[youtube] Layar is a mobile phone app-developing company based in Amsterdam.  The premise of their app, also called Layar, is augmented reality.  They’ve received two funding rounds so far for a total of €13.4 million with partial financial support from Intel Capital.  They were highlighted at Google Zeitgeist, named a 2011 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and TIME Magazine.  They won the title “Disruptive Innovatorat” at the 2010 Deloitte Fast50 and won Grand Prix 2010 at Netexplorateur.  Needless to say, if they’re not big now, big names think they’ll be big in the future.

So, what’s all the hype about?  If you watch the video above you’ll get a taste of it.  The real brilliance of this app is its simplicity.  Layar has taken an extremely complex topic (merging the virtual and real worlds) with infinite dimensions (history, future, gaming, education, entertainment, engagement, etc) and made it not only accessible but intuitive.  It makes you wonder, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’

In its current state, it feels like a fun toy, but I think it has the potential to be quite a game changer.  I’ve used it to check out crime in my area with SpotCrime.  From anywhere, I turn on the app and point my camera outward and Layar displays crime icons over the backdrop of my actual surroundings.  It’s really powerful, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s essentially a platform for all spatial data, and we’re not just talking about shapefiles for a static GIS.  These data are real time, often created by you or your friends (e.g. Yelp, Flickr, Foursquare) or even by the local government (e.g. PlanningAlerts).

Use of Layar has the potential to engage more citizens more actively in their local surroundings.  It can help planners translate development proposals into real images that citizens can see while walking down the street.  It can enhance impact assessment, where developers, city officials, planners, and citizens can visualize what facilitating automobile use will do to congestion and to the public realm.  Check it out and see what you think it can do for you.

-Terra Curtis