR demo looking at visualising real time data feeds from sensors using barcodes.

    I forsee a platform powered by and Layar/equivalent that allows you to visualise the carbon/energy/resource efficiencies of a whole range of products by looking at the barcode through an AR app, alongside user recommendations for lower-carbon alternatives, reviews, etc. The same could happen for the health value/distance travelled/traceability of food products, etc.

  3. says

    I did some experiments with data from Current Cost meter last year – superimposing the electricity usage graph for a day over a timelapse video of my front room and with a soundtrack of 50Hz hum modulated by the same data. See the video at

    It’s not live augmented reality in any way but it illustrates one thing that could be done to link your everyday activities with energy use.

  4. says

    A question: Why would AR in particular be so amazing for it? Because it’s finally becoming ‘mainstream’. I am sorry guys to be the only critical nancy here, but 14 years of new media made me carry a pinch of salt.

    There are several other technologies to add data to a location. Cell grid, GPS, etc. If you layer it on top of a camera view, the experience i very similar, plus you will have a much bigger platform of users(which is what you want to reach, if you talk about green awareness. I am still trying to imagine why the ids who always buy the latest ipod are necessarily greener. second hand gadgets anyone?)

    Bringing in energy consumption/pollution awareness to the streets is indeed a good idea, but you might want to think about the infrastructure and the jurisdictional issues here.

    a) pollution sensor based data. The sensor grid needs to be kind of tight to be reasonably detailed enough for a service that can be as granular as the AR in the video and better be live.(Hey this car there definitely needs to be off the streets 😉 Are there existing data grids/soruces like that?

    b) get data from surrounding institutions/buildings. Same thing. Is it live enough, is the owner happy to publish non-live that might be out of date?

    I was consulting on a carbon emission awareness project a few moons ago in London including South Kensingtons major educational institutions. Imperial College, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, etc.
    It was and still is a major effort to get a detailed energy reader system into the buildings. Readings are dependent on usage, some have to run all the time, some are commercial, some are used by staff and there is sometimes no way to differ between those users, which makes the data not very granular. Same goes for the data itself, which by default setup could not deliver the data in real-time.
    The biggest challenge was to despite the big infrastructural effort, deal with the limitations of the infrastructure. This matters. It’s a make or break for users, if they know that the data they see is late or just approximated.

    So Tom, I hope I am rather coming across taking this opportunity serious, therefore, I hope this gives a bit of a more realistic perspective and I would like to know your thoughts in response to my comment.



  5. says


    Lot of interest in this post – thanks a million everyone.

    @Paul M Watson – re who is funding projects such as this, no idea to be honest but you could try EI or SEI to start with.

    @mj – thanks for the link to the further AR apps – tweeted!

    @David Lockie – I saw the Pachube AR vid last week (& tweeted at the time) – great video and as you say, points to even more possibilities for this tech.

    @tristanf – super movie, well done!

    @Marcus Kirsch – to be fair, you raise some valid points, thanks. Re your point a) are there existing data sources? Right now? I suspect not. No reason why it couldn’t be built though. Most businesses will be required to publish their carbon footprint in the UK next year. Similar legislation will be pushed out to other countries soon enough.
    To your b) if there is a date data associated with the carbon footprint info that shouldn’t be an issue.
    You are correct that a building’s energy footprint but this is because of the immaturity of the technology. The same could be said for any early tech. Remember early pc’s? Early word processors? They bear no resemblance to what we use today.

    Having said that, possibly an early use case for this could be more micro than macro. Utility co.’s for example, sending engineers to the field could get BI data on equipment in realtime, or schematics of faulty gear. Or Manufacturing companies could get similar info on the factory floor, or…

    Again, the possibilities are endless.

  6. Sam Penrose says

    As a software developer who’s been looking for the right opportunity to contribute to managing climate change, I would love to respond with a “sign me up!” But, to loosely paraphrase Marcus via South Park, you seem to be saying:

    1) Combine A.R. with something green.
    2) ?????
    3) Release awesome green application.

    Step (2) is sadly not optional. We have to know at least loosely what to build before we build it. If you can come up with an idea for a specific application, please post again. A lot of us will be interested, and some of us might even step up.

  7. says

    One way of using AR is to turn it on its head: rather than adding a layer of data to the real world, instead use the world itself to make data easier to comprehend (something I call ‘Reality Augmented Data’ or RAD).

    We’ve been exploring RAD as a way of visualising carbon dioxide emissions data. Because mass isn’t a very intuitive way to quantify gases, rather than talking in terms of ‘tonnes of carbon dioxide’ we visualise the stuff in bulk. That is, we illustrate volumes of the carbon dioxide in contexts that users can relate to, such as their own neighbourhoods or next to buildings they are familiar with. This gives a much more meaningful sense of scale than numbers alone.

    Just yesterday we released a preview of an app. that uses Google Maps to visualise what we call ‘The Carbon Quilt’. It will soon do a range of other visualisations too – see: A goal for the near future is a phone app. that does this in real-time wherever the user happens to be.

  8. says

    @Sam Penrose:
    > We have to know at least loosely what to build before we build it.

    I don’t think there’s any shortage of ideas. I jotted down five ideas after writing my comment above. The issue I have is more about funding the initial development.

  9. Sam Penrose says

    Adam: very cool! I’ve been playing around with ideas for a visual language for carbon use at the micro level and not coming up with anything I liked. It’s great to see an organized effort to tackle this crucial issue. Your site mentions animations but I didn’t see any in my brief tour — it would be lovely to see time-based views. Also very glad to hear you’re considering open source — do you have a repository yet by any chance?

    “Make it concrete”: Yes!
    “Make it true”: Yes! Yes!

  10. says

    Tremendous convergence between mobile apps, digital imaging, location data, clean tech, analytics, and good old fashioned creativity bring augmented reality to life! Awesome post and hopefully the new generation of software can make you a power business user!

    Warmest regards,

    R “Ray” Wang

  11. says

    Wow, this is amazing! With all the improvement in mobile devices, as soon as AR catches on, we’re in for a lot of change happening very quickly. The first AR-type exposure I had was being able to find geocaches near me on my iPhone. Not world-changing, no, but it was a start. I can’t want to see what’s next!

  12. says

    This is cool technology, this kind of app is why everyone has to have a cell phone. Lets keep bringing the cool things to the market.