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Augmented reality helps you expand your world through your smartphone

MUNICH--If the world as it is isn't enough, try looking at it through your smartphone.

That's the principle behind augmented reality (AR), which allows smartphones to recognize landmarks using their cameras. Some, indeed, do the job so well that they allow the surroundings to be incorporated into games. And that's just the start.

“Augmented reality refers to technology that, depending upon my location in the world, provides me with additional information,” says Gudrun Klinker, a professor at and manager of the augmented reality department at Munich's Technical University. “And it's not just text, but items embedded into the world.”

Consumers are at the vanguard of augmented reality systems, thanks to the widespread appeal of smartphones, which deliver everything augmented reality needs. “There's a video camera, which the apps can access, as well as GPS and movement sensors,” Klinker notes.

Wikitude, which comes as freeware for the iOS, Android, Windows Phones and Blackberry systems, is one of the best-known AR apps. It can recognize certain buildings and other landmarks and pull up appropriate Wikipedia articles and additional information. It also examines the surroundings to suggest nearby restaurants, cash machines and vacant apartments.

Other AR apps like Layar and Jugnaio, which work with both Android and iOS, offer similar functions.

But not every mobile device is capable of recognizing the sights or significant landmarks, like a mountain peak.

“To do that, it requires a certain level of computing power,” says Rafaela Moehl of the German telecommunications portal Teltarif.de. “The cheapest smartphone is not the right one for the job.”

A good camera is key for AR. When using AR, keep a close eye on what apps are downloading onto your smartphone. If pictures and video clips start appearing “you've quickly pulled together a couple of megabytes,” warns Moehl. That can turn into a problem for any user whose plan only allows limited data transfers.

Also keep an eye on your battery. Regularly using the camera, Internet connection, satellite-navigation system and motion sensors can quickly overload the power supply.

Klinker says AR has a lot to offer. For example, an AR app from a furniture store could replace written assembly instructions, checking the surroundings and recognizing the next piece to be bolted on, even checking if the item is being put together properly.

Of course, such work is hardly possible with today's devices, she notes. “The quality of the camera and the capacity of the processors isn't sufficient today.”

Meanwhile, AR is making significant headway in computer and video gaming.

The Eye of Judgement has actually been around for a while. The game is a mixture of a Playstation game and card gathering, in which players upload cards they've collected by holding them before a phone, thus unleashing a monster or a spell.

Sony has also announced the kid-friendly AR application Wonderbooks. When used with a Playstation 3, a camera and a Move controller, young readers could, for example, imitate spells from the Harry Potter book series.

The XBox 360 is also experimenting with AR, with options like Happy Action Theatre, where players can use the Kinect controller to bring virtual flowers to life or stomp images of real cities to bits as an online monster.

In the handheld world, the Vita has introduced Little Deviants, which requires players to hunt computer monsters in their own home, while the Nintendo 3DS makes use of a series of far-flung AR cards, which hide virtual objects blended into the real world.

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In this undated photo, an augmented-reality app on an iPhone overlays a live picture of a tourist site in Berlin.

(dpa)

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