Augmented Reality (AR): The Concept and Its Working
When you flip through the pages of any IT magazine that talks about futuristic technologies, you would have come across many terms that left you wondering about their meanings and functioning. Some such terms include superimposition, haptic communication, Augmented Reality, head mounted gears and displays, smart glasses, Virtual Reality (VR), mobile computing etc. As the list of digital trends keeps increasing, you feel worried about how to catch up with them all.
For many of us, AR or VR or related technologies are abstractive or outlandish technologies with which we are still not familiar. These technologies we have only seen in sci-fi movies of Hollywood and are yet to experience in real life. But, the fact is that virtual 3D models, immersive displays with interactivity features, animated holograms etc. are not figments of imagination but things that do exist. In this article, we have discussed about the features of augmented reality, which would help you gain an in-depth insight on the subject.
AR is a technological breakthrough which facilitates expansion of the physical word through addition of digital information layers over it. It is different from VR which creates the complete artificial ambience for replacing real world with a virtual replica. By inserting video, sound, multimedia elements, graphics etc. into the existing environment, AR leverages its views. The superimposition of CGI (Computer generated imagery) over the real world or physical environment’s view with the intent of modifying and enhancing the reality perception is called AR.
The term AR was phrased in 1990 and the technology was first used commercially for military and television shows. As smartphones and internet became more accessible, the next phase of AR was unveiled for offering heightened interactivity. Different augmented reality apps are being used for impacting our lifestyle, usage patterns, entertainment etc. wherein direct projection of 3D models on physical objects for their real-time fusion are changing our perceptions.
The digital animation is particularly connected by AR apps to a specialized ‘marker’. The GPS embedded in smartphones are also used for pinpointing specific locations. Augmentation takes place in real time in the context of the specific event being focused upon. While watching live cricket match, you must have observed scores or stats being overlaid on the ground. This is a typical example of AR.
Working of the Augmented Reality Technology
We are often interested in understanding about the technical aspect of the functioning of Augmented Reality. To enable AR features, data from pictures, videos, animations and 3D models is used. The results can be displayed in natural as well artificial perspectives. While viewing AR results, you would stay aware of the real-world features which is made possible by computer vision. This feature is missing in VR.
For displaying AR results, you can use glasses, handheld systems, smartphones, screens, head-gears or other suitable devices. Advanced technologies such as ‘simultaneous localization and mapping (S.L.A.M.)’ and depth tracking are used. For tracking depth, data from sensor is used to calculate the distance to the targets.
Other components are also used in AR. They include:
- Cameras & sensors
These are used for gathering information about interactions by users so that the same can be sent for processing. The surroundings are scanned by cameras mounted on devices. The info collected is used by AR devices for locating physical objects and generating 3D models. Images or videos can be captured using cameras that come installed in smartphones or special purpose cameras such as Microsoft Hololens.
Augmented reality devices essentially function as small computers just like contemporary smartphones. Processors are used in them for measuring speed, orientation in particular direction, angle and other parameters. Processing is done using CPU, GPU, RAM, flash memory, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other elements.
To facilitate proper viewing of the virtual images by human eyes, AR devices come installed with mirrors. Some devices have a number of miniature curved mirrors installed in them while others have double sided mirrors on them for reflecting light to the cameras and human eyes. The reflection paths are built for aligning the created images properly.
Different Augmented Reality Types
- Marker Based
This AR type is also known as image recognition based AR as specialized visual object is needed which would be scanned by a camera. The marker can be printed QR code, particular sign or anything. The marker’s location and orientation are also calculated by the AR device for positioning the content. This happens in certain cases. Digital animations are initiated by the marker for viewing by users. As such, magazine images may suddenly get transformed into 3D models when markers are triggered.
This AR type is also called position based or location based AR. Data about the location of user is provided by compass, accelerometer, GPS and gyroscope. The data is used for assessing the type of AR content available in a particular area. When viewed over the smartphone, this AR type usually generates maps, directions, info about businesses in the locality etc. Different applications consist of pop-ups about business ads, support for navigation, information about events etc.
