LAS VEGAS -- The first time you point your smartphone at an Iron Man comic book and watch Tony Stark step off the cover and begin to fly, you'll be sorely tempted to look past the phone's screen to see if it's real.
That's exactly the reaction Augmented reality software maker Aurasma wanted as it demonstrated its application's capabilities at the annual ShowStoppers event here Tuesday night.
While it may look like magic, Aurasma's augmented reality software works by using a mobile device web camera and image-based recognition to display auras, which is digital content connected to any enabled physical object.
Once an object is recognized, the app activates a cloud-based video stream that simulates animation of the object on the phone's or tablet's screen or brings up additional educational or advertising content.
"It's a way to merge the physical world with the digital," said David Stone, Aurasma's global head of operations.
Aurasma's app can recognize any object that has been enabled, from a magazine to a building. Publishers like Marvel Comics and GQ magazine are signing up for the app to add digital content extras to their print publications.
Since launching in June 2011, more than 15,000 businesses have purchased the service to augment their advertising or public service messages. More than 4 million people worldwide have downloaded Aurasma's free app to make inanimate objects appear to spring to life.
Everything from buildings to magazine covers to movie posters have come alive through the use of the app. Because the software is cloud-based, there's no need to update the app on a user's phone each time an advertising campaign changes. Only the software on the cloud service provider's servers needs to be updated.
The video streams can include editorial content, picture slideshows, movie clips and can also be used in education.
Stone said that as much as 20% of the content being streamed is for educational purposes. For example, textbooks can come alive through the use app, running video clips depicting historical events as students read.
"What's really cool about this is that without touching the print product they can bring in digital content that they couldn't bring in before," Stone said. "It's kind of like DVD extras you wouldn't have received anywhere else."
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Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.