Augmented Reality

What Exactly Is Augmented Reality Technology?

Everything you need to know about the origins, evolution and current status of augmented reality technology.


Augmented reality technology belongs to the wave of recent developments in the field of modifying the perception of reality. It has already found a few useful applications, most notably in mobile games (the best example being Pokémon Go), social media (the selfie filters in Snapchat) and retail shopping.

How Does Augmented Reality Work?

The basic principle of augmented reality is to add computer-generated objects (CGI) to the real world we see around us. In order to “trick” the eye and make us believe that the CGI objects are really there in front of us, the augmented reality technology makes use of sound, video, graphics and haptic sensory inputs, as well as GPS location data.

In fact, the understanding of this technology comes from analyzing its name. The word “to augment”, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, means “to make greater, more numerous, larger or more intense” (added emphasis). Therefore, augmented reality technology intensifies our perception of the world by adding more elements or objects to it.

The Basic Elements of Augmented Reality Devices

Augmented reality technology needs specialized equipment and software to create the illusion of an object added to the real world. The devices are smart glasses or headsets. They consist of:

  • Cameras and sensors – these elements take note of the real world and the movements of the users. A good camera and high sensitivity movement trackers are vital in order to create a smooth and seamless augmented reality experience. The images and movements captured by the camera and sensor are transmitted to the processor to be interpreted.
  • Processor – an augmented reality device is, basically, a microcomputer. It needs a CPU (Central Processing Unit) to process real life images and to create the augmented reality object which will be superimposed by the projector.
  • Projector – this part of the augmented reality goggles and headsets is placed in the front of the device and faces forward (towards the user’s line of sight). The projector receives the CGI object from the processor and adds it to the real life environment.
  • Lenses (Reflectors) – in order to create the illusion of 3D objects, the CGI image needs to be sent to the eyes through a series of curved lenses, which successively modify the angle of the hologram beam.
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A Brief History of Augmented Reality Technology

Although it has been available to the general public for only a few years, the concept of augmented reality is not new. Back in the 1950s, a special head-up display (HUD) was developed for flight pilots. This display projected flight data in front of the pilots’ lines of sight, so that they did not have to look down at the flight instruments for data reading.

augmented reality technology

Until the 1990s, this was the only form of augmented reality technology available and in use. In 1992, the US Air Force Armstrong Labs developed the first truly immersive experience using augmented reality in the Virtual Fixtures system.

augmented reality technology

Image: WCS100, Louis Rosenberg Augmented Reality Rig, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2009, the Fluid Interfaces Group of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab created SixthSense – a finger-operated device which allowed users to manipulate projected images.

The first commercial application of augmented reality occurred in 2013 when Google launched Google Glass. This lightweight and comfortable device was met with negative reactions by the general public and the product was discontinued just after the pre-order phase.

The 4 Types of Augmented Reality

Augmented reality technology has evolved in various directions, depending on the modality of triggering the placement of the computed-generated item into the real world:

  1. Marker-Based Augmented Reality – this type of AR uses a physical marker (such as a QR code or a printed image) which is placed in front of the camera of the device used for experiencing augmented reality. Once the marker is identified, the CGI object is superimposed in its place.
  2. Markerless Augmented Reality – this is the most frequently used type of augmented reality technology at the present. It makes use of the GPS or accelerometer embedded in the device (most frequently, a mobile phone) to place the CGI elements in the environment.
  3. Projection-Based Augmented Reality – in this instance, artificial light is projected onto a real life surface and the sensors detect the human interaction (touch). Thus, it is possible to manipulate and to interact with the CGI objects.
  4. Superimposed Augmented Reality – most frequently seen in retail mobile apps, this technology uses object recognition to replace a real life object with a similar, computer-generated one.
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Augmented Reality Technology Now

Right now, augmented reality has a wide range of applications in:

Since the launch of ARKit for iOS and ARCore for Android, mobile app developers have all the tools they need to incorporate augmented reality into the products they develop. Paired with the development of high quality devices, such as Microsoft HoloLens and Google Glass (back on the market as Glass Enterprise Edition), these apps can offer truly immersive experiences for people who want to do their shopping from home, experience a different reality, or develop innovative products in a 3D environment.


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