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Get ready for augmented reality

If it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie or a video game, that’s because it is. Although you may not be familiar with the term, augmented reality (AR) has been around since the early 90s, but it’s only now that it’s starting to find its way into the realm of consumer electronics.

First of all, what is AR? In simple terms, it’s a view of the real world that has been enhanced by computer-generated graphics. While we might not be familiar with the term, we are surely familiar with some of its uses. If you’re a sports fan, that yellow first-down marker you see in televised football games is an example of AR, as is that arcing line that traces the trajectory of a golf ball.

The military is another area that has been developing and utilizing AR applications for years: 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 have embraced AR as a more efficient and exciting way to plan, design, and entertain.

As is usually the case with technological innovation, what starts off as a military or industrial world application eventually works its way to the consumer. And it’s the all-powerful smartphone that’s providing the perfect vehicle: smartphones 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.

Better smartphone software (both operating systems and apps) and the switch over to super-fast 4G networks will accelerate this process still further, bringing us AR apps that were unthinkable just a short time ago.

Here are some examples of how AR has already worked its way into useful everyday apps and what we can expect in the future:

Virtual Sky Astronomy

Have you ever looked up at the night sky on a clear night and wondered what you were looking at? With apps like Pocket Universe and Star Chart, 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, stars, and constellations.

Real World Browsers

With apps like Wikitude World Browser, you scan and identify millions of world-wide points of interest. The Wikitude Browser will then display all the relevant information about that POI from Wikipedia. You can choose to display the info in list view, map view, or the augmented reality cam view.

Dude, where’s my car?

A must-have app for the absent-minded, Car Finder leads you to your car if you forgot where you parked it. All you have to do is activate the app when you park your car and it will give you walking or driving directions once it’s time to head home. You can manage up to 3 cars and it also includes features like parking timer and location history.

And what’s coming next:

The augmented reality windshield

GM and other major car manufacturers are already working on moving that GPS map display off the dashboard and onto your windshield. Imagine turning down a street and rather than being told ‘you have arrived at your destination,’ you see the house you are looking for highlighted on your windshield. Imagine driving at night and having the sides of a dark road illuminated on your windshield so you know where the danger is.

Face recognition apps

The most tantalizing – and perhaps the 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 find out instantly who they are. Perhaps if they are a little careless about their privacy options, you might also be able to pull up their street address, occupation, and Facebook profile.

Augmented reality will open up thousands of possibilities, both good and bad. It will be up to each one of us to decide how we want to use it.  

Do you have a favorite augmented reality app? Share it with The Online Mom!

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