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Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Friday, 28 May 2010 15:50 UK
Old London seen with new eyes thanks to mobile apps

Salvation Army headquarters
Augmented Reality applications are uncovering London's hidden wonders

By Omari Eccleston-Brown

For many, London is an old and trusted friend. So old in fact that sometimes the old parts are all you see. But all around us new things are developing.

And one benefit a burgeoning mobile market can offer every Londoner and their relationship with the capital is the fresh arrival of Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality, or AR to those in the know, could well be the next frontier in the way we view the world, or so the experts say.

The jury might still be out on that one, but certainly it is the next step on from virtual reality.

Virtual reality, whilst potentially providing hours of sci-fi fuelled fun for 90s' gamers, only existed inside your computer. By contrast, AR has been designed to actually add to your everyday reality, quite literally augmenting your experience of the environment around you.

A growing number of AR applications are now available for download on a range of smartphones. Using them could not be simpler: hold up your phone in camera mode and images and information automatically appear on the screen, overlaid over the physical objects in front of you in the real world.

BBC London has tried out a number of these apps to see just what they can do to spice up every Londoner's relationship with the capital.

View of the River Thames through StreetMusuem app
Apps like StreetMusuem let Londonders discover London's hidden secrets

This app, produced by the Museum of London to mark a new set of £20m galleries that celebrate 350 years of London history, takes the museum's impressive archive of London images to the streets.

The app, which is compatible with over 200 sites across the capital, lets you view landmarks such as the Thames through your phone while simultaneously seeing a photograph or painting of it as it was in days gone by.

If you want, you can also enlarge the image and dig deeper into its own historical context.

StreetMuseum is at its best where the landscape has changed dramatically. The Salvation Army International headquarters at 23 Queen Victoria Street was bombed during the severest raid of the Blitz on 10 May 1941. Now, using the app, you can see a photograph taken as its facade crumbled to the ground emerge as a ghostly alignment with the current building.

The Hidden Park
Family viewed through smartphone
The Hidden Park allows children and family to reinvent their park

This is one for the kids and perhaps those parents still young and boundless at heart.

The Hidden Park blends with any open space to fill it with challenges, creepy crawlies and a host of magical creatures. Children are guided around the park by a bubbly animated character called Trutton who sets them a series of fun challenges and riddles. It also encourages them to take photos of the landmarks as a record of their adventurous day out.

Ready-made scenarios are available for Kensington Gardens, Southbank and Telegraph Hill, Lewisham, but you can just as easily "build" your own park to fit any local open space whenever inspiration strikes.

Love Clean Streets
Screenshot of Love Clean Streets app
Locals can get unsightly rubbish removed in 24 hours

Love Clean Streets doesn't add anything to your usual view of London - it removes it.

Lewisham Council and anti-litter charity Keep Britain Tidy teamed up to develop this app to tackle common eyesores like graffiti and flytipping. Now, an increasing number of councils are adopting the app to allow local residents to report abandoned furniture, graffiti or even a dropped piece of litter in a matter of seconds.

Simply turn on the app, snap a photo, then wait for a unique ID which lets you view your photos posted online and even an after-picture when it has been removed.

One life-long Lewisham resident, Colin Sorrel, 52, who has filed dozens of reports through the system said: "There's nothing more annoying than going out and finding someone's dumped a bag of rubble down an alley, or a mattress on a street.

"I've been really happy with the service. Nine times out of 10 the items are cleared within 24 hours."

Get London Reading
Screenshot of Get London Reading
Get London Reading shows you the books based on where you are

With this app, walking the streets of London need never be the same again.

The national charity Booktrust has been helping people rediscover the pleasure of reading for over 80 years and now they are "bringing the capital to life through words." Get London Reading's AR view lets you see all the books written about and based on the streets and landmarks right where you stand.

So it is no longer a passing thought for Sherlock Holmes while walking down Baker Street, but could be taking a break in Gray's Inn Field and discovering A Place of Safety, Natasha Cooper's tale of mystery and intrigue.

iHobo screenshot
Depaul UK created iHobo to challenge people to notice the homless

Though this app from youth homeless charity Depaul UK doesn't use AR technology it does hope to change people's views. Namely of the homeless.

iHobo, designed with homeless people formerly helped by the charity, invites you to care for a homeless person on your phone for the three days. The app keeps you up to date on his wellbeing, but if you forget to check in on him it will warn you that he has succumbed to drugs and alcohol in desperation.

Though the homeless person may be virtual, Depaul UK say the scenarios played out in the app deal frankly with the reality actually faced by homeless people in and outside of London.

Chief executive of Depaul UK Paul Marriott, said: "Depaul has always prided itself on taking risks on behalf of the young people we serve and the development of iHobo was certainly a risk.

"It's easy to walk past someone on the street and ignore the issues behind that person's situation. By approaching people through the devices that they use ever day, we are engaging people in a new way and making them think about the issue in a different light."

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