Track Those Tax Dollars In An 'Augmented Reality'

Using a Layar-enabled iPhone. Ryan Gibbons/NPR i i

Aim a Layar-enabled phone at a building, and soon a spread of blue dots will tell you how much stimulus money went to the organization inside. Ryan Gibbons/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ryan Gibbons/NPR
Using a Layar-enabled iPhone. Ryan Gibbons/NPR

Aim a Layar-enabled phone at a building, and soon a spread of blue dots will tell you how much stimulus money went to the organization inside.

Ryan Gibbons/NPR
A screengrab from an iPhone. Ryan Gibbons/NPR i i

The application uses the phone's GPS and compass features to pull information from a Web site to your current location. Ryan Gibbons/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ryan Gibbons/NPR
A screengrab from an iPhone. Ryan Gibbons/NPR

The application uses the phone's GPS and compass features to pull information from a Web site to your current location.

Ryan Gibbons/NPR

Want to know where those stimulus dollars were spent? Consider turning your smart phone into a government watchdog — then all you'll have to do is take it for a walk.

New applications for the iPhone and other devices are starting to track just where those U.S. tax dollars are being spent. Through "augmented reality," users can instantly access government records just by pointing their phone at an object.

Augmented reality is the term for merging real-time digital information with a person's real-world environment. The Layar application, for example, taps into stimulus data released by Recovery.gov. Aim a Layar-enabled phone at a building, and soon a spread of blue dots will tell you how much stimulus money went to the organization inside.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," says Clay Johnson, head of technology at the D.C.-based organization The Sunlight Foundation, which worked with Layar. He imagines a future where someone could point a phone at anything — from a school to a fire hydrant — and find out how much it cost.

"All of a sudden, people can relate to paying their taxes in an entirely different way," he says.

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