- Projection Based
In this AR type, synthetic light is projected on to the physical surfaces. In certain cases, the light is allowed to interact with the surface. The AR effect is in the form of holograms which we have come across in Star Wars and other science fiction films. User interaction with the projection is detected by modifications in positions.
- Superimposition Based
Over here, the original view is replaced with complete or partial augmented reality. The concept revolves wholly around object recognition. In the IKEA catalog app, the model of superimposed AR is visible. Users are allowed to position virtual substitutes of furniture in the room within catalog.
Devices For Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality is supported by different contemporary devices. AR technologies are continuously evolving for handheld devices, smartphones, tablets, Google Glass and similar gadgets.
AR hardware or devices process and project images with cameras, GPU, CPU, sensors, accelerometer, digital compass, gyroscope etc.
Augmented reality can be experienced using different devices as discussed below.
- Mobile Devices
These include tablets and smartphones on which AR related mobile apps can be run seamlessly and conveniently. You can avail of different AR functionalities for games, entertainment purpose, sports, social networks, business analytics etc.
- Specialized AR Devices
These devices are manufactured mainly and only for experiencing augmented reality. The HUD (Head-Up Displays) is a typical example of this. Data is sent directly to a transparent display for viewing by user. The devices were initially used for training military pilots of fighter planes. These devices are now used in automotive, aviation, production, sports and other industries.
- Smart AR Glasses
Such glasses include Meta 2 Glasses, Google Glass, See-Thru from Laster, AR eyewear from Laforge and others. Notifications can be displayed by the glasses directly from user’s phone. They can assist workers on assembly line by displaying content in hands free mode.
- Smart Lenses
The AR contact lenses take AR experience to the next level. AR lenses are being developed by Samsung, Sony and other manufacturers. In the case of Samsung, these lenses are being developed for accessorizing their smartphones. Sony, in contrast, is developing the lenses as standalone AR device which would facilitate capturing images and data storage.
- VRD or Virtual Retinal Displays
Images are created by these displays through projection of laser light directly to human eyes. The images are high resolution, bright and in high contrast. The displays are still to be manufactured for practical purposes.
Applications of Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality finds useful application in different segments like
- Furniture Retailing
- Retail Business
- Healthcare and medicinal segments
- Jewelry manufacturing
Augmented Reality related software programs are being designed enthusiastically in recent years. After the release of products such as Google Glass, the attention on AR devices has been renewed. AR use case in simple context involves capturing the picture of a real-world object, making the underlying AR device to recognize a marker for triggering the addition of a virtual model atop the real-world picture for displaying on the camera’s screen.
In real world contexts, AR’s usage has many examples. Education domain can get a facelift with AR applications. Augmented reality technology apps are being designed for embedding pictures, textual content and videos on syllabus curriculums.
In the advertisement and printing sectors, apps are being developed which would be capable of displaying digital content atop topics in real world magazines.
AR would empower tourists to secure information about historical places in real time only by directing the viewfinder of cameras to the monuments.
Translation apps can be developed using AR for interpreting and translating texts in different languages to your native dialect.
AR apps are also being deployed for offering location based services. With respect to their current locations, users can secure relevant info about places in the vicinity. Info about places can be obtained and users can read the reviews posted by others.
Unity 3D Engine is being programmed for developing AR underpinned 3D games playable in real time.
How the Future Would Be Shaped By AR?
Advanced technologies and digital trends are surfacing up almost each day. Recently, Virtual reality had made steady inroads in different sectors. Out of all the modern technological advancements, AR is one technology which would continue to stay and would be an integral part of our daily lives. The existing ambience is used by AR for overlaying extra info atop that.
You can think about Pokemon Go, the game that had caused ripples online after its release. It is an example of AR experience. In the game, players are entrusted with fighting digital monsters. In social apps like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, filters are offered for overlaying animated pictures on top of audience’s faces.
