Augmented reality is a buzz word that we hear thrown about quite regularly. The question is though, what this term actually means, and how we can expect it to start changing our lives over the next decade.
What Is Augmented Reality?
In short, the concept of augmented reality means that you are overlaying digital information over real-time, real-world information. Essentially then you have a device with a camera and a screen, and on the screen will be displayed the image that the camera is picking up, and some descriptive information about this image. So then a car might drive past and on the screen it might tell you the speed the car is travelling, the name of the driver, and the make and model of the car. You could then opt to follow more information to keep track of that individual (if they had opted to let people follow their movements), to find out where to buy the car and for how much (and give them the option to do so at the touch of a button), and much more.
Alternatively you might hold your gadget (which can be a smart phone, a PDA, a tablet, a fancy camera or anything else) and it might then tell you the names of all the shops and restaurants in the area, or you could ask for directions to a specific one which would display on the image like a trail to follow. There might be information about the temperature, the weather, or special offers on in certain stores, and all of this you can view and interact with in real-time. Of course the information displayed will depend on the programme you're running – a 'bargain hunter' programme might tell you where to find cheap deals, while augmented reality in the military might warn you of the speed of projectiles and distances. It's likely that there will at some point be one main platform and you can choose which information you want displayed or not provided by multiple companies. The possibilities socially, and for business and advertising, are seemingly endless and many developers are very excited about looking into its possible uses.
Augmented Reality Today
All that you need in order to run such augmented reality software is a single device that carries a camera, a compass, an accelerometer, internet connection and GPS in one piece of hardware. If that sounds like many devices that already exist, then that's because it is, and yes, augmented reality is available right now on many smart phones. For example there's 'Layar' that aims to provide information about shops, restaurants and people in the area as described above, and 'Wikitude' that's supposed to be the augmented reality version of Wikipedia. With the iPhone app 'RJDJ' augmented reality is applied not to vision, but to sound – creating music out of the sounds you are really hearing in real-time through the headphones.
The technology is still young, and the apps are not currently as encompassing as they might be in the future, but they are a sign of things to come, and it seems without doubt that this is going to be a very major part of technology in the future.