Many people know about Virtual Reality (VR) and — pardon the pun — can easily visualize what it is, and how it works. However, its lesser-known sister technology — Augmented Reality (AR) — is just as fascinating, with applications across industries such as education, manufacturing, medicine, and more. In fact, you’ve probably used AR without even thinking about it.
In this article, we discuss the basics of AR, answer some common questions, and discuss where this technology is heading.
Augmented Reality 101
AR combines the “real world” and the virtual world. Essentially, AR takes the real world and enhances it through the use of computer-generated perceptual information or virtual overlays.
Let’s dig a bit deeper with an example. Let’s say you’re considering shelling out big for a new sofa for your living room. You’ve found a model you really like online and taken measurements. It seems like it will fit your space, but there’s no surefire way to tell, and it’s a lot of money to pay if it turns out to be a bad match.
That’s where AR comes in. The furniture company has made a smartphone application where you can view the sofa virtually in your living room. Through the app, the phone can capture your present physical environment (in this case, your living room) through cameras and sensors. Next, the software collects and processes this information. The sofa will appear in real-time and can be placed in the location of your choosing.
So, to sum it all up? AR can help you decide if that green velvet Chesterfield is a must-have for your living room redo. This is just one example of how useful it can be – we cover how industries are using it later in the article.
What are the common components of AR?
There are several components that work together to deliver an immersive AR experience.
Cameras and sensors are used to capture the physical, or real-world, environment. This may also include depth and light sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. They are used to measure distance, direction, speed, angle, etc.
Software such as a smartphone application. The information collected by the cameras and/or sensors is then delivered to the software for processing. This software also makes AR accessible to the user.
An operating system to power the AR process.
A digital twin can be used to create a 3D digital version of the object(s) in the cloud and to bridge the gap between the real and virtual worlds.
Lens or viewing platform so you can see the augmented content laid over your physical environment.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to provide a more immersive experience with AR – allowing users to manipulate objects through voice or touch, for example.
How is AR different from VR?
It’s not uncommon to hear the terms AR, virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and artificial intelligence (AI) tossed around in the same sentence. However, each of these types of technology is very different from the others.
Virtual Reality: There’s no real world here. Virtual reality takes you into a whole new world through the use of a headset or head-mounted display. You can interact with this digital environment through voice, touch, and gestures.
Mixed Reality: Like AR, virtual reality combines real and digital worlds. You can manipulate and interact with objects in both worlds at the same time through sensing and imaging technologies.
AI: AI is the simulation of processes and tasks typically associated with human intelligence by machines, such as computer systems and robots.
How new is AR? (Hint: It’s older than you think)
AR has been around for a while – since 1968, to be exact. The technology was developed by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland at Harvard. This is the same guy who pioneered computer graphics if his name rings a bell!
The first rendition of AR was in the form of a head-mounted display. From there, it was used primarily in industrial, military, aviation, and educational environments.
The actual term “augmented reality” wasn’t coined until 1990 by Boeing researcher and scientist Thomas P. Caudell. Caudell invented the term during the development of the Boeing 747 when considering the concept of a screen that could guide workers during the assembly of the aircraft.
The concept didn’t come to fruition, but the term sure stuck around!
In 2012, AR became more mainstream when Google unveiled its optical head-mounted display, Google Glass. While the augmented reality glasses didn’t quite take off as the tech giant had hoped, they definitely brought the concept of AR to the masses.
Things took off again during the summer of 2016. If you think back to those hazy, summer days, you might recall everyone seemed to come down with a fever for capturing little creatures crawling around neighborhoods, parks, and outside businesses.
That’s right – we’re talking about Pokémon GO, the massively popular mobile game. To date, Pokémon GO has grossed over $6 billion in revenue. While the initial craze has died down, 8 million people still log in daily to catch ‘em all.
From heads-up displays (HUDs) to augmented reality glasses and mobile apps, AR has taken many forms since its original development in 1968.
5 Examples of Cool Augmented Reality Apps
We talked about Pokémon GO, but rest assured, there are plenty of AR apps worth your time that don’t involve hunting down fictional creatures.
Snapchat: If you’ve never tried this social media app – or it’s been a while since you’ve given it a spin – you’re missing out on its AR and AI features. You can do everything from donning some cat-eye-shaped glasses to trying on the latest Puma sneakers.
HoloLens: For the enterprise AR experience, HoloLens is where it’s at. Microsoft’s holographic device is integrated with enterprise applications so you can complete tasks, collaborate, and innovate more accurately.
