Once a technology of the future, virtual reality is now being used in everything from computer gaming to archaeology and medical research. And now VR is being joined by a related technology known as augmented reality (AR), which lets users view the real world overlaid with computer-generated imagery and information.

Many people are getting their first look at the technology via smartphone applications. Street View on Google Maps, for example, lets users explore a remote area by moving their phone around.

AR is also used in museum installations, such as the Skin and Bones exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It lets visitors use a smartphone app to visualize the skins over the animal skeletons on display.

Key to this emerging technology will be lightweight AR headsets that incorporate cameras and see-through displays. These look more like ordinary eyeglasses than those clunky VR headsets that block out the real world.

“A key capability of AR [glasses] — compared to phones — is the ability to give people contextually relevant information automatically, integrated into their perception of the physical world,” says Dr. Franziska Roesner, a computer science and engineering professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. AR could also make real the sort of interactive 3D computer interfaces seen in many sci-fi movies, says Hollywood visual effects specialist and AR designer Raffael Dickreuter, who created such effects for “Iron Man” and other films. “We still scroll through many pages of Google and ‘flat’ information, whereas certain topics would be much better presented or explained in a three-dimensional, spatial environment,” he says. Read more from nbcnews.com…

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