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Augmented reality changing the way people see cities

Who wouldn’t want a machine that helped you recognize the sights, pick a restaurant and find the closest toilet? Owners of smartphones already have one, provided they’re making use of an augmented reality app.

Augmented reality, which allows a device’s camera to view one’s surroundings and then transpose detailed data about it onto the screen, is changing the way many people experience cities.

”Computer-generated information is used with an appropriate output device so it’s perfectly blended in to the user’s field of view,” says Leif Oppermann of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology.

The technology might be the much-hyped Google Glass spectacles or the video display of a mobile phone.

Most smartphones are up to the challenge, says Oppermann. One would just need to have a camera and a satellite navigation system for determining location. A flat rate for data transfers is also needed, as is a fast mobile connection to the internet.

There’s a wide range of apps – many of them free – available for the most popular operating systems.

”Android and iOS have a clear lead here,” says Sascha Pallenberg of the weblog Mobilegeeks.com.

”The best-known are probably Layar, which has been downloaded 30 million times for Android alone,” says Pallenberg. Layar can help people find the closest cash machine or restaurant and looks up information about famous buildings.

Tests have shown it to be easy to use.

Monocle is the name of the app used by the ratings portal Yelp. It can help people find the closest hotel and also share reviews about it. It has a lot more details than Layar, with information on everything from locksmiths to dog trainers to agents for renting a camper.

But both are also subject to some weaknesses.

In Germany, testers were shocked that some of beer gardens had been overlooked, along with some providers of fast food delivered to your door. They might also guide a user to a restaurant that no longer exists or never existed.

Also consider Wikitude World Browser, which tries to recognize buildings and tourist attractions, along with further information from the web. Tests have shown it to be a good app for tourists.

Information about hotels and sites comes quickly, provided by websites like Wikipedia or TripAdvisor. It’s also possible, with just a few clicks, to plot a walking tour or the way to the closest bathroom. (dpa)