How Augmented Reality Works

Augmented Reality in Video Games and the Military
Augmented reality can breathe a little life into your sports trading cards.
Augmented reality can breathe a little life into your sports trading cards.
Photo courtesy Total Immersion

Video game companies are quickly hopping aboard the augmented-reality locomotive. A company called Total Immersion makes software that applies augmented reality to baseball cards. Simply go online, download the Total Immersion software and then hold up your baseball card to a webcam. The software recognizes the card (and the player on it) and then displays related video on your computer screen. Move the card in your hands -- make sure to keep it in view of the camera -- and the 3-D figure on your screen will perform actions, such as throwing a ball at a target.

Total Immersion's efforts are just the beginning. In the next couple of years, we'll see games that take augmented reality out into the streets. Consider a scavenger-hunt game that uses virtual objects. You could use your phone to "place" tokens around town, and participants would then use their phones (or augmented-reality enabled goggles) to find these invisible objects.

Demos of many games of this order already exist. There's a "human Pac-Man" game that allows users to chase after each other in real life while wearing goggles that make them look like characters in Pac-Man.

Arcane Technologies, a Canadian company, has sold augmented-reality devices to the U.S. military. The company produces a head-mounted display -- the sort of device that was supposed to bring us virtual reality -- that superimposes information on your world. Consider a squad of soldiers in Afghanistan, performing reconnaissance on an opposition hideout. An AR-enabled head-mounted display could overlay blueprints or a view from a satellite or overheard drone directly onto the soldiers' field of vision.

Now that we've established some of the many current and burgeoning uses of augmented reality, let's take a look at the technology's limitations and what the future holds.

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