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the technology of combining real word images, video, etc. with computer-generated information and/or imagery
'Augmented reality (AR) is an engaging way of combining live video with computer-generated data and visualisations … it's going to be a big deal.'econsultancy.com 24th July 2009
Imagine a device which, when you use it to look at something, displays information on whatever you're pointing it at. Focus on a restaurant, and a display pops up giving a menu and customer reviews, look at a historic building, and you're told when and by whom it was built, or point towards that chap sitting opposite you on the metro, and find out this stranger's name and age. These are the sort of possibilities afforded by the new technology of augmented reality.
In fundamental terms, the expression augmented reality, often abbreviated to AR, refers to a simple combination of real and virtual (computer-generated) worlds. Given a real subject, captured on video or camera, the technology 'augments' (= adds to) that real-world image with extra layers of digital information. Those of us who enjoy watching television coverage of sport will already have experienced a basic form of augmented reality in action. Picture the cricket pitch on which a logo for a well-known sponsor miraculously appears, or an Olympic swimming race where a line indicating the position of the current world record holder appears ahead of the competitors moving frantically through the water.
But the possible applications of augmented reality are much broader than this. Among the wide variety of gadgets and ideas showcased at this year's Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in the US, was an augmented reality map. Combining digital information, photographs and 4G video, streets are represented by three-dimensional graphics which even allow the user to enter buildings and see a live video stream for any particular location.
though undoubtedly very useful as a tool for getting instant information, there are certain contexts where … augmented reality is deemed to be inferior to real world interaction
The expression augmented reality most commonly appears in conjunction with the term app, the clipped form now used as a popular variant of the word application and used in the context of 3G mobile phones and other handheld electronic devices. A notable example of an augmented reality app is Recognizr, which links face recognition software to social networking profiles. This means that you could simply capture a person's image in your mobile's viewfinder, and potentially have access to their identity, contact details and a range of personal information. This might all seem a bit spooky, and indeed there have been mixed reactions to this kind of use of augmented reality, which raises worries about privacy and data security. Developers argue however that information can only be made available for people who choose to register their details, and those who do register will be able to make decisions about what level of information is made public.
Though undoubtedly very useful as a tool for getting instant information, there are certain contexts where the use of augmented reality is deemed to be inferior to real-world interaction. Some people argue for example that AR can never be a substitute for a tour guide who, as well as providing information, can inject a real sense of inspiration and enthusiasm for the places they are describing.
The term augmented reality was thought to be coined in the early nineties by Thomas Caudell, at the time senior principal scientist at the computer services division of Boeing (the aerospace corporation). Caudell was involved with some of the first attempts to apply virtual-reality technology to Boeing's manufacturing and engineering processes.
The verb augment refers to the action of adding to something in order to make it more substantial. It derives from the Latin augere meaning 'to increase'.
Augmented reality follows the earlier term virtual reality, popularised in the eighties by US computer scientist Jaron Lanier, an early pioneer in the the field.
Read last week's BuzzWord. Couch surfing.
This article was first published on 23rd March 2010.
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