As with the Internet itself, some of the coolest tech trickles down from the military. Case in point: years after non-commercial aircraft started using HUDs to overlay flight data in front of pilots, video games followed suit. And, for the last five years, the hype and promise for augmented reality — a hybrid of virtual and actual reality — to spread into virtually every aspect of our daily lives has only grown. From consumer HUDs, clunky wearable computer packs, hilarious helmets and goofy goggles now to small web cams, portable gaming devices, integrated GPS, and near-free cell phone apps (this is the big one), are we finally on the cusp of the breakthrough that's been buzzed about? Above is a demo of TwittARound, an iPhone app that was unveiled recently. The AR app displays live tweets, allowing the viewer to see from where the 140-character message originated. Kinda fun, but also potentially useful: After a natural disaster, rescue workers could hypothetically locate any persons trapped inside buildings or under rubble. That's why AR has so much potential to become ubiquitous: 1) the applications for it fall everywhere and anywhere on the spectrum between totally useful and just plain silly (thus, it targets anyone and everyone). 2) the tools required to partake are getting cheaper, smaller, and easier to use. After the jump, see where you can expect to see a lot more augmented reality, and why:Healthcare: In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed to the fences with an editorial that said eventually surgeons would be operating on patients with pre-op and real-time image data such as ultrasonographs overlaid onto the patient. Why?: Computer Assisted or Image-Guided Surgery could prove useful in situations where tissue obscures the surgeon's view and makes it difficult to determine spatial relativity — "just as the modern pilot can take off, land and fly through bad weather using radar and infra-red picture substitution." By 2007, the notion of actually building this kind of system had become even more "feasible" due to "advances in miniaturization and reduced hardware costs," according to an article in the journal Information Technology in Biomedicine. Still aways away, but not as far away as it was when Interventional Video Tomography (IVT) was being proposed over a decade ago. Even sooner, as the NYT reports, we'll likely see X-rays and ultrasounds projected directly on a patients body during consultations. Why?: 1) Anatomy can be hard to envision for the layperson. 2) If seeing a scan of your rotting lung transposed onto your own body doesn't convince you to quit smoking, then nothing will. Top pic via "3 Medical VR: the main application areas and what has been done" by Professor John Waterworth Toys and Collectibles Why?: Michael Eisner's company Tornante and other investors bought Topps for $385 million. You don't spend that kind of money unless you see huge growth potential. Topps changed hands not long after the cardboard card manufacturer started exploring augmented reality with tech from Total Immersion, whose i-TAG also powers Mattel's action figures for the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar... Education: Canon is sponsoring an exhibit which just opened a few weeks ago at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. Visitors get a dose of "Mixed Reality," so in addition to ogling bones and full skeletons of prehistoric creatures, they're using a "hand-scope" to view 3D renderings of huge dinos. [more info here, via Not Just Reality] Why?: Getting kids' attention is tough. Dazzling them with flashy, immersive, interactive tech could engage more kids (and adults) for longer periods of time. Even adult-specific education and training will likely see more and more AR training. Check out BMW's vision for aiding and guiding its mechanics: Marketing: (like, a lot) Maybe you're familiar with the forthcoming film District 9? But have you played the Multi-National United Training Simulation game online? Developed by Trigger, an LA- and Shanghai-based company that builds big Flash-y sites for Hollywood blockbusters, the MNU game is simple enough. As with that GE Smart Grid interactive AR, you begin by printing a 2D image on a piece of paper. From there, though, you can click a few actions. Nothing mind-blowing, really, but certainly light years ahead of film sites from even 3 years ago. Why?: Anything to capture peoples' attentions. Duh. Forget simply checking on the number of plays your preview gets on YouTube. Studios want to gauge attention even deeper, at a micro-level. Trigger can provide companies like Sony with hard user data. Its "Replay" game analytics dashboard collects and displays any number of game-metrics, including total # of players, number of game plays, time spent playing, etc. Should MNU get insanely popular — which is not out of the question considering it has ARG elements — expect Sony (and every other studio's) next sci-fi or action release to follow suit. Transportation/Travel: In the last year, we've seen an array of apps, including Wikitude (above), a G1 app which presents historic info, distances and other data based on whatever landmarks are in the viewfinder. Fun and useful for tourists, but even better imho, are the apps from acrossair which proposes to mashup real-time transit data so you can see where/when municipal buses and trains are coming/going. Why?: This is perhaps the most practical, easiest-to-use day-to-day application of augmented reality we've seen thus far. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the sale of smarthones jumped 34%. Even with the economy in the crapper, the sale of GPS-enabled phones is predicted to keep increasing. So there you have it. The future's bright. With ubiquitous AR, every object in reality will become a direct point of entry for more information. That much seems obvious. What's less obvious, to some, is whether all of this a good thing? Is there something inherently weird or wrong with seeing the world with Terminator Eyes?