Have you heard of the Pokémon Go craze? Or better yet, used Snapchat filters? Well, did you know that these mobile applications are based on augmented reality technology? Augmented reality is part of our daily lives, and it is here to stay! According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), AR is expected to achieve a compounded annual growth rate of 71.6%by 2022. So, what exactly is augmented reality, and what is its potential?
Augmented Reality Defined
To augment is to enhance or add something. Therefore, augmented reality refers to the process of adding touch feedback, sound, and graphics into our physical environment. Computer-generated images are superimposed on a user’s real-world views by utilizing complex algorithms to map and identify objects in the natural environment.
Wait, doesn’t this sound similar to Virtual Reality (VR)? Although AR and VR are based on similar concepts, the latter creates an entirely new and immersive reality rather than overlays over the natural environment – everything you hear and see is simulated. The Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets are some examples of VR devices.
How Augmented Reality Works
Augmented reality technology is not as complex as it sounds. It can be simplified into the basic computing interaction of input-processing-output.
- Input: Cameras and Sensors
The process of ‘augmenting’ reality starts with capturing and gathering data (depth, tilt, position, acceleration etc.) from the natural environment with cameras and sensors. Typically, real-time data is captured using your mobile device’s built-in camera or advanced devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens. After gathering the user’s interactions in the real world, the sensors transmit the data for processing and interpretation.
Your mobile phone and AR devices are basically small computers. They contain a global positioning system (GPS), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth microchip, RAM, flash memory, a GPU, a CPU, or even magnetometer (compass direction), gyroscope (tilt and orientation), and an accelerometer (speed). These components enable the devices to analyze and process the real-world input.
- Output: Projection
After information from the natural world is captured and analyzed, the AR device projects digital renderings (virtual output) onto the scene. These projections may display directly onto surfaces, multiple screens within a headset, or your smartphone screen.
In the example of mobile games and apps, the device’s camera is used to locate objects in the natural world, and transmit them to the application for processing. The application then overlays virtual content on top to provide interactive animations or information.
Did you know that augmented reality technology was invented as early as 1968? Yes, this innovative and futuristic technology was in existence before The Beatles broke up. The first AR technology was developed by a Harvard University professor, Ivan Sutherland. The massive headset was known as ‘The Sword of Damocles’ – as you can guess from the name, it was an intimidating contraption that was suspended from the ceiling.
Along the years, different sectors of the economy adopted and helped advance the technology. AR was used for industrial simulation, military, aviation tools, and even in the NFL. One of the most significant events in the history of augmented reality is the 2014 launch of Google Glass, which was the first commercial wearable AR device. Later on, Snapchat incorporated a geofilter feature that allowed users to add geographic-tagged graphics to their photos. Nowadays, AR is used by retailers, businesses, and millions of social media users.
Types of AR
Augmented reality can be classified into 5 broad categories depending on their use and characteristics. The list below is a brief overview of these categories.
- Projection-based AR: Virtual images are projected directly onto surfaces or objects. E.g. You could project functioning piano keys onto a table.
- Superimposition-based AR: A digital image entirely or partially replaces an object in the natural environment. E.g. An operating surgeon can use this type of AR to ‘superimpose’ a digital x-ray over a patient’s arm.
- Outlining AR: As the name suggests, outlining AR outlines shapes and boundaries such as landing strips, and roads to guide the driver in low light.
- Marker-based AR: This one the simplest and easiest to implement AR technology. It relies on triggers such as a QR code to display content.
- Markerless AR: Unlike the simplistic Marker-based AR, the Markerless AR uses the accelerometer, GPS, and camera to track the user’s location and display corresponding digital images.
Applicability of Augmented Reality
Snapchat and Pokémon Go are just a tip of the iceberg. The applicability of augmented reality goes far beyond mobile games and apps. Companies such as Immersive VR Technologies, which offer developmental services, continue to discover new and innovative ways of incorporating interactive content into our lives. Some revolutionary uses of AR include:
The consumer market is always changing and adapting. Gone are the days when you could drive sales with just a magazine advert or television broadcast. Statistics show that revenue from print advertising fell by 20% between 2013-2016, while digital advertising revenue increases by 35%. As technology advances and consumer tastes evolve, companies must adjust their marketing campaigns to gain a competitive edge. One way to attract and retain customers is through the implementation of AR in print advertising.
Picture a normal traditional print advertisement in your local newspaper (sounds boring and monotonous, right?) Now imagine if the ‘boring image’ could come to life in an interactive manner (audio blurb or video pop up) by simply scanning it with your smartphone – that is what AR offers.
- Industrial Application
AR is tipped to be a game changer in boosting production and efficiency in businesses through the emergence of industry 4.0 (smart manufacturing). The technology can be used to relay information to users in relation to the factory floor activities, data feeds on the status of equipment, and even provide real-time instructions to the staff. AR has recently captured the attention of market leaders such as Tesla, who filed a patent to use AR in their manufacturing facilities.
Gaming applications in augmented reality are rapidly growing thanks to portable and affordable computing systems. iOS and Android games such as Pokémon Go, Ghost Snap AR, AR Invaders, SpecTrek, and Ingress are a few mobile games that are gaining increased popularity due to their interactive nature.
Please Note, These applications as not conclusive. AR technology is continually expanding into different sectors such as healthcare, logistics, design, retail, tourism, education, and the entertainment industry. It is interesting to see what the future holds – just make sure you are part of this ‘augmented’ future.
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