It's better than virtual reality
Virtual reality is so 1990s. Augmented reality is all about making the world around you more accessible and useful to you, using the wonderful medium of technology. It does this by placing virtual information over real life footage in real time. Ooh-er.
While the idea behind AR has been around for a while, it is the number of mobile phone apps utilising it that have really pushed the tech into the limelight. AR has now been picked up by many big companies and organisations, especially for advertising campaigns, and you may well have used AR without realising it.
It'll make you smarter... maybe
Using AR mobile phone apps can help you can get the lowdown on your surroundings, and maybe even teach you a few things as well. The Star Droid app for Android phones will apparently allow you to point your phone's camera at the sky, and get the names of the stars above your head.
Arguably more handy is the Wikitude app, also for Android handsets, that turns Wikipedia into a location-based service. This means you can point your camera at anything around you, and using GPS to get your whereabouts, the app is able to pick up info about places of interest in your area so you can get clued up. Say goodbye to tour guides...
Life's a game
Eye Toy camera for PlayStation 2 was probably one of the first commercially available AR games, allowing you make movements in real life and have them affect the on screen game. This has now been pushed further, with games like the Eye of Judgement for PS3 making use of the PS3 webcam to bring to life a turn-based card game. Pick your cards, place them onto the gaming board and the webcam will scan them and conjure up a 3D character on screen to fight your opponent with. Pretty impressive.
Getting from A to B is much more interesting
Alongside apps like Wikitude, there is also the likes of Sekai Camera for the iPhone. This app will allow anyone to tag places, be it restaurants, museums or shops, with reviews, images, messages and directions, as well as giving companies the chance to log on and post details of any offers currently running. All this info will then all pop up when you point your phone at the place in question – it could just save you from spending a fortune on a really bad meal.
Of course, Google Street View on Android phones is also an example of AR in use. Thanks to a built-in compass, Google satellites can see where you are and even which way you're facing, to bring up the relevant Street View image. It will move as you do, giving you the heads up on what's ahead, and what people in the area were up to when the Google Street View car snapped them.
It's the future
So it may well be here, and in use now – but the future holds much more for AR. Companies have already started picking up on the tech for advertising - BMW being one of the most recent – but a mobile app called SecondSight shows how AR could become a much bigger resource in the future, especially for printed ads.
An AR-loaded square would be included on the advert, which when combined with a SecondSight-packing mobile phone would bring up more details, and even 3D images of the product, on your phone screen.
Obviously big fans, BMW are also trialling AR glasses that would both talk and demonstrate to the wearer how to complete a repair, step by step. There's a video showing how this would work on their website, so be sure to check it out for a better of idea of how it would all work.
It's an exciting time for AR, and something that can only get bigger in the coming years. Be sure to let us know any of your AR experiences below.