Use a webcam to project 3D images

July 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new technology called "augmented reality" has begun to appear on the Internet. It uses your webcam to project 3D objects in front of you. It began with the drive to discover a better baseball card.

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"San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum," booms out of your computer.

Major League players pitch, hit and run across your desktop as little avatars on special cards found in packs sold by Topps.

To play, you need to find a card, turn on your webcam, and visit the Topps website. Then, special software projects animated images onto the cards.

The technology works with anything you can point to a webcam. For instance, baseball cards, but also movie posters, magazine covers. And, if you don't have those, you can download and print a target like this from the Internet. Just point the target at the camera, and watch.

On one, if you blow on the microphone, the 3D blades spin faster. On the Star Trek site, you can tour a starship by pointing an iPhone at your webcam.

It's called augmented reality, and the leader in the field is a French company called Total Immersion, which sees it as more than entertainment.

Greg Davis, General Manager for North America, says, "Simulation, training, design, very robust engineering and academic applications. What you're seeing in the market are campaigns -- they're promotional. They use this medium to its full advantage where you now have 3D, and now you can interact with virtual components that in no other medium were you able to do so in the past. "

Total Immersion offers a free browser plug-in called dFusion. But open source programmers are a growing community on the Web, too. One even demonstrates that the target can even be a sign you make with your fingers.

And, just in time for the 4th of July, there were even augmented reality fireworks.

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