What is Augmented Reality Technology and How does AR Works?

Augmented reality is widely used and more accessible extended reality technologies available in the market. Because you can access AR over your smartphone. Various AR based apps (snap chat, pokemon go, IKEA Furniture) are improving user buying, education and gaming experience. In this article we will discuss What is Augmented Reality?  AR types, applications and how does AR works?

Augmented Reality bridges the gap between the real and virtual world by bringing the elements of the virtual world into the real world. In AR computer generated images are superimposed on the real world. Therefore it enhances user experience by enhancing the way we see, listen and feel the virtual world.

Augmented reality is different from virtual reality because it superimposes digital information on top of the real environment. As a result both real and virtual words co-exists. Whereas Virtual reality isolates a user from real environment and brings them to simulated environments. This is achieved by wearing fully immersive VR devices.

How does AR Works?

AR utilizes Computer Vision, simultaneous localization, mapping, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to superimpose virtual world onto the real world. Where computer vision (camera) is used to create an outside environment. And afterwards digital information such as a label, image or video is placed on top of the real world.

Augmented Reality works by overlaying virtual world onto the real world.
Working of AR

As shown in the above image, Augmented reality android apps overlay digital images on top of the real world. Where the camera first captures the image of the real world (In this case a white paper). After that an image is superimposed onto the real world.

Types of Augmented Reality

According to how users interact with AR and how digital information is superimposed on the real world. Following four types of augmented reality technologies are available.

  1. Marker Based AR
  2. Superimposed AR
  3. Location based AR
  4. Projection based AR
1. Marker Based Augmented Reality

In Marker based AR, to connect the digital world with the real world visual markers are added in the real world. Visual markers can be an image or QR code. Popcode and Google Lens are the examples of marker based augmented reality apps.

Working of Google Lens

Here are the application examples of marker based AR.

  • Service engineers can get product installation and maintenance guidelines by scanning products on mobile AR apps.
  • Google lens is used for image based searches. For example, users can search Landmark or product information on google lens.
  • A user can get digital information in a book by pointing a mobile camera to a visual marker. AR apps recognize visual markers and animation starts immediately.
2. Superimposition based AR

In MarkerLess or Superimposition AR, digital information such as images or virtual objects are superimposed on the physical world. Users can move virtual objects in real word.

Following are the examples of Markerless Augmented Reality apps.

this image shows the example of a superimposed based Augmented Reality
IKEA Marketplace App (Superimposed AR)

For example, IKEA AR based mobile application is used to visualize virtual furniture inside your house. This improves user shopping experience. Snap chat Lenses, Filters and effects is also an example of marker-less AR.

3. Location-Based Augmented Reality

Location based AR utilizes GPS, digital compass and accelerometer to provide data based on user location.

Here are the examples of Location based augmented reality apps.

This image shows example of location based augmented reality
Google Maps AR Feature

Following are the application examples of Location based AR.

  • Used for mapping, direction finding, nearby businesses tourist/ local guide, shopping centers and other location-centric mobile apps. 
  • Recently google integrated AR feature in google maps. AR mode works  during walking navigation. You can markup building streets and get more details about them.
4. Projection Based Augmented Reality

Projection based AR works by projecting light on real surfaces and then sensing the human interaction such as touch by differentiating between expected and altered projection.

This image shows an example of projection type of augmented reality.

It is also used to simplify the complex manual tasks during product manufacturing and assembly. It replaces paper based work instructions by creating digital operating canvas on any work space. Interactive hologram is one of the examples of projection based AR.

Augmented Reality Devices

Augmented reality devices can be classified in following categories.

  1. Heads-Up or HUD Display
  2. Smart Glass
  3. Holographic Display
  4. Smartphones
1. Heads Up Display
Fighter Plane HUD Display
HUD Display For CAR

Heads up display is a type of AR device that is used to show complex information in a relatively smaller area. In this user can see the displayed information and interact with the real environment. For example in a fighter plane, complete flight data is displayed in front of the pilot and at the same time he interacts with plane consoles.

2. Smart Glasses
HTC VIVE Focus Plus
Google Glass Enterprise Edition

Augmented reality smart glasses are used to provide user information on top of the real world. These AR glasses are classified in two categories.

  1. Optical See Through Smart Glass: These AR devices consist of a clear glass and information is projected on that clear glass. e.g. Google Glass
  2. Smart Glasses with Camera: These AR devices utilize a camera to get the information on the real world. Afterwards real world information merged with virtual information and displayed on the screen. eg. HTC Vive Headset with camera.
3. Holographic Display
This image shows projection based type of augmented reality.

Holographic displays do not require users to wear any device. Required information is displayed in 3D space. Holographic display is a projection based augmented reality.

4. Smartphone (Handheld AR)

AR apps such as AR PokemonAR CityBlippar Urban Visual Positioning, google Map, Popcode and Google Lens can be installed on mobile apps. Therefore users can get AR apps experience on smartphone as well.

Real Life applications of Augmented Reality

AR is not only limited to the entertainment industry. Following are some applications of AR in various industries.

1. Augmented Reality in Healthcare

AR applications are used to train medical professionals. In this way they learn to handle critical patients and situations. Therefore surgeons can train themselves in virtual environments.

2. Entertainment and Gaming Industry

AR based gaming apps such as Pokemon Go and SnapChat improve user experience when it combines virtual world with real world.

3. Education Industry

AR apps are helping students in learning difficult concepts. By sitting in the classroom students can visit historical places.

4. Retail Industry

Retail industries such as IKEA are utilizing AR to improve user experience. For example, before buying a customer can experience products in their room or office. 

5. Real-Estate Sector

Real-Estate sector companies are using augmented reality technology to showcase property to their customers before actually building them.

6. In Military

Air-force Fighter pilots get all required information such as altitude, speed data on heads up display.

To sum up, AR brings the elements of the virtual world into the real world. It enhances the user experience by the way we see, listen and feel. AR has applications from education, design manufacturing to entertainment industry. We suggest you also read this article on the difference between extended reality technologies AR vs VR vs MR.

We will keep adding more information on What is Augmented Reality and How does AR works? Please add your suggestions, comments or questions in the comment box.

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