Augmented reality (AR) provides a live view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated input such as information, sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. AR has been in existence for quite a while. In the 1990s, Boeing used it with head mounted displays to aid in aircraft wiring assembly. The person doing the complex wiring on an aircraft would have a screen in front of them, and overlaid onto that screen would be the data showing where to put the wires, what the right color wires was, what the wire did, etc.

Today, AR isn’t just for complex technical tasks. It’s something within reach to the masses thanks to various smart phone apps. For example, I got my first AR app for my smart phone in 2010. With it, I can use the app and my phone’s camera, aim it at a distant mountain range, and the AR app gives me the names of the mountains overlaid on the image. I touch a button and can get more information about the mountains, including the elevation, natural fauna, etc. How is this possible? The app uses the phone’s GPS, digital compass, and motion sensors to detect where I’m pointing.

Now let’s take the application of AR a step further—to what we’ll be seeing in the near future as more sensors are used in smart phones. Suppose you’re walking down a busy shopping district searching for a shoe store that sells high-end Italian men’s and women’s shoes. You may even have a particular brand in mind. You could point your phone’s camera to get an image of the street ahead of you, and the AR app will overlay the names of each store that sells shoes and provide a list of which brands each store carries. You could then click on an information button to get store hours.

And if the AR app can do this outside the store, it can do it inside as well. Suppose you’re in a large warehouse store searching for laundry detergent. Instead of wandering the aisles, you could tell your phone what you’re looking for and then pan around the store with the camera and AR app activated. As you move over various sections of the store, you’d see a little arrow appear showing you exactly where the laundry detergent is.

Adding a social element to AR is another interesting development. For example, AR is being used by a start-up company in San Francisco called CrowdOptic that can recognize which direction a crowd of people have their phones pointing. They can then invite others using that app to see what all those phones are seeing. For example, at a NASCAR race, fans who can’t see the entire track could point their phones at a distant turn and get photos and videos gathered by others who are closer to the action.

AR is a game changer for business, for sports, and for social media, just to name a few. Of course, all this is just the beginning. Over the next few years, AR will change not only the way you use your phone, but also the way you see and interact with the world.