Augmented reality: Your world, enhanced
Smart phones lead the way in augmented reality, blending real life with digital imagery.
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Such uses for entertainment and games “are going to be the biggest market” in the near future, Mr.
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But more practical uses are on the way, too. In an AR program available online from the US Postal Service, customers hold an object they want to mail up to their webcam. The computer screen displays a virtual mailing box of the appropriate size that appears to surround the object, helping the customer choose the right box.
Still, it’s the long-range potential of AR that continues to hold the most excitement.
William Hurley, known to his fans online as “whurley,” is a longtime AR advocate in the high-tech community. He recently left his tech-industry job to focus full time on developing new AR applications.
One concept, which he calls “massive multiplayer in-world games,” would bring computer games, in the mode of the hugely popular World of Warcraft, into the real world, augmenting it with digital characters or sounds.
What’s holding back the field right now, whurley says, is the hardware. AR goggles and glasses, and even an AR contact lens, are under development, but there are still hurdles to leap before they will be practical. Another need is to find a more precise and reliable way than GPS to determine one’s location.
True AR could lead to advancements in many fields. Soldiers on the battlefield, auto mechanics, and surgeons, for example, all need more information in front of their eyes than they currently can get.
Social applications may be a natural early step. In the future, “You could hold up your phone in a crowded room and see how many of your Facebook friends are there,” says Scott Smith, a technology forecaster for Changeist, a market-research company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
Or the phone might identify who among the others present is the business contact you’ve been looking to talk with, whurley adds. “That gives an incredible advantage, does it not?” he says.
The number of ways AR could be used “is probably nearly infinite,” Mr. Smith says. AR will become “commonplace” in the future, he adds, though individuals will always be able to decide how much they want to use it.
We’ll decide “whether we want to see naked reality or augmented reality,” he says, just as some drivers today choose to use a GPS system to find where they’re going and others don’t.
As with other new technologies, “some people may find [AR] disturbing,” whurley says, as it alters what people see as they look at the world around them.
Smith agrees. “I’m sure we’ll have psychologists and sociologists and educators wringing their hands quite soon about how no one appreciates ‘reality’ anymore,” he says.
Videos provide an easy way to see AR in action. Click here for five examples of augmented reality.