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Questsphere takes a look at Yellow Jacket, we know from first-hand experience what is needed in a violent situation to escape danger. These guys at Yellow Jacket have designed an iPhone 4 stun gun case to be easily deployable with one hand. In less than two seconds, both safety mechanisms can be deactivated and the Yellow Jacket stun gun is ready for action. Compare this to a regular stun gun which can take five to ten seconds to find and deploy.

A growing number of magazines over the last several months have tapped into augmented reality with the goal of expanding the traditional print content experience with Web-based video or other electronic delivery.

Last summer, Bonnier’s Popular Science unveiled an interactive cover that allowed readers to log onto the Web site, hold up the cover to a webcam and interact with a 3-D image of wind turbines. For its December 2009 issue, Esquire featured 2-D barcodes on the cover and elsewhere inside the magazine that, when scanned by a reader’s webcam, triggered interactive video “experiences.” Time Inc.’s InStyle tied augmented reality to e-commerce, making some advertisements in its December 2009 holiday gift guide issue three dimensional.

More recently, we’ve seen Time Out New York enlisting the services of an augmented reality firm to fuse AR, mobile and GPS technologies to create aguide to drinking establishments in New York City, accessed over a user’s smartphone. And the August issue of Time Out New York Kids allows readers to use their smartphones to access a video of the cover subject, the chorus from Public School 22 in Staten Island.

But, what’s the difference between, say, Popular Science’s interactive 3-D turbine and Time Out New York Kids’ video? Is one AR and the other (TONY Kids) just 2-D image recognition? With so many examples flooding the market and so few explanations, I have to wonder: What exactly is augmented reality?

Ronald Azuma, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has researched AR technologies, defines AR as a “variation of virtual environments” that “allows the user to see the real world, with virtual objects superimposed upon or composited with the real world.” Azuma says AR systems have the following three characteristics: it combines real and virtual, is interactive in real time and is registered in 3-D.

“The three parallel processes that run in real time during an AR experience are recognition, tracking and rendering. Therefore, recognition off a barcode, marker or markerless image makes up a vital portion of AR, so it is less about the differences between the two and more about their working relationship.”

Lisa Murphy, a product marketing manager at says “Many people did not see the interactive 3-D model in the demonstration video and did not try it out themselves,” she says. “And, of course, this first and very simple example is not the final benchmark for this new interface. Nevertheless we are very happy to take these small steps together with innovative companies.”

Embracing Industry-Wide Standards

AR is still an emerging market, and its major players know the rules are still being hammered out. In fact, in an effort to eliminate any confusion about what is augmented reality and what is not, Total Immersion earlier this summer came up with a logo to accompany all augmented reality applications on product packaging, advertisements, marketing materials and other relevant communications.

“With the proliferation of AR over recent times, there are some campaigns that are inevitably called AR but by definition are not,” Uzzan says. “Some of these projects simply use recognition to trigger a digital graphic, but the digital asset typically has little relevance to the target and video stream around it.”

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