We all grew up imagining endless possibilities of the technology we live with. Naturally upon growing up, we come to the realization that said technology does have its limits; however, the silver lining is that we have not reached them yet. Augmented reality is one of those tech capabilities that is still awe-inspiring to many, but often misunderstood by nearly everyone. I would like to take a moment to clear up those misunderstandings by introducing you to the basics.
What is AR?
Let’s begin with a simple definition. Augmented reality, or AR, is an interactive experience that involves projecting computer-generated images into real-world environments when viewed through some medium. That medium can be a smartphone or more advanced headset device like HoloLens. The difference between AR and VR is VR takes you into an entirely virtually created world through a headset like goggles, completely separate from your real-world surroundings. AR, through your smartphone screen or a headset, projects images into your immediate real-world surroundings.
AR appears like an overlay, but with a degree of reality that is quite shocking when first experienced. So it is adding virtual elements to our physical surroundings, allowing us to “interact” with them in a cursory way. AR’s popularity has grown as of late due to advancements in hardware that make it more accessible and realistic to develop. What was once an amusing parlor trick, is now reality with modern technology and the race has begun to leverage it in digital products!
How it works?
In order for AR to properly work, it must first be able to capture and analyze the user’s immediate surroundings. Now obviously a key thing it must capture is live images, but beyond this, it also relies on data such as gyroscopes, proximity sensors, and so much more. The two main types of AR are Marker-based and Marker-less.
Marker-based AR uses image recognition software to place objects correctly. The device runs off a preprogrammed object list in order to identify surrounding objects and subsequently use them as markers for virtual object placement. Using a device’s camera set in grayscale, the device can learn first, match that data with its internal programmed data, then accurately crunch the numbers to place afterwards. You can imagine this type is extremely useful for design in an office setting where the surroundings are set and relatively unchanging.
Marker-less AR is more intricate as the device will not use a single point to focus on for placement. The device instead recognizes in real-time objects in the surrounding area as they appear, the algorithm searches for patterns, colors, similar features and so on in accordance with GPS, accelerometer, and even time to determine where to place the object. This type of AR is needed for a dynamic setting where they are constantly changing. Imagine wearing AR capable glasses that displayed AR objects for directions in real-time as you drive or ride your bicycle.
One of the key undeniable advantages is the technology’s ability to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, and enhance the user’s perception of reality. This aids the user in understanding complex information and systems, visualizing concepts and solving problems. Imagine what the chalkboard did for the standard classroom, now apply AR in the classroom and imagine all that which teachers and students could do.
AR truly shines in its ability to simplify things for the user. People understand so much more when we can see it in real-life, directly in front of us in beautiful 3D. It doesn’t have to be real as in you can touch it, naturally that helps, but the image alone is powerful and when placed into our reality with AR, it speaks volumes to us. Previous things that required overly complicated explanations and/or computer modeling, can now be rendered in our environment with AR delivering a level of learning and understanding that is unmatched.
Therefore, it is natural that this technology is already seeing strong uptake in the medical and healthcare field, manufacturing field and engineering. These industries are uniquely positioned to leverage the technology to advance their services and products. This is the nature of revolutionary tech and AR represents exactly that.
My thoughts herein would not be complete if I did not point out the clear challenges AR technology faces. With all new advancements in tech, there is always a cost barrier to developing it; the R&D investment has to be weighed against the ROI meticulously before diving in. This is before you even begin to consider the challenges related to the technology and limitations of current hardware and software.
For example, the tracking and calibration required for marker-less AR to create the virtual material accurately in the real surrounding environment is mind-boggling. The business value to a specific industry is key and can be developed directly for those as many are static environments, but for those with dynamic, ever-changing surroundings, things become more convoluted.
AR has seemingly boundless potential that is only limited by one’s imagination, and the realities of development costs sadly. However, as with many technology advancements, as things develop further into the B2B market, they will begin to permeate the B2C market in small doses until eventually the development cost is adequately outweighed by the ROI. Just as with cell phones, I think we will see a time in the near future when AR becomes much more widespread and accessible due to the technology’s rapid advancement and deep potential.
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