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Aurasma may have found market for augmented reality

Augmented-reality company ups its game, adds motion graphics to virtual items so any real-world object can act as an AR trigger.

Now playing: Watch this: Matt Mills, Director of Aurasma

We've been seeing whizzy augmented-reality demos and apps for years. But so far, AR has been a gimmick--a fun toy for your smartphone or tablet, but not something you go back to a lot.

At the Demo conference today, yet another company, Aurasma, showed off AR technology. While the demo I saw looked way too much like a product from Total Immersion that I saw at Demo in 2007, Aurasma might actually have (finally) found a non-trivial use for this technology.

With this company's innovation, any real-world object can act as an AR trigger. Point your phone at a newspaper and an updated photo or video will display over the old printed one. Or point it at a building and you can see an interior map overlaid on it (shades of "Snow Crash"). Or--and this is where the business is--picture a manual for a physical product that shows you how to use the item you're holding in your hand.

For example, if you wonder what to plug where on a router, hold the thing in front of your phone or tablet and run an Aurasma-enabled app. It will show you which cables go where and so forth.

I'm not saying this is a necessary development in product manuals, just that it's not a bad business. Better applications are probably commercial--virtual call-outs or databases of maintenance data overlaid on an airplane mechanic's tablet, for example.

Aurasma's advance over the Total Immersion technology follows Moore's Law. Smarter video processing means the software can trigger off of thousands of real-world items instead of looking only for a few black-and-white diagrams or QR codes, for example. The new system can also display and manipulate much more complex 3D overlays.

Finally, Aurasma's new 3D-I technology can display fully interactive 3D virtual items on your device. The demo I got for this was a hockey game, and it was cute but hopeless as anything other than a demo. Better game designers might be able to make more of it. Witness the Kinect.

Aurasma was a "Demo god" winner at the conference as well as the singular Audience Choice award winner, a prize that came with $1 million of IDG advertising (IDG is a technology publisher that produces the Demo conference).