Reality, Only Better

Carl Weinschenk

Augmented reality (AR) software is set to become the next big thing.


At its first anniversary event in Amsterdam last week, AR vendor Layar announced that it has distribution deals in place with LG, an unnamed "tier 1" Chinese handset maker and TCT Mobile. In addition, Samsung is expanding Layar's presence on its Bada platform. In all, Layar says that its software will be in one of three smartphones sold worldwide this year.


It's a wild world. This piece does a good job of showing what AR can do and how close it is to exploding. Some pieces of the technology already have hit. The writer uses the yard lines superimposed on a televised football game as an example. But the next iteration -- baseball cards coming to life on screen, a Lego box that shows the finished product and an animated character driving it off-hints at its potential. The other point is that the most logical place for AR to take off is on smartphones, which can be used by business and consumers for both fun and as an educational tool in the office and on the road.


The latter two categories are represented by this feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The writer begins with a vignette about a second-year Spanish class at the University of New Mexico. The class is sent out to solve a murder case (happily, a fictitious one) in the nearby Albuquerque neighborhood. As they arrive at predetermined spots, they can use iPod Touches loaded with an AR program called Mentira (Spanish for "lie") to do such things as interrogate cyber suspects, see images of the weapon and related content. Mentira was developed using a program called Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS).

Applications are emerging in great number. It's Wimbledon time, so the Telegraph in the UK has posted a story on IBM Seer, an AR application that centers on the famous tennis venue. The free application, which runs on Android and the iPhone, combines video streams with "geo-specific" information such as the length of the line for refreshment and the location of ATM machines, the story says.

The potential for AR seems virtually limitless, especially considering that applications' capabilities are bound to expand quickly as devices grow more powerful and software more able. AR-enhanced virtual meetings, for instance, could be the next step for unified communications and team with other tools --such as 3D televisions -- to offer exotic and potent platforms.

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