Augmented reality, or AR, tools are devices and software intended to enhance the human experience of reality, normally by providing more information about one's surroundings. Such devices or software must be able to directly augment one's perception of reality to be considered "augmented reality tools," so information in books or in a web browser is not considered reality-augmenting. Applications for smartphones, tablets, and other devices can provide an augmented reality experience by providing real-time, location-specific information about one's surroundings. This information is shown on the device's screen over a rapidly-updating image of one's surroundings as captured by the device's camera. More advanced augmented reality tools are often featured in science fiction books, movies, and video games and may take the form of advanced devices or bodily modifications.
Almost all augmented reality tools are characterized by a few defining traits. They all update in real-time according to changes in the spatial relationship between the environment and the user of the tool. Such tools are always based in reality and are intended to enhance one's perception of reality, as opposed to some other forms of mediated reality and virtual reality. The information provided by such tools is usually explicitly related to the purpose of the tool or application and is not just arbitrary information about one's surroundings. A phone application intended to find restaurants, for instance, likely only highlights restaurants on the phone's screen as one points one's phone down the street.
Modern augmented reality tools use a range of different methods to provide information about one's surroundings. Most must be linked to some kind of global positioning satellite system in order to provide environment-specific information. In general, such augmented reality tools are also connected to the Internet, as various online services are generally necessary for providing the desired information. Augmented reality is used for a few other purposes, such as smartphone games that implement various aspects of reality or television channels that provide scores and other information over live sporting events.
Many types of augmented reality tools are featured in science fiction books, movies, and video games and may provide insight into the direction of augmented reality tools. Many science fiction characters have glasses or helmets with a "heads-up display" or HUD that provides real-time information about their environment, communications, health, and other concerns. Others have direct neural or optical implants that augment their perceptions of reality. In some stories, these technologies are relatively widespread, while in others they are only relegated to specialized uses.