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Augmented reality adds digital imagery and data to supplement views of the real world, giving users more information about their environments. That's a step beyond virtual reality, which attempts to simulate reality. Smartphones and tablets, with their crisp screens and built-in cameras and motion sensors, are popular platforms. Head-mounted displays continue to emerge, especially where hands-free operation is essential.
The buzz: Gee-whiz consumer uses -- such as scanning objects with a smartphone to pull up product specs and prices -- grab tech-news headlines, but industrial applications aren't hard to find. Complex or high-risk field repairs are a common use among early adopters: Hold a tablet over an oil-pipeline valve -- a schematic hovers over the nuts that need tightening and shows how they should line up, and the system lets headquarters know the job was done. Juniper Research predicts augmented reality will grow tenfold by 2019, to $2.4 billion in revenue.
The reality: An offshoot of the so-called Internet of Things -- sensors are essential for capturing user movements and environmental data -- augmented reality is coming more from geeky startups than established players, though Intel, Microsoft and Qualcomm have projects under way. Juniper expects businesses will have to do lots of customization to make the technology work for them; it also cites a lack of security and privacy standards. And then there's occupational safety. A worker could find an augmented view getting in the way and then trip -- reality's way of reminding us it's still boss.
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