NEW YORK — Physically walk through and virtually visualize a building that hasn’t yet been built.
A 3-D rendering of a condo tower appears to climb out of a magazine page when viewed with a smartphone’s camera and screen. Other real estate print ads are brought to life with clickable buttons and multimedia.
Aim your smartphone’s camera in any direction to view the nearest homes for sale or apartments for rent, highlighted on its screen by clickable icons.
"Real estate and architecture have always been a good friend of augmented reality," said Claire Boonstra, co-founder and head of content and community for augmented reality company Layar, who spoke Thursday at the Real Estate Connect conference. Boonstra noted that there are many other possible real estate-related uses for the technology, too.
This kind of tech used to be almost exclusively in the domain of sci-fi movies and the military, but mobile and miniaturized technologies allow us to put augmented the reality in our pocket, via smartphones.
And someday — perhaps someday not too distant — you may visualize such a digitally enhanced world with simple, lightweight glasses that display data overlays of your choosing.
In another application of augmented reality, some home video game systems have integrated cameras that track users’ real-world motions and translate them into on-screen actions, and augmented reality gaming technology can display and integrate imagery from your actual physical surroundings to the on-screen experience, too.
Augmented reality is essentially a blend of technologies that allow us to experience the real world enhanced with digital information.
Layar offers free apps for mobile devices — including Android, Apple and BlackBerry smartphones and tablets — that utilize a device’s camera to display the user’s physical surroundings, layering in desired data overlays. An early use of the app featured an augmented reality display of homes for sale in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
On the marketing side, augmented reality can use visual cues to project images and other types of data onto a mobile device’s screen, without the need for a QR code (or "quick response" code — a modernized variation of the bar code that can be accessed via a smartphone’s camera).
QR codes, she said, are not popular with magazine designers because they are "so intrusive in the design."
Boonstra demonstrated a sample magazine that could be read with augmented reality technology — viewing the magazine with a smartphone brought to life video trailers for movies, clickable buttons and other interactive features.
Similarly, Layar and other applications — by ZipRealty and Trulia, for example — allow augmented reality views of homes for sale.
"What if you really like this little house over here," Boonstra said. "You take Layar, (point the smartphone’s camera at the home), and a button appears. You click on the button to get directly to the mobile site of this house."
Likewise, the technology can be used to allow people to buy products by clicking on an augmented reality view as they are standing in a store or thumbing through an ad.
The technology appears to be maturing beyond "gimmick" stage, Boonstra said, into more practical uses.
She noted that smartphones accounted for more than two-thirds of all phone sales in the U.S. last year.
For builders and developers and architects, augmented reality can bring buildings to life on a smartphone’s screen as visitors are walking around the development site — Boonstra cited an example of a planned project that featured a very detailed augmented reality rendering, including the ability to virtually peer inside windows of the planned structure.
Other uses of Layar include overlays of historic images and pictures to show how the area users are viewing looked 10 years ago or 100 years ago.
Among the wilder applications for augmented reality — the sky is the limit, Boonstra said: "3-D flying dragons … cars jumping out of billboards."
It’s no longer the stuff of sci-fi.