Essential Gadgets Image Gallery
Essential Gadgets Image Gallery

The SixthSense augmented reality system lets you project a phone pad onto your hand and phone a friend -- without removing the phone from your pocket. See more gadget pictures.

Photo courtesy Lynn Barry, Pranav Mistry, MIT Media Lab

Video games have been entertaining us for nearly 30 years, ever since Pong was introduced to arcades in the early 1970s. Computer graphics have become much more sophisticated since then, and game graphics are pushing the barriers of photorealism. Now, researchers and engineers are pulling graphics out of your television screen or computer display and integrating them into real-world environments. This new technology, called augmented reality, blurs the line between what's real and what's computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell.

On the spectrum between virtual reality, which creates immersive, computer-generated environments, and the real world, augmented reality is closer to the real world. Augmented reality adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists. Both video games and cell phones are driving the development of augmented reality. Everyone from tourists, to soldiers, to someone looking for the closest subway stop can now benefit from the ability to place computer-generated graphics in their field of vision.

Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world -- or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see. These enhancements will be refreshed continually to reflect the movements of your head. Similar devices and applications already exist, particularly on smartphones like the iPhone.

In this article, we'll take a look at where augmented reality is now and where it may be headed soon.