Improving on reality

Improving on reality

Recent developments are pushing “augmented reality’’ toward the mainstream. Until recently, the term has mostly been used in research laboratories and in science fiction to display information over live images of the natural world. Now it’s cropping up in demonstrations of mobile phone applications that have already been launched or are on the way.

Mobile phones running Google’s Android platform, for example, are already capable of displaying information over scenes viewed through the phone’s camera. An application called Layar can display Wikipedia entries over an Android phone’s camera view of a scene. It can, for example, add information about Plymouth Rock when the smartphone is pointed at the landmark.

Apple iPhone enthusiasts are eagerly anticipating the next software upgrade to the iPhone 3GS, expected this fall, which will enable new augmented reality applications. When a user points the phone’s camera at an eating establishment, for instance, recent reviews could appear over the image on the screen. Pan the camera to a nearby sculpture, and the display changes to show information about the artist. Keep panning to a nearby store, and sale items pop up.

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