The future is now

Just what the fudge is 'Augmented Reality'? It sounds like a diagnosis for a mental condition, right? It's actually the next step in interactive visual technology, projecting computer generated images and descriptions into live footage to enhance our understanding of what we see in everyday life. One of the first products to try out AR is Tonchidot's Sekai Camera application for the iPhone. This allows the user to connect to the internet with 3G and, using the camera's GPS signal, streams real-time 2D or 3D graphics over what you see through the lens. Point the camera at a restaurant and tagged information about the menu, the restaurant's history or customer feedback automatically pops up on screen. This is known as 'Air Tagging' and is just one way to use Augmented Reality. Since the CGI objects are rendered in 3D in real time, you can walk around a room with your camera-phone and the dimensions of the graphics will change accordingly. Remember the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton is walking around his apartment and all kinds of catalogue furniture flicks up on the screen along with the prices and even the place the furniture would fit in the room? That's another way that Augmented Reality can be used. Simply take a picture or video footage of your living room and AR will place a couch or anything you're thinking of buying onto the screen as if it were really there, allowing you to see exactly how it would look in the room if you bought it. Users can view tagged information - such as a restaurant menu from across the street - or add their own tags for other people to see on their phones; just like you would tag or comment on a photo in Facebook. This particular kind of AR is more commonly known as Mobile AR. Some forms of AR have been around for a while. Fighter Jets project AR displays onto the actual glass of the cockpit - it even reacts to the pilot's eye movements. In TV sports events, advertising logos are projected onto the pitch using AR technology (you might think they were painted on grass), as well as tracking the trajectory of footballs with coloured lines to better highlight the pundit's commentary.