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Even Better Than The Real Thing?

When John Madden, the excitable football announcer, first drew squiggly white lines over a television image during the pre-game of Super Bowl XIV in 1981, he saw the technology as way to level the playing field for viewers.  Instead of needing to explain what he meant by a safety blitz, for example, the Telestrator allowed him to simply draw a couple of x's and o's, a big arrow and exclaim "Heckuva play."

But it's unlikely that he could have foreseen the development of augmented reality, a burgeoning movement as much as it is a combination of technologies. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality, or AR, takes place in the physical world, except that there's a screen between you and the scene in front of you.  On that screen could be any type of information you wish, from geo-tagged data to real time image analysis.

So what does that actually mean, in our reality? For starters, information about an environment can be mapped onto a live video image in real time. Take, for example, the application Layar, developed by the Dutch company SPRXmobile, which overlays listings (real estate, restaurants, etc.) onto video as you point your device. 



Or, for those of us who constantly manage our digital identities, the Swedish software and design company, The Astonishing Tribe, gives you a way to look at other people in a new way.  They are developing an application called Augmented ID that "sees" people and gives you real time access to their digital information.
 


To be sure, augmented reality is still in its awkward pre-teen phase. For example, the U.S. postal service has spent some money developing an AR interface for shipping packages:
  Though cool-looking, it seems like quite a bit more work that simply going to the post office.

And although we'll continue to find better ways of applying the technologies, we'll still need to decide how comfortable we are with a screen constantly separating us from the world around us. But AR could mean serious business, and given our increasing expectation for a constant flow of information, perhaps, as John Madden once said,  "Anytime you have a game, you have to be ready to play."

Quick links:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/15/augmented-reality-smartphone

Fun fact: The Telestrator, invented by physicist Leonard Reiffel, was first used on a series of science shows for public television in the late 1950s.  Reiffel, who has had distinguished career as a scientist, was awarded an Emmy in 2004 for pioneering the Telestrator.


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Ryan Murdock

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