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Augmented Reality: Another (Virtual) Brick in the Wall

Imagine wandering through a southern Victorian-era cemetery shaded by ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss, seeing images of the people who are buried under the crumbling stones appear and listening as they tell you their stories.

Georgia Institute of Technology's Augmented Environments Lab has developed an "Augmented Reality" tour that allows visitors to do just that at Atlanta's Oakland cemetery.

The Georgia Institute of Technology team is working on adding the appropriate ghostly images to the tour, which users will view through a head-mounted display unit. The ghosts' appearances will probably be activated by RFID tags on the graves.

Unlike Virtual Reality, which immerses users in a new digital environment, Augmented Reality (AR) -- a broad class of user interface techniques intended to enhance a person’s perception of the world around them with computer generated information -- aims to enhance the analog world.

"Making AR systems that allow us to feel truly present in the experience is a big deal to me," says Blair MacIntyre, director of Georgia Institute of Technology's Augmented Environments Lab. "The challenge is to create a seamless interface between the digital information, each individual user, and the physical environment. We aren't quite there yet, but we're on our way."

Feiner's lab has received funding from Microsoft Research to develop an environment for building augmented reality games. He is especially interested in exploring how tracked head-worn and hand-held, see-through displays can be used within an environment populated by large numbers of other displays and interaction devices, creating what he refers to as "hybrid user interfaces."

"I really believe that systems that mix physical and virtual worlds in novel and interesting ways can completely revolutionize how we think about these worlds," says MacIntyre.


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