The same technology that helps fighter pilots keep their eyes on the skies and makes sure surgeons take out the right parts the right way can now give you a bitchin' tattoo. What's more, if you get tired of what you're sporting, you can change it up whenever you want.
(AR) is responsible for heads-up displays in fighter cockpits, operating rooms and high-end autos. Still don't get it? It's the same gimmick that paints the yellow first-down marker on television broadcasts of football games -- and the same idea behind the legendary chess throwdown
aboard the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars (which is now actually possible).
We tracked down the world's leading AR geeks to find out if this technology will revolutionize our lives, or just gives us something to talk about for a week or so.
"It's life augmented," said Stephen Cawood
of Metalogix Software, who wrote the book
on the subject. "It's life made better."
Now you can use it to get tatted, thanks to ThinkAnApp
of Buenos Aires. A marker containing a bar code is inked on your body. To the naked eye it looks like a black box. But viewed via a webcam with supporting software, your tat springs to life in 3-D.
"That's essentially a marker somebody is adding to their skin," Cawood says. "You could actually change the image associated with that, provide the person with the tattoo the option of changing it to something else and they'd be able to have whatever's cool that week show up."
There is a flip side.
"Interestingly, unlike a real tattoo, the (augmented) content is determined by the program that recognizes the marker," said Dr. Steven Feiner
, a Columbia University professor and one of the world's leading authorities on AR. "So, someone viewing the tattoo in AR could turn it into whatever they want, without the cooperation or approval of the person wearing the tattoo. And, depending on the person whose tattoo it is, that could either be considered a good thing or a bad thing."
Like that Chinese character tattoo you think says "Strength and Wisdom" but actually reads "Dumbass."
AR is sneaking into our daily lives in other ways, too. New York barflies gather to do Magic-style battle with AR-enhanced cards
. Urban Spoon offers an app
that lets you wave your iPhone through thin air and find info about restaurants around you. Soon, smart phones will be able to see hidden data on store shelves, business cards and office signs. Eyeglasses could be outfitted with the same technology.
Dr. Brent Sullivan
, a Tampa urologist and surgeon, uses AR in robotic microsurgery. He sits at a console in the corner of the operating room, manipulating joysticks and pedals to remove diseased kidneys and prostates – "like operating a back-hoe," he says. A heads-up display in his 3-D optical lenses (think fancy binoculars) gives him "real-time information about where my machine is relative to the patient. It tells me what angle or horizon or plane my camera is turned at so I can get orientations as far as my view. That information tells you, 'Stay the hell out of trouble.'"
MIT has a working model of AR technology called Sixth Sense
that gives users automatic feedback based on simple hand gestures. For instance, pick up a product at the grocery store and you see expanded info – customized to your personal tastes – displayed on the package. Ultimately, they'd like to implant the technology in your brain (cue creepy music).
Says Cawood, "More and more practical applications will be discovered and people won't necessarily know the underlying technology. Right now you need some kind of display. The next evolution is completely markerless; computer vision will improve to the point where the computer will be able to recognize people and hand gestures." Good thing we held on to our Groucho Marx-style disguise glasses and mustache.