Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on the user's view of the real world. This is achieved through the use of a smartphone, a dedicated headset (or smartglasses) or a projector system.
Often confused with...
VR (Virtual Reality) - where the computer entirely replaces the view that a users will see, using a dedicated head mounted display.
MR (Mixed Reality) - AR and MR are often used loosely for the same thing. Originally, AR was not aware of the surroundings, and MR allowed programmers to lock graphics to objects, or obscure them. However, as AR is developing further, the boundaries are really blurring and the terms are typically interchangeable.
How it's done
Using a combination of sensors and cameras, the user's viewpoint, location and movement are tracked and the computer generates the images accordingly. Objects appear as if they are actually in the user's view.
Simple versions simply float information in the image (for instance on some context-driven advertising).
More advanced versions understand the layout of the real-world location and objects will react to this data, disappearing behind walls, or appearing to stick to surfaces such as a table. This was originally the USP of MR, rather than AR, but as described previously, they are becoming one in the same.
Who is doing it ?
Apple have developed ARKit which will launch with IOS11 and allows the latest generation of iOS devices to run AR application. Google have developed ARCore which enables AR on the Android Nougat and Oreo, assuming you have a device with a decent processor and RAM. Mobile AR will drive significant adoption and public awareness.
Microsoft have developed Hololens which is marketed as a Mixed Reality holographic solution. Dell and Asus have licensed this technology and will be launching their own versions of "Windows Mixed Reality Headsets".
There are many application and development studios specializing in developing AR. We expect a huge influx of applications in October when ARKit and ARCore hit the market.
What are the applications ?
Medical; training, visualizations, surgical procedures, augmented MRI/X-Ray, instrumentation
Advertising, marketing, promotion
Retail, point-of-sale, merchandising, personalization
Field-service, maintenance and repair
Sport; spectators, sport-science
Travel, hospitality, leisure
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