Friday New Tools Feature: Augmented Reality Is Now a Reality

Augmented reality tech is one of the most intriguing new spaces in mobile technology. If you look it up in Wikipedia, you will learn that augmented reality is "a field of computer research which deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time." That's a bit vague, however, and doesn't really capture the excitement and the promise of AR technology, which is going to be a really big deal in the near future (and if you don't have a smartphone yet, maybe this will push you over the edge).

Back when Google Latitude first launched, I wrote about how location-aware mobile technology was going to have a big impact on the way we navigate the world around us. Augmented reality provides a striking example of what I meant. Check out this video of the iPhone 3GS running the AcrossAir app, which shows you the nearest subway stops and their lines in a really useful and innovative way:

But say you're not just visiting the area, and want to find a place to stay long-term. Yes, there is an app for that too (though Layar's not on the iPhone yet):

Or, you are addicted to Twitter and want to see a live view of the recent tweets around you and where they're coming from - check out TwittaRound:

Augmented reality doesn't just have to be used with your mobile location, either; check out this AR business card (sure to get someone's attention better than an ordinary piece of paper):

There are already lots of other applications of AR under development, including an app that will help blind people navigate by sensing objects and obstacles in the environment around them. And the possibilities are almost endless. This app, which combines facial recognition with AR and social networking, is just a concept right now, but it's probably not as far off as you might think.

There are some hurdles: right now, there are a limited number of handsets with the hardware to support augmented reality, and although the iPhone can (as these videos demonstrate), Apple's API does not allow developers to fully take advantage of AR. Eventually, that will probably change, and with the slew of new Android phones about to hit the market that support AR, I think this technology is going to become much more mainstream over the next year to 18 months. Despite the usual lag time in technological adoption in politics, AR has an incredible variety of potential applications for politics; it's only a matter of time until a full-featured campaign app appears which takes advantage of AR to help canvassers perform their jobs more efficiently (for example). If you can think of other ways to use AR for politics, get moving fast enough and you might be the next app developer success story.