We have all seen and experienced augmented reality, but we might not have realised it. It has been used in big films such as Minority Report and Terminator, and is incorporated into games like Pokémon Go and in Snapchat filters and various other smartphone apps. We might just dismiss it as ‘computer graphics’ or ‘special effects’ but the area of augmented reality is growing increasingly important and increasingly useful in everyday life. So it is probably about time we understood what it was…..

What is augmented reality?

Well it’s actually quite hard to define, but I’ll give it a go. Augmented reality (AR) is when you are in the real world, but able to see and interact with something and manipulate it, even though it isn’t there. That makes complete sense, yes? In more relatable terms, in a film or on a smartphone, AR is adding layers of digital elements, which include graphics, sound, effects and sensors, which are computer generated and applied to our real-time vision.

John Hanke, CEO of US software developer Niantic said: “AR is designed to add, enhance the things you do as a human being: Being outside, socializing with other people, shopping, playing, having fun. AR can make all those things better.” 

However, it is important to note that AR is not virtual reality, or VR. VR replaces the real environment entirely and puts you in an artificial one. AR is applied to a real environment to add sounds, graphics and videos to enhance your experience.

What is the aim of AR?

AR is used in films, apps, social media and lots of everyday applications to engage the user and to provide a more dynamic experience. This can be through using lenses, glasses or a simple smartphone screen.

Increasingly, AR is being adapted for use in a diverse range of fields and it is inevitable that it will play a much bigger role in our everyday lives as time and technology progresses.

How does AR work?

Essentially, AR is enabled on a device or application and that hardware captures a picture and shares it with a computer vision programme. This instantaneously processes the image and any other objects present on the same surface and calculates distance and focus. These insights are then applied to the device, which develops and creates virtual information. This information serves as an overlay on top of the real object, or what you are actually watching, allowing the user to interact and enjoy a unique experience.

How is AR used?

We might know about uses of AR in the entertainment field, but there are many uses for AR that you may not be aware of:

  • Military: Head-up displays are used by fighter pilots and head-mounted displays are used by ground troops to see targets, routes and obstacles.
  • Medical: AR is used for surgical training and practice.
  • Navigation: Information regarding buildings and routes is presented by AR using GPS and a smartphone camera, so you can choose the best routes presented in place of a live view.
  • Tourism: Information on local places of interest is presented in hotel lobbies, while sightseeing tours can enable users to point phones at buildings and see images and information.
  • Repair and maintenance: Head-mounted displays can offer step-by-step instructions on repairs and procedures.

Clearly AR is developing fast and, before we know it, will play a prominent role in our everyday lives, in fact it already does, but now we have a name for it and understand what it is.

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