A number of relatively new technologies are fully capable of rendering content to supplement our current view of the real world.  This content – which may be text, graphics, audio, or various combinations of all the above – are collectively referred to as Augmented Reality, or AR.  For travelers who like to know as much as possible about the places we visit, few trends are more exciting than AR.

Augmented reality content is relevant to the context of the user’s life at the moment it is rendered.  Imagine emerging from the London Underground’s Westminster station and having your phone or tablet seamlessly begin displaying information on the history of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.  Then as you turn east, walk across the bridge over the River Thames, and turn north, information about the London Eye begins to display automatically.  While it may be worthwhile to read about a destination before arriving there, it is another level of understanding entirely to be informed about it as you are experiencing it.  Isn’t that, after all, much of the value that has been traditionally delivered by a human tour guide?

Companies like eTips, Waalkz, and others are at the forefront of bringing the right information at the right time to mobile devices seamlessly.  Not only is current and historical content about a place available, so are capabilities for filtering out all content except that in which one is most interested the time – the nearest subway station, a restaurant, or a hotel.

In addition to the increasing number of ready-to-use AR applications, several companies are focused on being content platform providers.  Those like Wikitude, Junaio/Metaio), and InfinityAR offer software development kits (or SDKs) so others can develop sophisticated AR capabilities of their own.  Thanks largely to the growing capabilities of these platforms, Gartner Inc. calls AR one of the Top 10 information technologies today and Juniper Research has forecasted an AR revenue stream of $1.5 billion by 2015.

Finally, AR capabilities are beginning to appear in devices beyond phones and tablets.  They’ll be integrated with wearable devices such as eyewear (Google Glass), printed materials (Layar), retail environments (TryLive), and heads-up displays in an increasing number of automobiles.

One day soon, we may view Augmented Reality much like many other every day technologies…  and wonder how we ever lived without it.