As you wait anxiously in the motionless horde of cars tangled in rush hour traffic, you gather surrounding statistics through your digital LED contact lenses. Tom’s Pizzeria is five blocks ahead and was ranked four out of five stars by customer reviews. As for the woman in the beige Honda beside you, she has a Jack Russell Terrier named Charlie, is originally from Texas, and her favorite book is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The pack loosens up and you finish your commute home.
Three blocks away from your house though, your lenses display a Tweet from your wife, which says she’s watching a rerun of Seinfeld and is hungry for pizza. You consider turning around—Tom’s did get good reviews—but you proceed to your final destination instead, using turn-by-turn directions that appear above every intersection. No, you are not a Terminator sent here to aid Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the destruction of John Connor, however. Rather, you are just an average Joe, with less than perfect vision, living somewhere in the near future, thanks to the promise of augmented reality.
What is Augmented Reality?
In 1990, Boeing researcher Tom Caudell first coined the term “augmented reality” to describe a digital display used by aircraft electricians that blended virtual graphics onto a physical reality. As for the computer science world’s definition of augmented reality (AR) though, it’s more detailed, but essentially the same: Augmented reality is the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real-time.
AR is not a new concept either. In fact, we’ve seen it in many different ways over the years, but we just might not have noticed. From the yellow first-down lines sketched over a televised football game to the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit—or even examples as basic as where a projector’s been used to project images atop a real setting—all are examples of virtual graphics being superimposed upon a real-life situation.
So what’s with all the recent hype? Well, most AR researchers say there’s been hype for the idea of augmented reality since the 1930s. But most of its modern enthusiasm has been contained within the computing community. As for the sudden upsurge in public interest though, the mobile community has brought on this recent hype due to the increasing number of AR smartphone apps released this summer and following slew set to appear this fall.