What is Augmented Reality?

Overview

Augmented reality(AR) can be described as the use of technology to overlay information on the real world that we can see. It is akin to virtual reality, but it aims at replicating the real-life environment on a computer. For instance, it superimposes sounds and images over what a user hears or sees. A good example of augmented reality and its defining concept of interactivity is what can be observed in the ‘Ironman’ movies.

Development

To many of us, augmented reality may appear to be very futuristic technology, but this may not be entirely true. Technology that applies some form of augmented reality has been with us for some years now. Looking back to the 90s,a lot of fighter aircraft were equipped with heads-up displays that displayed information pertaining to the plane’s altitude, speed and direction.Later, the displays were improved to show the pilot which objects appearing in the viewing field were to be considered targets.

 

Even further back in 1965,Ivan Sutherland of the University of Utah and a pioneering computer scientist gave a description of a wearable gadget that used a head-mounted display unit that employed half-silvered mirrors which allowed the wearer to view a virtual world that was overlaid on the real world. Three years later, he demonstrated his idea, and it was nicknamed the ‘Sword of Damocles’.

Over the last couple of years, a number of companies and tech labs have attempted to design devices that provide users with augmented reality. In 2009, Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a device called the SixthSense. It hangs from the chest of the user and it uses a tiny projector, a mirror and a smartphone. There are four sensors on the fingers of the user through which they can manipulate the images that are projected by the device.

In 2013,Google Glass was rolled by Google, turn

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ing the focus of augmented reality towards the more wearable interface of glasses. The device features a small screen on the lens through which a small projector displays images. It responds to voice commands and superimposes videos, images and sounds on the screen. However, the device was pulled from the market in December 2015- but plans are underway to design a new version.

Applications

In the recent past, various augmented reality applications have been developed for a number of industries. This has been helped by the increase in the popularity of smart devices and the general advancement in computing technology. This means the technology has immense potential in the consumer world of today. Education and gaming are two major areas that have experienced a lot of commercial growth in augmented reality. PlayStation and Xbox, the major video game consoles have incorporated augmented reality features in their last two generations of consoles.

In education and medicine,augmented reality using 3D models is being applied to enable better understand human anatomy or even help in surgery using infrared scanning imagery. In the military, heads-up displays can view information that is tagged onto real world objects.
Mobile phones like the iPhone have apps that enable users to view computer generated images that are overlaid on real life images. For instance there is an app that can help you locate a restaurant by displaying restaurant logos as you move in a specific direction.

The future

The cost and size of the basic apparatus needed for augmented reality such as computers, cameras and connectivity is reducing. At the same time their accuracy, resolution and speed is increasing rapidly. This means we are headed to an era where wearable computers will become a trendy accessory, helping to mediate our interaction between the digital and analog worlds.

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