Fans of the movie They Live will recall the special sunglasses in the film, that allowed the unknowing public to see that certain people were actually aliens, and that seemingly ordinary billboards in fact displayed messages like "OBEY" and "CONSUME." The new Aurasma app for iPhone 4 and iPad 2 is kind of like those glasses. OK, it doesn't actually reveal the true nature of things, but it does allow you to see otherwise unseeable videos and other images that fellow Aurasma users have virtually attached to real-world scenes and objects. If you were to point your phone's camera at a certain building, for instance, you would see real-time video of that building on your screen, but perhaps with another user's computer-generated monster climbing up the side of it to promote an upcoming event.

It's not unlike the barcodes and tags that smartphones are already able to read and respond to, except in this case, the phone is actually recognizing everyday objects in its environment. As with other augmented reality systems, the overlaid images stay in place relative to the live video, even if the user pans or zooms within the scene.

The app uses the phone's camera, GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi internet, accelerometer and gyroscope to recognize real-life images, symbols and objects, which it then pairs up with overlaid videos, animations, 3D still images or other data sources, known as "Auras." The Aurasma company itself has provided some Auras to get people started, but the idea is that most will be user-created.

To do so, users select an image of a real-world thing that they wish to tag, select the video, photo or what-have-you that they would like to use as an Aura, indicate the region of the tagged image in which they'd like their Aura to appear, then save it. Once they've done so, potentially any Aurasma-equipped device that sees that image will substitute that Aura for the selected region of it - an image of your band's new CD Stop, for example, could pop up in the center of existing stop signs.

To avoid being inundated with thousands of Auras that have been attached to one geographical area or image, however, users can filter their search results by staying only within certain topical and/or social channels. That way, history buffs don't need to see all the hip-hop Auras that have been attached to Times Square, for instance.

To see what relevant Auras are nearby, users can scan their phone's camera across an area, or can set it to alert them when they're approaching one. Auras can also be attached to things that aren't location-specific, such as newspaper photographs or movie posters that "come to life" and provide more information when viewed through an iPhone ... kind of like the Harry Potter "Wanted" posters.

The version of Aurasma currently available on iTunes is an introductory system, intended to elicit feedback from users. The final version should be coming out within a month, with an Android version also in the works.

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