The glowing promise of AR, or augmented reality, promises us vast potential when it's paraded in pop culture. Tony Stark and his Jarvis A.I. recreate a crime scene in Iron Man 3, and every blown apart fragment is quickly reconstructed to yield clues; Temperance "Bones" Brennan switches on the Angelator and intuitively controls holographic models above a table in a dimly-lit room. AR in fiction is used for important stuff and it looks cool while doing it. 

The InvisibleEar, created by biomedical communicator Andréa Zariwny, hits the mark of being both cool and useful. It's the result of Zariwny's student project at the University of Toronto's Biomedical Communications program, and was created in part by taking a micro-CT scan of an actual human petrous temporal bone.

After downloading the app, Invisible Ear works by the tablet or smartphone's camera recognizing a printed symbol, called a glyph, or a 3D printed model of the petrous bone; both available at Zariwny's site.

All images ©  Andréa Zariwny

Then you can see the augmented ear on screen and manipulate it in a variety of ways:

Drag a slider to change the transparency of the bone to reveal what is hidden underneath! Push one button to view all the internal space, and another to view only the bony labyrinth that contains the cochlea and the semicircular canal.

Until September 9th, you can vote for InvisibleEar in Qualcomm's Vuforia 2015 Unity Developer's Choice Awards. Andréa Zariwny has spoken about the benefits of augmented reality learning at a number of conferences, and lists papers on her site to back up this idea of visual-haptic learning. The graphics in InvisibleEar are no mere glowy-outline the way AR is often depicted in movies. As a learning tool AR needs to be clearer than glowing blueprints we see in Hollywood, and have a sense of solidity and presence. As I said, InvisibleEar hits the mark in being both cool and useful, and Zariwny has created an impressive tool: Tony Stark could learn something here.

(Disclosure: Andréa Zariwny and I, the author, both work at INVIVO Communications now: I first became aware of Zariwny's work back when I created a Science Art Feed on the now defunct FriendFeed. This post is not an ad for INVIVO; Zariwny's InvisibleEar is her own project under her ownership.)