One of the biggest trends in technology in recent years, Augmented Reality or AR is the integration of computer-generated images or any type of digital/virtual information with our environment in real time. It is not to be confused with virtual reality, which is a technology that creates a totally new and different digital environment. In the case of AR, the existing or present environment is “augmented” by overlaying it with new information.
How does AR work?
Apps using augmented reality are written using special 3D programs. Such programs enable the developer to link contextual digital information or animation in the computer program to an AR “marker” in the real world. So, when you open an AR app on your phone or any other device or a plug-in in a browser receives data from a known marker, the marker’s code is executed and the correct digital image/images are layered.
When it comes to Augmented Reality applications for smartphones, global positioning system or GPS is typically used to detect the location of the user and its compass for detecting device orientation. However, more sophisticated Augmented Reality programs that are used in military training, for example, often make use of object recognition, gesture recognition, and machine vision technologies.
History of Augmented Reality
One of the earliest inventions that led up to what we call Augmented Reality today was an immersive multi-sensory device developed by cinematographer Morton Heilig in 1961. This device had features similar to a huge arcade game, but it could also play stereo sounds and vibrate.
Then in 1974, Myron Krueger, a computer artist developed what he called an “artificial reality” laboratory. It was named Videoplace. With further development, Videoplace had the technology of image recognition, analysis as well as reaction, all in real time. This proved the possibility of combining live video images with virtual/graphical images. Based on all these inventions and ideas, Thomas Caudell, a Boeing researcher, coined the term “augmented reality” in 1990 in order to describe the head-mounted digital displays electricians used for guidance while working on complicated wirings in aircrafts.
Augmented Reality today and its future
Even though the technology of AR has been around for years, only recently it became mainstream with the mobile game Pokemon Go. In the game, players can catch Pokemon characters which pop up in different places in the real world through their phone screens – outside your house, in the mall or even your own bedroom. Another example of AR is Snapchat filters. So, uses of AR though smartphones in our everyday lives may be more common than you think.
There are even apps that use AR technology to let you identify your car in crowded parking spaces, shopping apps that allow you to virtually try clothes and accessories without having to step out of your house, apps that provide information about certain sites in real time while you point your camera at that site, as well as AR apps that enhance navigation by overlaying a route over a live view of a road.
There are also some industrial and professional uses for AR which includes:
- Using AR to project 3D image of a brain by neurosurgeons so that surgeries will be more accurate
- The use of AR for drawing lines of football fields, so broadcasters can analyze and illustrate plays
- Ground crew at some airports like Singapore wear Augmented Reality glasses for real-time digital information on cargo containers, effectively cutting down loading times
- Fighter pilots in the military make use of AR to see a projection of their speed, altitude and other crucial data on their helmet visor
The technology of augmented reality is only getting bigger, with many tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook investing by the billions and battling with each other to be the pioneer in AR. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has even called it “the next computing platform”, while Apple has recently launched its Apple AR Kit earlier this year.