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Can Augmented Reality Tech Help You Make Better Life Decisions?

Cliff Kuang/GOOD

March 12, 2010

Can augmented reality technology finally make it easy to do the right thing?

Last year was huge for a young technology called “augmented reality”—and that’s important even if you’re not a nerd, because it should revolutionize the way we approach social causes. Sure, many current examples of augmented reality are trivial, but hear me out.

Augmented reality allows you to see, in real time, data about your surroundings. It’s different from having the internet on your phone—you don’t actually have to look anything up, and you don’t actually have to know exactly what you’re looking for. Augmented reality is more like a having a sixth sense—and a seventh and eighth sense—that makes data a natural, passive part of how you see the world.

So how does this work? Last year, a Dutch company, SPRXmobile, introduced the first-ever augmented-reality browser platform for a smartphone. It’s fairly simple to explain. The software uses two basic features found on smartphones—a compass, and a GPS system. From there, it knows exactly where you are—and, just as important, which direction your phone is pointing. And this is where things get interesting. Armed with that knowledge, SPRXmobile unveiled a rack of applications—including apps to find a nearby ATM, bar, or shoe store; figure out if a company nearby is hiring; identify houses around you that might be for sale; and even research the on-court action at Wimbledon. (Take a second to watch SPRXmobile’s amazing demo video.) So far, the app is only for phones running the Android operating system but it’s coming to the iPhone soon as well. (That’s why it was so important that the newest model, the 3G S, included a compass.)

This makes deep information about your surroundings available whenever you have your cell phone without you having to look anything up. When you let that possibility sink in, augmented reality’s massive promise becomes clear. If you were to boil a number of social causes—from depleted fisheries to carbon reduction—the central problem is that getting the right information to consumers takes so much money and effort. And consumers themselves have to spend too much time translating that new information into action.

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