Playing with augmented reality

Great way to meet new friends.

It'll be small development companies like Sphero that turn wearable computing products like Vuzix's headset mounted smart phone video display into genuine augmented reality (AR) devices.

The Boulder, Colorado based company already has a neat gizmo on the market. It's a white plastic sphere about the size of a tennis ball that glows in different colors and rolls around on the floor, powered by an internal motor. You control it with an iOS or Android app via a Bluetooth link.

It scoots back and forth and around and around. There are games written for it, or you can race with your friends.

It's a blast to play with. Their booth at CES last week was packed with people waiting their turn to give it a try. It's definitely a toy. But it has a potentially serious side.

One of the apps written for it lets you steer it while pointing a tablet's camera at it and watching it on screen. Fun enough. But the app superimposes an animated figure over the white ball, so viewed on the screen it looks like a cartoon character is walking around the room and interacting with people.

Potential applications include video production – you could make your own live action Roadrunner cartoon – and telepresence.

Sphero has been around about a year. Its current product retails for $129 and software developer kits are available. On board sensors include an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetic reed switch. Battery charging is via induction, keeping the outside smooth.