National Edition

From science-fiction to reality — augmented reality that is

Published: Tuesday, March 25 2014 1:10 p.m. MDT

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences member Ilyane Morden Kichaven, right, gets a lesson on Google Glass with Google's Sami Tahari at the YouTube Space L.A. Tour and Happy Hour, on Friday, March 7, 2014 in Los Angeles.

Chris Pizzello, Associated Press

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Imagine traveling internationally while wearing glasses that superimposed translations over foreign words.

Or watching a program on your 3-D TV while Internet content that you could control with hand gestures floated in front of the screen.

Sound like science fiction? It's actually right around the corner, and within a few years these products could be available to the general public. It's called augmented reality, or AR, and it represents the next great leap forward in the information age.

Google Glass and augmented reality

The most popular form of an AR product already exists: Google Glass, a head-mounted computer that people can wear like glasses. Ryan Rogowski of San Francisco recently used Google Glass on trips to China and Japan. He said Glass worked well for taking pictures because he could verbally command Glass to snap photos instead of stopping to grab his camera. He could also quickly access directions and time (which pop up on the Glass screen upon command). Rogowski, the CEO of Waygo, a smartphone app that instantly reads and translates Chinese and Japanese characters, said the Glass app Field Trip was handy as a tourist because when approached popular sites, such as the Emperor's Palace in Japan, a notification would appear on his screen.

Rogowski said Google Glass is not a "fully functional" AR device because it does not allow the user to meld the real world they see with virtual objects (an example of a true AR device is Meta Spaceglasses, which allow wearers to create usable, holographic versions of their phones and laptops).

Dr. Maribeth Gandy, director of the Interactive Media Technology Center at Georgia Tech, agrees that Google Glass is not a true augmented reality platform. However, she said people realize that augmented reality products are commercially viable after a large, popular company like Google backs the idea.

"Google has their stamp of approval on the idea of wearing a display and to some extent augmenting your environment," said Gandy.

AR in development

Gandy, who has studied augmented reality development for years, is currently researching how to use augmented reality in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). Gandy said hand-held AR devices can "bring certain lessons to life for the students" and help students become enthusiastic about STEM. She said AR could make a physics class more interesting, for example.

"Imagine you're building a simple machine to learn about friction and forces ... and being able to look at your machine through a tablet and seeing virtual augmentation on top of that real-world object, helping you understand that the unseen world that is causing things to work the way they do," said Gandy. She explained AR technology can help students understand many other physics concepts, such as the way a pendulum swings.

Gandy said she can think of many other applications for AR technology as a new way of seeing information.

"We have all of this information about the world. Why not look at that information in the world (using augmented reality)?" she said. "From when you’re trying to install a closet organizer — what if you just see how the parts are supposed to fit together in the actual closet?"

She added people could use AR while viewing a baseball game "to look out at the players and see stats floating over their heads" or when people see someone who looks vaguely familiar, they could view augmentations that would remind them where and how they had seen that individual before.

AR adoption obstacles

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