Have you recently tried to catch a Pokémon or fit furniture in your space via ‘IKEA‘ app? Sweet! That’s augmentation reality friends. Augmented Reality(AR) came to age slowly alongside Virtual Reality. But now the AR industry is growing fast with projected revenues of $90 billion just by 2020! Let’s dive in.

Dude 1: Look! Khaleesi’s dragons

Dude 2: Let me take a picture

Dude 1: Let’s Instagram this shit!

Augmented reality is the technology that expands our physical world by superimposing computer generated sounds, videos, images, graphics and text on the real world. This information can be constructive ( additive to the natural environment) or destructive ( masking of the natural environment). Unlike virtual reality (VR) which creates a completely artificial environment for its users, augmentation reality (AR) adds some digital component to users surroundings.

Categories of AR:

Based on the objective and implication, use cases of AR are as follows:

  1. Marker Based Augmented Reality

As the name suggests it involves image recognition using a visual object (QR/2D code) and a camera to scan it where the digital animation has to placed in the real world. The position and orientation of the marker decides how the content will be positioned in the real surroundings of the user.

  1. Markerless Augmented Reality

Markerless AR or location-based/ position-based augmented reality is the most commonly used form of AR. It involves the use of GPS to read the location of the user for finding nearby business info, upcoming events, must visit places, detect eating joints, determine navigation and provide location centric applications. This approach is strongly backed by the increase in availability of people using smartphones.

  1. Projection Based Augmented Reality

Projection based augmented reality is what we see in sci-fi movies. It involve projecting synthetic light in the real world surfaces (3D holograms) and then sensing user interaction (by touch) to change its orientation, position etc. in mid-air. 

  1. Superimposition Based Augmented Reality

Superimposition based augmented reality involves object recognition to replace partially or completely the original view of the user with a  virtual augmented item. The most recent example is IKEA Place furniture catalogue that allows customers to place furniture in their space. Microsoft HoloLens is also one of the most innovative implementation of this kind technology.

How does AR actually work?

Augmented reality (AR) can be displayed on a wide variety of displays like screens, monitors, handheld devices (smart phones/ tablets), glasses (HUD) and in future maybe in contact lenses and virtual retinal displays. No matter what may be the device, all AR devices work by using four basic gears sensors, cameras, processors, projectors and reflectors to create AR virtual-reality images.

Components to Augmented Reality Devices

Essentially AR uses sensors and cameras to gather information about its surroundings and determine the desired digital output. The obtained data is now processed by a CPU, GPU or in case of HoloLens a FPGA. The processed data is then passed to a projector which turns any surface in front of the user (wall, desk, another person etc) into an interactive environment. Finally the augmented image is reflected through the camera to the users eyes using an array of many small curved mirrors or simple double-sided mirrors. The reflection path used decides how light will enter into the eye (angle, orientation, intensity, color etc ) to produce an absolute virtual image on human eye retina. The mirrors used thus help in proper image alignment and perception of AR image by the user in the real world.

AR Today

From a prototype technology few years ago, the AR field has energetically expanded on the visions of many businesses today. Brands are leveraging the power of AR to entertain, cultivate and enhance customer needs. Let’s study some of the examples of how AR has been used in real world applications-

In 2009, the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group presented SixthSense. Four sensors, a glove and a chest hung device could be used to interact with AR images generated by the device. In 2013, Google launched AR wearable HUD devices (Google Glass) where visual images/ data could be displayed on the face of a person and managed by sound commands. Vito Technology’s, Star Walk app allows user to point the camera in their tablet or phone at the sky and see the names of stars/ planets superimposed on the image. Another app called Layar uses the smart phone’s GPS and camera to display information about nearby restaurants, stores and points of interest. Converse AR and French sportswear company Lacoste created a Shoe Sampler app which allows the users to simply point a phone or tablet at their feet and visualise available different fit, colour and models of shoes from home. A clothing line by Kate Spade gained lot of popularity when they created an AR app, My Little Paris Tapage, which took users through a virtual walking tour of Paris. Another AR app DrawyBook by BIC helps kids to view their drawings and add additional colours, shapes and customizations to it. AR is used by brands to increase their social media reach. Tesco AR’s Discover App, allows kids and their parents to browse a Frozen sticker book and use the AR app to superimpose selfies of children on their favourite Frozen characters. Cadbury AR app developed in partnership with Blippar launched a holiday festival themed app where users were rewarded with selfies of Cadbury-related products like chocolates/ candies etc. In 2015 Microsoft presented two brand new technologies: Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens to display HD holograms using goggles. In 2016, Niantic launched the AR game “Pokémon Go” which earned more than $2 billion. Users can see Pokémon characters in their real surroundings catch them and even battle with other Pokémon masters. Now in 2018, “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” became the mobile AR gaming sensation a science-fiction out of Hollywood movies with 10 million downloads. Another Canadian company SAGA developed another game for children to crack cubes moving on a wall.

Potential future use cases for businesses

Their is immense potential use cases for AR. On the top of my head I can think of the following cases where AR makes immense sense for a business.

Education: interactive 3D models in all subjects for learning and training purposes.

Medicine / healthcare: to help access past records, historical data, monitor, diagnose, localize, train.

Surgical: display of surgical checklists, patient vital signs, graphical overlay-based guidance, recording & archiving of procedures, live feeds to remote users.

Military: for advanced navigation, marking places/ objects, information about operation,  explosives in real time.

Tourism: data on destinations, sightseeing objects, must visit places, nearby eating joints, navigation and directions.

Broadcasting: enhancing live events/ concerts, live event streaming etc with added virtual information.

Industrial design: to visualize, understand, calculate or model various products/ components used in manufacturing and processing.

Retail: to bring better customer engagement, retention, brand awareness, increase sales, providing product data with 3D models.

Real-estate: 3D tours of apartments/ houses, make amendments, check surroundings.

The future is bright for those who are engaged in the field of AR. Our advice to the businesses of tomorrow — “Go engage”

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