You might be wondering about the future of AR and how it would be reshaping and transforming different industries. Industries stand to benefit a lot by availing of the developments in AR.
Uses of augmented reality technology in various industries
Working of AR Technology
- Real Estate Domain
All of us aspire to live in houses that have been meticulously designed and complement our lifestyle and preferences. Augmented Reality services have the potential to make this ambition come true. Computer generated imagery is interactively used by AR for allowing the buyers to visualize how the finished apartments would look life after completion of construction. From the perspective of real estate industry, this AR technology would allow transformation of 2D models like the property images and blueprints into 3D models to facilitate ease of interaction by buyers.
Properties can be displayed conveniently by real estate agents and property owners for offering buyers immersive experience. Also, the buyers would be empowered to change the color, furnishing, sizes of room, and other aspects for visualizing how the home design would look like from their customized perspectives. Since, AR allows to envision the finished property even before the construction work has been completed, it can be used to market properties conveniently
- Online Shopping
The convention style of shopping is gradually being replaced by online shopping. The uncertainty factor is still preventing some customers from believing on things sold online. With the help of AR, the shopping industry can be given a facelift which would motivate prospective buyers to engage in online shopping in better way. AR can allow consumers to view the products being shopped in very realistic way in the chosen environmental setting.
Marketers too can benefit by sharing product catalogs which carry recently updated information. Also, AR glasses can be provided at each retail shop or supermarket for enhancing the shopping experience. The glasses can be used for displaying info related to prices, designs, product specifications etc. to buyers during shopping. AR can change the shopping experience of buyers for sure.
- Travelling Industry
The uses of augmented reality can be seen in travel industry also. AR can complement the virtual reality which is already being used in the travel domain. Smartphones driven AR apps can be deployed for helping out tourists in checking and finding local attractions, best travel routes, and for translating signboards and other indicators written in foreign language to the tourist’s native dialect.
The travelling experience can be enhanced for tourists by making exploration and visit of local attractions, zoos, or other places more exciting with augmented reality to guide them. The 3D models of the attractions and landmarks can be displayed with the technology for showcasing to travelers the history of the place and its evolution with time. AR can also be used for educating the travelers about the particulars of place in better manner.
- Healthcare Industry
AR can also be used in healthcare industry as well as in pharma segment for saving the lives of patients. Already, virtual reality headsets are widely used for transporting patients to the realm of 3D non-existent world for relieving pain. AR technology can also be used by healthcare services providing organizations for making the existing processes more failsafe. Surgeons can use AR for gaining complete info about the risks that are inherent in minimally invasive surgeries so that they can carry the same out in more effective manner.
For conducting surgeries in early times, many types of monitoring devices were needed for displaying the vital statistics of patients with the help of an endoscopic camera. Instead of going through such hassles, surgeons can simply put on the AR powered smart glasses for displaying all the relevant information when carrying out the surgery. This would help doctors to concentrate on the operation in better manner.
- Educational Domain
The way children learn things and comprehend topics can be changed radically with the help of AR in educational sector. Immersive content can be created using this technology for helping students to learn the concepts in better manner. 3D models can be created for engaging students so that they can comprehend intricate info in easy way and can gain insights into topics in a wide perspective.
Not only in schools, museums as well as historical places are also incorporating AR technology for exhibiting things dynamically to visitors and educating them. The excitement of exploration is increased significantly as people can learn in exploratory manner. Since AR focuses on exploration more, the interest in students about learning and comprehending things becomes more. Educational industry can benefit from AR technology significantly.
The Way Forward
Augmented Reality has immense potential for reshaping various industry verticals. AR is exponentially growing as devices are progressively adapting to this latest technology. AR is bound to provide innumerable advantages which can dramatically change human interactions with surrounding environment. The AR technology can grow in standalone manner or in collaboration with artificial intelligence and virtual reality. As technology is advancing, the efficiency and quality of AR technology is also bound to grow.