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What will computer user interfaces look like 10 years from now? If we extrapolate from current systems, it's easy to imagine a proliferation of high-resolution displays, ranging from tiny handheld or wrist-worn devices to large screens built into desks, walls and floors. Such displays will doubtless become commonplace. But I and many other computer scientists believe that a fundamentally different kind of user interface known as augmented reality will have a more profound effect on the way in which we develop and interact with future computers.
Augmented reality (AR) refers to computer displays that add virtual information to a user's sensory perceptions. Most AR research focuses on "see-through" devices, usually worn on the head, that overlay graphics and text on the user's view of his or her surroundings. (Virtual information can also be in other sensory forms, such as sound or touch, but this article will concentrate on visual enhancements.) AR systems track the position and orientation of the user's head so that the overlaid material can be aligned with the user's view of the world. Through this process, known as registration, graphics software can place a three-dimensional image of a teacup, for example, on top of a real saucer and keep the virtual cup fixed in that position as the user moves about the room. AR systems employ some of the same hardware technologies used in virtual-reality research, but there's a crucial difference: whereas virtual reality brashly aims to replace the real world, augmented reality respectfully supplements it.
This article was originally published with the title Augmented Reality: A New Way of Seeing.