Just a Line: Love to doodle? You’ll love drawing with Just a Line. You can make simple drawings over a physical environment with just your finger and then share with friends through video. You can also collaborate with other doodlers in real-time.
Mission to Mars: Pardon our “dad joke,” but the Mission to Mars app is truly out of this world. Thanks to AR, you can explore and learn more about the Red Planet, watch a rocket launch, and step foot on the fourth planet from the Sun.
IKEA Place: IKEA might ask you to assemble your own furniture, but they will help you imagine what their pieces look like in your own home. Through what the flat-pack retailer calls “camera-first experiences,” you can furnish your spaces with just a simple tap.
What Is the Future of Augmented Reality?
The AR market is currently valued at approximately $3.5 billion, with projections that revenue could reach $340 billion by 2028. While the origins of AR lie primarily in industrial and manufacturing environments, the technology is now a permanent fixture in commercial campaigns. Most AR users are 16 to 34 years old, a prime market for retailers. It’s no wonder then that 67% of media planners and buyers want to leverage AR/VR advertising in campaigns.
AR in Tourism and Travel
One of the top industries for the future of AR is tourism and travel. Hotels and tour companies are giving travelers a taste of what their experience could be like through interactive AR elements. For example, the Hub Hotel by Premier Inn in the United Kingdom uses AR to highlight local attractions for guests. Guests simply use their smartphone to capture a physical map in their hotel room and then can explore places of interest.
How AR Fits Into Healthcare
The healthcare industry is another growing field for AR. The technology can help physicians provide a higher level of care and operate with greater precision. Neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins University performed the institution’s first two AR surgeries on living patients in June 2020. During the first surgery, physicians used AR to fuse three vertebrae by placing six screws in the patient’s spine during a spinal fusion surgery. The technology was also used to remove a chordoma, a type of cancerous surgery, from a patient’s spine.
AR in the Classroom
Of course, understanding AR (from how to use it to how to develop it) starts with education. The immersive technology can be used everywhere from elementary to higher ed environments. According to Maryville University, AR has several benefits for students, including the development of multisensory experiences, collaborative learning environments, and memorable interactive stories. One crowd-pleaser for the elementary set is the app Dinosaur 4D+. Students of all ages can learn more about the prehistoric beasts through a 360-degree view and the accompanying Dinosaurs4D+ flashcards. (iOS, Android).
Distance learning isn’t going away, and educators can use AR to improve the learning experience for their students no matter where they are. With CoSpaces, educators can create interactive media content for existing lesson plans.
Artistic Expression Through AR
The visual element of AR lends itself well to artistic mediums and experiences. The San Diego Museum of Art brings art to life through AR. The museum’s SDMA app allows visitors to point their smartphone cameras at selected works to enhance their learning experience. Artists themselves are tapping into AR to create new worlds through the fusion of physical and digital elements. Susi Vetter, a German AR artist, creates virtual masks, digital collages, and psychedelic doodles.
How to get involved in AR Development
We’ve talked about where AR is going, but what if you want to get in on the ground level?
Whether you’re just getting started with AR or are already deep in creating your own applications of the immersive technology, here are some of the AR solutions you should check out.
Adobe Aero: Adobe Aero is an augmented reality authoring and publishing tool available on iOS with public beta versions on macOS and Windows. This Creative Cloud tool allows users to create AR experiences by making assets created in other Adobe apps – no coding or 3D design experience needed.
Tvori: Tvori allows you to create AR and VR prototypes, applications, and even animated films. This software is popular due to its ease of entry and budget-friendly cost; the intuitive interface and extensive library help users learn as they go. The XR tool is also a fan favorite amongst teams due to its collaborative setup.
Vuforia Engine: Vuforia Engine is synonymous with AR. The SDK can be used to build 3D product demos, as well as AR android, iOS, UWP apps for smartphones, and even AR smart glasses. Over one million developers use Vuforia Engine, but you can also tap into Vuforia Studio to create AR experiences without programming experience.
Unity 3D: Unity3D isn’t just for building video games. The platform is also widely popular for developing AR and VR experiences. Case in point, over 91% of Hololens and 64% of mobile AR apps are made with Unity. Like Tvori, it contains a library of 2D and 3D designs that can be imported into your project.
ARCore: Google entered the AR scene early on, so it’s no surprise that its AR software is one of the top options for creators and developers. ARCore, or Google Play Services for AR, is an SDK that allows for the development of AR applications.
If you’re interested in learning more about AR, you’re in the right place. Pluralsight offers a beginner’s course on getting started with AR. Once you’re ready to dive a bit deeper into development, try our Unity Engine with Vuforia learning path.