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Businesses quickly adopting augmented reality apps for consumers

AR technology enables camera-equipped smartphone and tablet computer users who have downloaded apps to point at an object and retrieve information. The apps overlay what can be seen in plain sight with digital photos, videos or text.

October 13, 2011|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times

Overlaid images include a photo of a building taken as it was collapsing after a World War II air raid. There's also, in front of Buckingham Palace, the arrest of a suffragette agitating for women's right to vote in 1914. And in Hyde Park, longhaired students at a music festival during the 1970s.

Paintings of the Great Fire of 1666 are also superimposed on present day scenes.

"We tried to pick really beautiful, interesting images that were a bit unexpected from all over London so visitors could see what the city was like through the ages," said museum marketing manager Vicky Lee.

Aside from smartphones and tablets, AR applications are finding their way into stores, gaming consoles and autos.

Lego worked with Intel to install bright yellow AR kiosks in its 74 stores worldwide. Shoppers can see 3-D virtual renderings of what a completed model looks like by holding and rotating a box in front of the machine.

Last year, Macy's tested an AR dressing room at its flagship store in New York. Instead of trying on clothes, shoppers stood in front of a digital mirror that fit clothes — virtually — onto their body.

Gamers on the portable Nintendo 3DS console can battle fire-breathing dragons or shoot arrows at targets that appear to sprout out of any surface using AR.

Automakers are looking to AR to add safety or navigational data for drivers. General Motors, for example, is researching augmented windshields that highlight street signs and outline the edges of roads during heavy fog or rain.

The next step, technology companies say, is creating AR apps that can recognize 3-D objects, such as a building, a chair or a statue. Eventually, phones and tablets will be smart enough to differentiate the Golden Gate Bridge from the Brooklyn Bridge even with the GPS chip switched off.

Enthusiasts believe AR eventually could have sweeping influence on the way people get information about their surroundings and one another.

"It's going to transform areas like online search, mobile marketing, social networking and retail," said Mark Beccue, a senior analyst at ABI. "The possibilities are huge."

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