The term was created in 1992 by a Boeing researcher to describe a system for helping workers assemble and install electric cables in their aircraft.

With virtual reality the user is immersed in a virtual environment entirely created by the computer. In augmented reality virtual elements are overlaid and integrated into a real space. In the recent past we have become familiar with QR codes Scan 2_1024(I’ve had one, directing people to this blog,  in my ad for the Book Industry Guild charity softball game for the past couple of years). These are now quite common in ads in magazines and in the subway: with the right scanner app on your cell phone, the QR code will immediately go to the website associated with the ad. If you have QRReader or Mobiletag for example on your iPad or iPhone, pointing at this QR tag will take you to this blog — a fairly meaningless operation of course as you are obviously already there! QR stands for Quick Response.

One possible application of AR would be an advertising poster in the subway which would look to the naked eye just like a normal printed piece. When observed with the appropriate software, it would however become a moving picture enabling you to see the product in action, and of course to buy it immediately. magazine-screenThe printed piece has code, analogous to the QR tag, printed in it. This may be concealed by other parts of the image, or may be visible to the naked eye. Either way, this code instructs the scanner app to show the hidden material, as for instance the buy buttons in this picture. The blue buttons are not visible in the original magazine: it’s only when you look at the page on your iPhone or computer that you can see (and use) them. One limiting factor with this technology is however that there’s no standard: you need the app from the system that created the piece, not (as with the QR tags) a generic scanner.

Just what effect this technology is going to have on books remains to be seen — but it will have an effect. See this video for a simple illustration.

You need a specially printed book and a smartphone, or a webcam plus a computer running the appropriate AR software. The 3-D material is only visible on the computer screen, not (of course) the book. This becomes clearer towards the end of the video.