In the near future, we should expect to see the introduction of a number of augmented reality systems. In fact, many scholars believe that augmented reality, not virtual reality, will be the future. But, what exactly is augmented reality?

The most well known example of augmented reality is in the heads-up display of a military fighter or helicopter pilot. Augmented reality is a fancy way of saying that we are going to take information from a computer and display it in the real world, usually using VR goggles or a projector. Thus, in augmented reality, we bring virtual objects or additional information into the real world, whereas in virtual reality, we put "you" into a virtual environment.

Augmented reality may be used to provide extra information while performing a task, whether your are a fighter pilot on a combat mission, a service mechanic doing car repairs, or a surgeon doing Laparoscopic surgery. It may also be used to make the real world into a kind of “desktop environment.” And finally, it may be used in simulation and training.

Augmented reality offers several advantages over virtual reality. You are able to use real-world tools, and work in real-world environments, and on real-world things. And it does not suffer from many of the technological limitations found in VR.

Some examples of augmented reality (presented at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality), include:

• A projector system that will allow an electrician to see the wiring inside the wall.

• VR glasses that will alow you to look at and play with a virtual object sitting on your table.

• A kit that will allow you to decorate your appartment, with the help of a projector. (Hollywood is going to love this on sets.)

• A PDA or cell-phone that may be used to provide helpful information. You can hold it over a map and have it show you traffic congestion, or move it closer to the map, to zoom in like you are using a magnifying glass, to show you side streets and alleys.

• A PDA or cell-phone that you can hold it in front of an object, and it can tell you where you are and what you are looking at, “You are looking at the Golden Gate Bridge . . . .”

• VR glasses which allow you to see Word documents, in front of you, on your desk. And a set of paperweights which represent various documents. To move a document, just pick up and move the paperweight that represents it.

• A projector that may be used to help track boxes in Shipping and Receiving. “Please highlight all boxes that are nearing their ‘sell by’ date.”

• A library which uses a projector system to show you which books are on the wrong shelf and where they need to go.

• A chemistry lab in which projectors are used to make it look like there are chemical reactions going on in test-tubes, even though the test tubes are really empty.

*If you are interested in getting a feel for augmented reality systems, you may want to take a closer look at on of my favorite applications, a multimedia book, created with the help of a projector. Media Book Video/Demo. (Right click and "save target as." Be advised it is a large file!)

But, the most impressive applications of augmented reality are in medicine. Augmented reality may be used to show the doctor what he is doing during non-invasive surgery, that is, to look inside a patient as if he had x-ray vision, so the doctor can see what he is doing. And in a similar manner, it may be used to practice various surgical procedures. In this way, augmented reality starts to break down the barriers between the real and the virtual.

According to a number of scholars, researchers, and graduate students, from the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality, the future of virtual reality is augmented reality. But, I for one don’t buy it. We are going to see both augmented reality and virtual reality, side-by-side, and one-after-another. We will see augmented reality on your PDA and cell-phone. And it will be of great help in the workplace, turning your workplace into gui interface. But, we will also see the emergence of the Virtual World, and it will be something the world has never seen before.