Virtual landmarks – An Augmented Generative Environment


Katharine S Willis, BA(Hons), DipArch, March






The artwork develops the potential for visual perception enabled through a plasticity of bodily representation, and the ability to access information from remote sites, as applicable to an interface which responds to navigational tactics. It is an augmented generative environment that develops a person’s wayfinding tactics through the creation of virtual landmarks and memory nodes overlayed onto the real city. The augmented environment is generative, in that it there is a constant feed back loop in the real space, driven by the cognitive mapping strategies of the user.


Augmented Interfaces

The development of interfaces that accurately simulate three-dimensionality and that are responsive enables the use of experience of real-world environments to be transferred to those of simulated environments. The human perceptive system relies on numerous cues and strategies to give form and meaning to the visual world. The fundamental property of the visual field in the real world is that it is extended in distance and modelled in depth [1] and as such gives an impression of surface and perspective depth. In designing augmented reality environments that appear to overlay on the real world, the image has, to some extent, to assimilate some of the properties of the ‘real’ world in order to interact in a manner that is believable to the eye. This also vital in minimising effects such as vestibular-occular conflict where that which is perceived by the eye conflicts with what is physically experienced.

Spatial Cognitive Mapping

Spatial cognition concerns the way we acquire, organize, store, and recall information about locations, distances, and arrangements in the physical environment [2].

Environmental images are the result of this two-way process between the observer and his environment. The environment suggests distinctions and relations, and the observer selects, organizes, and endows with meaning what he sees. This organization can be understood as being broken down into three basic aspects: identity, structure and meaning. A workable cognitive map requires first the identification of an object, which implies its distinction from other things, its recognition as a seperable entity. This is called identity. Second, the image must include the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and to other objects. This is called structure. Finally, this object must have some meaning for the observer, whether practical or emotional [3].

However cognitive maps are not two dimensional entities.  Since we live in a three dimensional world cognitive maps should reflect the third dimension rather then being just as a two dimensional sketch maps, the "atlas in the head" conceptualization is more suitable than the "map in the head" conceptualization [4].

The artwork draws predominantly on two key aspects of the concepts identified above. The first being the presence of meaning in the organisation of the environment, by enabling the user to draw on personal individual resonances and subsequently identify and recognise their value. The second aspect is that the artwork is three-dimensional and time based, thus developing the corresponding spatial and temporal qualities of the ‘atlas in the head’. In combining the two together the resulting augmented environment is both meaningful, complex and responsive.



Figure 1: sketch showing trace of physical nodes along a defined route


Models of Memory

In navigation the individual relies on cognitive abilities to recall the map at the appropriate moment and use it to make sense of the environment at the current time and place. In order to do this the faculty of memory is intrinsic to the process. However an individual’s memory cannot retain everything; if it could, we would be overwhelmed with data. Memory is the result of a process of selection and of organizing what is selected so that it is within reach in expectable situations.  However in this sense memory is essentially a capacity to retain data that is meaningful and discard information that has no apparent value [5].

Since the limitations of short-time memory mean that not all information perceived from a route description can be stored. An individual learns to identify and remember information at critical points along the route, such as memory for landmarks at decision points that require a direction change[6]. Using these strategies, models of memory can be created that help recall as well as to enabling them to search or browse through large amounts of information. This information can then be databased to create what is essentially a catalogue of meaningful events together with properties associated with them.

The artwork utilizes this cognitive facility to create a spatial database formed from memory ‘landmarks’ or ‘nodes’. These nodes of information are in effect a cognitive storage device, defining a chunk of information by its spatial position at a particular point and time.  This allows for more varied and resonant opportunities for memory retrieval.


The Form of Information   

In the artwork a key attribute of the information displayed is that it is be real world sensitive, and is therefore part of a dynamic time sensitive system. Since the user has to integrate the display of computer-generated information with the real world input any display will aim at extreme efficiency.  A spatial interface rather than a two dimensional window type screen is employed since this achieves a far greater integration with the spatiality of the real world. Thus information displayed is linked to three dimensional objects which is depth cued and obeys the basic laws of location in a three dimensional space (linear perspective, superimposition, light and shadow and loss of detail with distance). In the display colour has been used to enable quick and easy distinguishing of elements. Similarly the use of object metaphors for input operations means that the user’s mental workload is not increased by trying to recall the location of data.



Figure 2: generation of artwork


Figure 3: spline generation of artwork with time indicated by the arrow


Self Generating

The augmented reality interface therefore distinguishes itself from a real environment in that it enables access to information that is usually contextually appropriate, but simultaneously does not isolate the user from the application of such data in the real environment. The interface supports both visual perception and mental workload by augmenting human capabilities of structuring and adapting to complex information input. In creating a prioritisation of information display of data that arises out of study of the human perceptive systems capabilities, and by providing information in spatial form the user is able to maximise interpretation of the environment. Since the process occurs in real time the artwork is a constantly renewing itself and generating new forms within the database.


Figure 4: stills from artwork



The artwork utilizes three-dimensional objects that respond as though present in a three-dimensional world (four if time is considered as a quality). By drawing on the cognitive mapping abilities of the individual, the route is broken down into nodes of meaningful information, identified by their spatial location at a particular point or dynamic sequence in time.

In this way the data nodes come to be considered as virtual landmarks along the route, thus aiding sequential memory processes to be utilised. By literally tagging the user’s time and location of access to information and saving it with an added attribute of time the journey the becomes marked not only with ‘real’ world changes in environment, but also with meaningful augmented environment dynamics.



[1] 11. Gibson, J.J (1950).: Perception of the Visual World, Boston: Houghton Midfflin

[2]Gifford, R. (1987). Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon

[3]Lynch, K. (1960). The Image of the City, Cambridge, MA:MIT Press

[4]Kuipers, B. (1983). In Herbert L., Pick Jr. and Lindo Acredolo (Eds.), Spatial Orientation: Theory, Research, and Application. New York: Plenum Press.

[5]Lynch, K. (1972). What Time Is This Place?, Massachusetts: MIT Press

[6]Lee, P. U.,  Tappe, H. and Klippel, A. (2002). Acquisition of Landmark Knowledge from  Static and Dynamic Presentation of Route Maps. Künstliche Intelligenz 4/02: 32-34.