If you've seen the "Iron Man" movies or "The Avengers," you probably marveled at Tony Stark's robotic suit when it talked to him and showed him a continuous stream of data, which seemingly floated into his field of vision within his helmet, constantly analyzing and giving feedback about his surroundings. While we probably won't be able to fly into the air or batter super-villains with our metal fists anytime soon, in the near future we might be able to walk the streets and have pop-up data materialize around us.
The idea of augmented reality (AR) has been around since at least the 1960s, when researcher Ivan Sutherland -- better known as the father of computer graphics -- authored a paper entitled "The Ultimate Display," in which he envisioned that a blending of digital information and human vision would create the illusion of being able to peer through walls [source: Sutherland]. By the early 2000s, Columbia University researchers had developed a bulky but wearable satellite dish-equipped rig that enabled a user to peer through special sunglasses and see pop-up graphics about places in a New York neighborhood. Since then, augmented reality projects and applications have popped up everywhere. For example, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has been working on AR-enabled contact lenses [source: Sakr]. Such devices will be able to read digital information embedded in the landscape itself, in the form of radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs) attached to objects, buildings and even people [source: Edwards].