The sky is blue. The grass is green. AR (augmented reality) is the next big thing. It’s not all around us yet, but it’s rapidly extending its reach as new implementations surface. This technology places intangible objects alongside real-world ones, with the combo of a headset or mobile device’s camera, sensors, and a specially-crafted app making this whole magic come alive in real time.
So what is AR technology? No, it’s not the same as VR (virtual reality). With AR, you take a shallower dive into an imaginary world and see virtual elements integrated with real entities, whereas VR offers a simulation of the entire experience. The lower depth of immersion isn’t on the minus side of augmented reality – instead, it makes the technology one-of-a-kind. Let’s see how AR came to be and what makes it more than a buzzword.
The term made its debut in 1990, when engineers at Boeing plants started using augmented reality headsets to visualize wiring instructions, and the outcome shaped up to be revolutionary. Augmented reality has since evolved into a much more sophisticated, affordable technology.
AR made the biggest first move into the mainstream with the emergence of Google Glass in 2013. Although this project didn’t live up to the ambitions, it proved that AR could be a product for the general public, and the “glasses” challenge was taken up by the arguably more successful HoloLens from Microsoft in 2016.
Nowadays, the average smartphone supports heavy AR apps. Samsung’s AR Emoji, Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore, and the once viral Pokemon GO mobile game – all of these are paving the way for far-reaching adoption of AR.
The mechanics of AR
Augmented reality works by identifying what’s called “markers” or by determining the geographic location of a device. In the former scenario, the marker can be a two-dimensional QR code or any real-world entity that the software can recognize based on predefined characteristics. When a sensor spots and scans such an object, the AR app overlays the surroundings with a digital 3D image on the screen.
The geolocation-based technique can build AR experiences regardless of the place, so it’s more universal and common. It engages GPS module and sensors built into a device, such as a gyroscope and an accelerometer, to determine the whereabouts and orientation details accurately. Then, the application generates data appropriate for this location and embeds it amidst the scene. The above two approaches are often combined to offer an advanced AR journey.
Beyond the “wow” effect
Some people might say, “It’s fun, but what’s the big deal?” In fact, AR use cases span way more than gaming and entertainment. Automotive, military, healthcare, education, telecommunications, retail, real estate, tourism, advertising – you name it. The list of industries already employing the technology goes on and on, but there is still so much room for progress.
Among other things, it helps businesses enhance customer experience. A few interesting examples include the virtual makeup visualization tool by Sephora, Yelp’s Monocle app reflecting details on local businesses and places your friends checked in to, and the Kabaq food preview app.
What does the future hold? The global AR market is predicted to grow to $198 billion by 2025, and the mobile-first essence, inexpensive sensors, and a limitless range of potential uses make augmented reality a nearly ubiquitous technology that’s likely to overshadow its more famous VR counterpart.