While it may be some time before you buy a device like SixthSense, more primitive versions of augmented reality already are here on some cell phones, particularly in applications for that iPhone and phones with the Android operating system. Within the Netherlands, cell phone owners can download a credit card applicatoin called Layar that uses the phone’s camera and GPS capabilities to gather information about the surrounding area. Layar then shows details about restaurants or other sites in the region, overlaying this information around the phone’s screen. You may also point the phone in a building, and Layar will tell you if any companies in that building are hiring, or it may be able to find photos from the building on Flickr in order to locate its history on Wikipedia.
Layar isn’t only application of its type. In August 2009, some iPhone users were surprised to find an augmented-reality “easter egg” hidden within the Yelp application. Yelp is known for its user reviews of restaurants along with other businesses, but its hidden augmented-reality component, called Monocle, takes things a step further. Just start up the Yelp app, shake your iPhone 3GS three times and Monocle activates. Using your phone’s GPS and compass, Monocle displays information about local restaurants, including ratings and reviews, in your cell phone screen. You are able to touch one of the listings to find out more about a particular restaurant.
There are other augmented reality apps available for the iPhone and other similar phones — and many more in development. Urbanspoon has a lot of the same functionality as Yelp’s Monocle. Plus there is Wikitude, which finds information from Wikipedia about sites in the region. Underlying most of these applications are a phone’s GPS and compass; by knowing where you are, these applications can make sure to offer information highly relevant to you. We’re still less than at the stage of full-on image recognition, but trust us, individuals are working on it.
We’ve checked out some of the existing forms of augmented reality. Around the next page, we’ll examine a few of the other applications of we’ve got the technology, such as in game titles and military hardware.