In a world where computers and video games open up more and more new worlds for us every day, it's not surprising that many people find real life too boring to bother with. They spend most of their time with their noses buried in their laptop computers or smart phone screens, living in a fantasy world. Parents despair over their children's unhealthy disconnection from reality, but thanks to a new concept called Augmented Reality, it doesn't have to be one or the other. You can interact with a happy medium somewhere between actual reality and complete fantasy and get the best of both worlds.
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The basic principle behind augmented reality is that real life situations and interactions can be enhanced with the assistance of computer and information technology. Some of the earliest forms of augmented reality involved superimposing coordinates or map lines onto satellite images, projecting instrument data into the pilot's field of vision, and allowing video gamers to keep track of their stats in real time. We even see it every week during television football games in for form of extra lines, instructions, play information, and statistics superimposed on the playing field for the benefit of the TV audience.
Perhaps the most exciting application of augmented reality, however, is ScavengAR. ScavengAR (where the AR stands for augmented reality) is a heightened, ultra-modern version of the classic scavenger hunt that used augmented reality and GPS technology to guide players along the path of the game in the real world by superimposing tips and directions over the image of real life as seen through a cell phone or web cam. Since most imaging software isn't yet sophisticated enough to recognize specific locations in varied conditions, ScavengAR games make use of small square bar code markers than can be scanned by the user to access the AR information.
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By using augmented reality, it's possible to follow an elaborate interactive story that encompasses some of a city's most famous and iconic landmarks without altering the real world more than hiding a few bar codes in unobtrusive places. Aside from a sudden influx of people with handheld computing devices (usually smart phones like the iPhone) ordinary people in the vicinity during a ScavengAR game don't even know that anything unusual is going on, which adds an extra element of mystery and secrecy that makes the game even more fun for the participants.
Several large scale ScavengAR games have been run in major cities over the past few years, including one using iPhone apps in Tokyo and another run in conjunction with this year's Sundance Film Festival. If you want to participate in an augmented reality scavenger hunt, you can download the app onto your iPhone or Android device. Most apps are for a specific game in a specific city (usually at a set time) but some use Google Maps and allow you to play the game any time you want, sometime even with online participation from other users. Search your phone's app store under 'augmented reality' to see what your options are
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