Home “Intelligent” Stamps and the Maturation of Augmented Reality

“Intelligent” Stamps and the Maturation of Augmented Reality

Last week, The Royal Mail (the national postal service of the United Kingdom) introduced what it called an “intelligent stamp” that displays a video using augmented reality when it is scanned with a smartphone. Stamps are a heartwarming, sentimental collectors item that often memorialize historic people, things and events. This campaign – part of the Royal Mail’s “Great British Railways” series – is no different. While it is certainly an interesting big-name marketing adoption of augmented reality, the experience feels lack-luster, and could have potentially been far more interesting with further development.

What It Does

If you’re the lucky recipient of a letter with a stamp from this series, you can use the junaio application on your iPhone or Android device to launch the “experience.” After pointing your camera at the stamp, a 4-minute video of Bernard Cribbins – an 81-year-old British character actor – reading W.H. Auden’s 1935 poem “The Night Mail” (whilst aboard a train, no less) automatically begins playing.

“Royal Mail’s special stamps mark key events and anniversaries in the UK’s heritage through a programme which aims to be both educational and informative,” says Royal Mail’s Phillip Parker. I watched the video. It’s fun in its own quaint, antique sort of way, but if the Royal Mail really wanted to bring its stamps “firmly into the 21st Century,” they could have done so much more with this experiment.

What It Could Do

Augmented reality could use more interactivity. Many experiences are one-way flows of data to the end-user. Why not let people contribute to a two-way exchange? I have nothing against the nostalgic video the Royal Mail created to play from this special set of train stamps, but perhaps they could continue to innovate using the medium in the future.

It would be great to see the Royal Mail (or any postal service) develop a special stamp with some small unique identifier that could be used to send personal messages along with letters. How cool would it be to get a letter from a friend, family member or loved one, scan the stamp and view or hear a recorded message from the sender? It would be like stickybits, but without the obtrusive barcodes.

The Maturation of Augmented Reality

Augmented reality needs to move on to the next step. It seems whenever a new brand discovers augmented reality, they discover it in its simplest state. “I can point my phone at a stamp and watch a video,” is how the Royal Mail sees augmented reality, when in fact, they could do so much more with the technology.

I would love to see some brands really take a chance on the technology and get the most out of it early on. Many branded AR experiences (though not all) are very basic, or gimmicky, and the really cool innovative stuff is being tested in labs at universities. For the technology to continue to mature, vendors need to encourage the brands that come to them to take it a step farther.

If 2010 was the year for big brands to experiment with augmented reality, 2011 needs to be the year they start innovating and creating more practical experiences.

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