Gadget Spot: Augmented reality

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Gadgets, particularly those of the gaming variety, often take their owners into altered realities. Tap the right buttons and you, too, can throw a last-second winning pass on your favorite video game console.

But only recently have certain gadgets started to delve into a world known as augmented reality.

With a built-in camera, GPS, compass and some incredible software programming, information can be layered onto real-time video images. The result is a revolutionary new way to find information or to play games.

Early versions of augmented reality are available today on the iPhone 3GS and Android phones. Next month, a more ambitious version of AR will come to Sony's PlayStation Portable (but only in the UK and Australia at the outset).

A simple version of augmented reality is found in the free Urbanspoon app for the iPhone 3GS.

The app itself is designed to help you find nearby restaurants. Pick a cuisine and neighborhood and Urbanspoon provides choices on your phone complete with user and critic reviews (many from Alive), menu information and maps to help you find your way there.

The augmented reality feature that goes with it is known as "The Scope." To use it, you point your iPhone 3GS camera at the horizon. As you pivot, the screen reveals superimposed circles representing nearby restaurants, complete with names, user ratings, cuisine types and distances from you at that moment.

That use of augmented reality makes me say, "Wow!"

The Layar Reality Browser (a free app for both the iPhone 3GS and Android phone) also layers augmented reality over the phone's camera image. This browser layers most any topic you search for over the image, and it comes with more than 50 preset search topics.

You can view homes for sale in the neighborhood or Wikipedia entries for nearby communities or landmarks. You can check out Tweets or Flickr photos posted by people in your vicinity. You can search events or nearby restaurants, bars and shops - even transit routes, in select cities.

That use of augmented reality makes me say, "Incredible!"

Coming soon to the PlayStation Portable is a an augmented reality game called Invizimals (price and availability TBA).

Using their PSP and a special camera add-on, players track and trap Invizimals, which they collect, raise, train, trade and place into battles - over a live feed of the player's real world. To see a trailer for this amazing game, go to YouTube and search for "Invizimals."

That use of augmented reality makes me say, "So why the heck isn't this game available in the U.S.?!"

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