Finding yourself in unfamiliar territory can be both exciting and thoroughly intimidating. For anyone whose palms start to sweat at the thought of traveling without a clue, never fear. Augmented reality is here.
Augmented reality is tech that superimposes information over what you’re actually seeing. For travelers, that can mean automatically translating signs as you look at them through smart glasses. Or apps that turn your phone camera into a super-scanner and overlay points of interest and nearby restaurant ratings on your immediate surroundings.
Whether you’re traveling to a neighboring area or the other side of the planet, augmented reality can offer a fresh perspective.
The free Wikitude World Browser app, available for Apple, Android, Windows phones, and smart eyewear, uses cameras, accelerometers, and Internet access to display nearby restaurants, hotels, and hidden gems. DigitalTrends.com recently called Wikitude “a third eye” that’s regarded as the king of all augmented reality browsers.
Nokia’s City Lens for the Windows Phone is available for areas around the world and “overlays the best shops, restaurants, and points of interest right on your display.”
Simply tap on anything that pops up to get details like hours, precise directions, and reviews.
The free mTrip travel guides app also has an augmented reality function for landmarks, museums and monuments.
Layar is another augmented reality app designed for travelers. Working across multiple platforms, Layar scans interactive print to pull up live views, videos, and multimedia. Several years ago, Lonely Planet worked with Layar to enable free scanning for its book covers.
One of my favorite ways to find highly rated food and drink places nearby is Yelp Monocle. What started as an Easter egg in the review site’s free app has since become a well-known menu option. Monocle opens your smartphone camera and as you move around, reviewed businesses show up onscreen in the direction they’re actually located. The results can be filtered to show restaurants, bars, or everything.
If you’re like me and use Google Street View to figure out exactly where subway entrances are before heading out, the inexpensive Metro AR Pro app does the legwork on the spot. It shows the closest metro stops within three miles across your camera view, and currently works for transit in Chicago, New York, Paris, London, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea.
Augmented reality transforms otherwise humdrum walking tours, too. In Seville, the Past View experience lets visitors don video glasses and see the city’s historical past brought to life as they wander around. Other city-specific tours also project the past onto the present, like the inexpensive Paris, Then and Now guide for Android and Apple devices.
Several wearables also promise hands-free augmented reality experiences. The most obvious accessory for daring technophiles willing to spend $1,500 is Google Glass. These smart specs work with a host of apps, and Google’s plan is to make Glass the perfect travel gadget, CNET reported recently.
Perhaps the most impressive Glass app for travel is Word Lens, which instantly translates foreign signs into your language as you view them. Field Trip, another top app for the glasses, displays local history, insider finds and details about architecture from local experts in the upper right-hand corner of your view.
Slightly less expensive alternatives to Google Glass include $1,000 Vuzix M100 and $700 Epson Moverio smart glasses. Optinvent’s Ora smart glasses, still being tested, will go for about $950 when they begin shipping.
Challenges do crop up with augmented reality tech, though. The app may rely heavily on the camera function, which can drain the battery on a smart device quickly, or it could require a constant Internet connection. Make sure the app is optimized for your device and do test runs before traveling with it.
The best augmented reality tech educates and entertains us effortlessly, like a local friend who also makes a great tour guide. This is real travel, kicked up a notch.
A professional writer and editor, Alyssa Danigelis focuses on the intersection of technology with sustainability, business, media, arts, and design. Her interest in technology has led her to cover self-healing power grids, 3D-printed food, wearable computers, and robotic couture. Originally from Vermont, she’s a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She lived in New York City for several years before falling in love with sunny Boulder, Colorado, where she currently resides. Her writing has appeared in publications that include MIT’s Technology Review, Natural Health, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Discovery News. Find her on Twitter at @adanigelis. She’s excited about sharing her passion for cool tech with iQ by Intel’s readers.