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Augmented reality: Towards a new reality

By September 9, 2016April 17th, 2024No Comments
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The way we gather and process information is undergoing a profound change. According to us, augmented reality represents the next big step in this evolution.

While the internet is often credited with democratizing knowledge, AR takes it a step further. AR enriches our reality with real-time information. Thus, AR devices become tools that supplement our knowledge with up-to-date information perfectly tailored to our context at that moment.

For example, consider a contractor at a construction site who sees through his tablet how the final building will look like. Or a mechanic who gets information from various manuals directly in the field of view of his smart glasses. This means we need to learn and remember less, yet we can accomplish more. It may sound futuristic, but just like with the internet and smartphones before, we might soon be unable to imagine functioning without AR.

Such smart, practical applications are causing not only consumers but also the business market to embrace augmented reality. Studies by Goldman Sachs and Gartner predict that augmented reality will become commonplace within 10 years. AR specialist Digi-Capital even suggests that the AR market could reach $120 billion by 2020.

Characteristics of augmented reality

AR is often associated with virtual reality. However, there is a significant difference between the two technologies: Virtual reality completely immerses you in a digital environment, whereas AR adds a digital layer to reality. Something is considered AR when it meets the following three characteristics:

  • There is a connection between the real and digital worlds.
  • Something digital is overlaid onto the real world.
  • Data is used as input.

AR is created through a combination of content, hardware, and software. The hardware – such as a smartphone or smart glasses – interprets the user’s environment based on data obtained, for example, from a GPS system, camera, or motion sensor.

While data in your field of view used to be considered AR, the definition has now been refined. AR goes beyond just displaying information. Instead, it creates an intelligent information layer on top of reality. Intelligence means, among other things, that this layer adapts to the user’s perspective. For example, a mechanic looking through smart glasses at a utility box can see exactly what each component is for and its status. As they move, the image adjusts to their field of view.

More advanced forms of AR incorporate machine vision: they analyze electronic components and materials, recognize objects, patterns, gestures, and even simple emotions. Additionally, the hardware requires a display or projector to produce the augmentations. Software then bridges the gap between this data and the available information from a database. AR apps, for example, can also recognize (parts of) objects, such as machines or buildings, using RFID and NFC tags, QR codes, or beacons.

What forms does AR take?

We identify four different levels within AR, ranging from level 0 to level 3:

Physical World Hyperlinking (N0)

This is the simplest form of AR. Scanning a barcode provides information about the product on your device. QR codes can also be used to recognize logos or posters and link the device to the website with information.

Some do not consider Physical World Hyperlinking a true form of AR because it does not fully meet the requirements. It does not overlay a digital layer on reality.

Marker Based AR (N1)

Currently the most popular form of AR. By printing out a code and holding it in front of the webcam, a 3D animation appears on the screen. Internet access is often required, as providers of the codes want to deliver more information via the website. Marker Based AR can also be applied to mobile phones. In this case, the camera recognizes a physical object and adds virtual aspects to the image.

Markerless AR (N2)

Markerless AR is based on the GPS system and the compass of the mobile phone. This combination allows information about the environment you are in to be displayed via the camera from any direction. There are not many phones on the market that support this feature yet.

Augmented Vision (N3)

Augmented Vision is still under development. This involves wearable, lightweight projectors in glasses or small devices with various functions such as internet, television, etc. An example is Google Glass. At the University of Washington, they are working on a similar product to Google Glass, but embedded in contact lenses. In the coming years, these developments will rapidly progress and completely change the current digital world.

What does the future of AR look like?

In the coming years, AR will continue to evolve rapidly. Augmented Vision will increasingly blend into daily life. Products like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens will be fine-tuned. Countless possibilities will be created by combining reality with the digital world. A forecast predicts that the global AR market will reach around $150 billion (Digi-capital, 2015).

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