Even though the term ‘augmented reality’ has been around since the early 90s, it’s only now that most consumers are becoming familiar with what it means. But familiarity with the term is unlikely to diminish our amazement at what augmented reality applications are able to achieve. The introduction of those applications into everyday tasks and functions is going to have a profound impact on how we live our lives.
But first of all, what is augmented reality? In simple terms, it’s a view of the real world that has been enhanced by computer-generated graphics, text or sound. While we might not be familiar with the exact definition, we are surely familiar with some of its applications. If you’re a sports fan, that yellow first-down marker you see during a televised football game is an example of augmented reality, as is the arcing line that traces the trajectory of a golf shot.
The military is another area that has been developing and utilizing augmented reality applications for years. Using special headgear, the fighter pilot’s view from his cockpit window is supplemented by layers of flight data. The soldier on the ground sees electronic maps enhanced with key landmarks and target indicators.
And it’s not just the sports world and the military. Everything from large industrial projects to theme parks are embracing augmented reality as a more efficient and exciting way to plan, design, and entertain.
As is usually the case with technological innovation, what starts in the military and industrial world quickly works its way into the field of consumer electronics. And smartphones provide the perfect vehicle: they are small and easily portable; they have a camera to capture the real world; they have GPS capability to pinpoint exact locations; and they have access to the Internet to pull in all the necessary data.
But what has really fueled this process in the last couple of years is better smartphone software (both operating systems and apps) and faster Internet connections. The current switch over to super-fast 4G networks will accelerate this process still further, bringing us augmented reality apps that were unthinkable just a short time ago.
Here are some examples of augmented reality apps that are currently available and where we might be headed in the very near future:
Virtual Sky Astronomy
Have you ever looked up at the sky on a clear night and wondered what you were looking at? With an app like Pocket Universe you can literally hold your smartphone to the sky and the app will give you the same view, complete with names and details of all the planets and constellations.
Developed as an app for the iPhone, Augmented GeoTravel lets you capture what’s around you with the iPhone camera and then it will instantly overlay the names, directions and distances of the points of interest that you have selected.
Perfect for sailors and hikers, Compass360 has been described as a compass on steroids. Point your iPhone in any direction and detailed geographic information is displayed right on the screen, including latitude, longitude and altitude.
And what’s coming next:
The augmented reality windshield
GM and other car manufacturers are already working on moving that GPS map off the dashboard and onto your windshield. Imagine turning down a street and having the house that you are looking for outlined on your windshield, rather than being told ‘you have arrived at your destination.’ Imagine driving at night and having the sides of a dark road illuminated on your windshield so you know exactly where the danger is.
Face recognition apps
Face recognition is perhaps the most tantalizing – and scariest – of all the possibilities. We are not far from the day when you will be able to point your smartphone at any person walking down the street and instantly find out who they are. Perhaps if they have been a little careless about their privacy settings, you might also be able to pull up their street address, occupation, and Facebook profile.
Face recognition apps are already available; and just as we can now walk into a supermarket and use our smartphone to identify any product, we will soon be able to do the same with people.
Are you already using augmented reality apps? Which are your favorites?
I have been compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.