Augmented reality: Your world, enhanced
Smart phones lead the way in augmented reality, blending real life with digital imagery.
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That’s caused some critics to scoff that such apps don’t represent “true” AR, which would recognize what is being seen in the real world by the camera (such as a building or a person) and respond with related virtual content, such as text or images.Skip to next paragraph
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“We’re still at the beginning. What we’re doing now is very simple,” says Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, cofounder of Layar.com, based in Amsterdam. Over time, he says, his company will be “adding more tools so people can do more.”
Layar provides a platform for developers to create AR phone apps. The company’s website shows more than 200 phone apps with AR experiences on them. One, for example, displays background information about windmills in Holland when the phone is pointed toward one. In another, tourists wandering the fields of France with smart phones can see an overlay of the locations of World War I trenches, now overgrown and hard to spot, highlighted on their screen.
In Britain, one app identifies the species of trees as people wander through the famous Kew Gardens. In the United States, an In-N-Out Burger app kicks in when one of the popular fast-food restaurants is nearby.
About 400,000 people have downloaded the Layar phone browser (available only for Android-based phones for now) in the past few months, Mr. Lens-FitzGerald says, while more than 1,000 developers are working on new AR “layers” for it.
Esquire magazine’s December issue demonstrates another way of using AR that is also booming – though it, too, is being disparaged by some as a mere gimmick.
When the Esquire cover is viewed by a computer webcam, special software kicks in. Rather than showing the static cover image of Robert Downey Jr., the computer plays a video of the actor talking about his latest film. In an AR feature inside, a fashion model will change his clothes for a new season of the year as a page is held toward the webcam. Show another page to the camera and an actress springs to life on your computer screen to tell a joke. She tells a “naughty” joke if the page is viewed after midnight.
A French company, Total Immersion, has designed football and baseball trading cards for Topps that “come alive” when held up to a computer webcam. When viewed on a computer screen, 3-D versions of the players appear to stand on top of the card and perform some basic movements, mirroring the user’s actions.
Action figures from the new fantasy movie “Avatar,” coming in December, include special tags. When they are held up to a webcam, a 3-D figure of the toy appears on-screen and performs various movements controlled by the user.