What is augmented reality (AR)?

Glossary What is augmented reality (AR)?

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that overlays virtual information such as text, graphics, and audio onto our natural environment in real-time. By merging the digital and physical worlds, AR creates an immersive experience, enabling interaction with real-world and 3D virtual items.

How does augmented reality work?

Augmented reality is primarily achieved through devices equipped with cameras and sensors, such as smartphones, tablets, or specialized AR glasses. Here's a breakdown of how AR works:

  1. Detection and recognition: AR technology uses the device’s camera to identify specific markers or objects in the physical world. This can range from simple geometric shapes to complex environments or even a user's face.
  2. Software processing: AR software analyzes the camera's recorded video stream after detecting an item or marker. This software can be advanced Software Development Kits (SDKs), such as Google's ARCore for Android and Apple's ARKit for iOS devices. These SDKs use the device's hardware—cameras, CPUs, and motion sensors—to understand its location and the configuration of its surroundings.
    • Apple ARKit, for example, uses Visual Inertial Odometry to track the device's movement and understand flat surfaces.
    • Google ARCore extends these capabilities across Android, enabling features such as motion tracking, environmental understanding, and light estimation to create shared AR experiences.
  3. Digital overlay: Once the environment and object positions are identified, the AR technology overlays digital elements such as 3D models, animations, or text onto the real-world view captured by the camera.

Real-time adjustment: As the user or device moves, AR software uses data from sensors such as depth sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and light sensors to instantly adjust the position and orientation of the digital content. This ensures that virtual elements remain aligned with the real world.

What are the types of augmented reality?

The most common types of augmented reality include:

Marker-based AR: This method uses visual cues like QR codes or barcodes. A device's camera identifies these to overlay digital information on the screen. It requires distinct markers within the camera's view for accurate positioning of virtual objects.

Markerless AR: Unlike marker-based AR, markerless AR doesn't depend on specific visual markers. It utilizes the device's camera, motion sensors, and technologies like GPS to recognize environmental features and place 3D objects in the real world. Advanced depth-sensing technologies and machine learning algorithms enable more accurate and lifelike placements of digital content. Markerless AR is divided into the following four types:

  • Location-based AR
  • Projection AR
  • Contour-based AR
  • Overlay AR
Image showing the different types of augmented reality

What is the difference between augmented, virtual, mixed, and extended reality?

Augmented reality (AR): AR technology overlays digital information like images, text, and animations onto the real world. It is viewed through devices such as smartphones, tablets, or AR glasses.

Virtual reality (VR): VR immerses users in a completely digital environment, isolating them from the real world. This is achieved through VR headsets, offering a 360-degree virtual experience.

Mixed reality (MR): MR is a blend of AR and VR, where digital and real objects can coexist and interact in real-time. MR headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, allow users to interact with digital objects placed in their real-world environment. Unlike AR, MR enables direct interaction between digital and physical elements.

Extended reality (XR): XR is an umbrella term that encompasses AR, VR, MR, and any future technologies that merge digital and physical realities. It serves as a central hub for immersive technologies, blurring the lines between real and simulated worlds.

AR in mobile apps

Augmented reality has transformed user engagement in verticals such as gaming, retail, and education by creating immersive, interactive experiences. Games like Pokémon Go blend virtual characters with real-world environments, while retail apps enable customers to visualize products in their homes before purchase. In education, AR makes complex subjects more tangible and engaging.

Despite challenges like device compatibility and content creation, the use of AR in mobile apps continues to grow due to technological advancements and inventive application by developers. This innovative tool is entertaining and offers practical solutions in daily tasks and professional settings, making it a valuable feature in mobile apps.

Artificial intelligence and augmented reality

Artificial Intelligence (AI) significantly improves augmented reality in mobile apps by making them more interactive, tailored, and efficient. AI allows AR apps to provide immersive experiences based on individual user behaviors and preferences, boosting engagement and user satisfaction. With AI-powered object recognition, these apps can accurately identify and interact with real-world objects in real-time.

AI enhances the data processing capabilities of AR apps, facilitating the quick interpretation of complex information. This improves app performance and speeds up decision-making. AI also provides advanced security measures in AR apps, protecting user data from potential threats and ensuring a secure user experience. The combination of AI and AR is leading to innovation in mobile apps, offering users more advanced and seamless experiences.

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