Augmented reality technology can be found now in a large number of mobile apps and games. Some of these apps are specialized and developed for professionals, scientists, and students. But the great majority of AR apps are freely available in Google Play and the App Store for the general public.
What to Expect from the Augmented Reality Experience
Augmented reality does not offer a fully immersive experience to its users, the way virtual reality does. It is more like an extension of the real world. Actually, the company Microsoft, which developed the HoloLens augmented reality goggles, prefers to use the term ‘mixed reality’.
Both terms mean the same thing: a real time, direct or indirect view of the physical environment whose elements are enriched or supplemented by the insertion of computer-generated objects, videos and sounds.
Augmented Reality – More Than Just Pokémon Go
Even for beginners augmented reality is familiar in relation with the mobile game Pokémon Go, which was hugely popular in 2016. While this game is a good example of what AR does and how it can be experienced, it is just a part of the whole concept.
Augmented reality apps can be used with a range of hardware devices and have various applications which go beyond the world of entertainment. Therefore, let us start with the physical devices you need in order to experience AR.
Augmented Reality Hardware
AR technology can be experienced in two ways:
- Through the mobile phone (like the Pokémon Go game)
- Through augmented reality goggles or smart glasses
In terms of hardware, the option is, basically, between a handheld or a hands-free device. Mobile phones are the most frequently used devices when it comes to augmented reality apps and games. The apps make use of the phone camera to capture the real-world images and the accelerometer to detect motion and correlate it with the computer-generated imagery (CGI) images which are superimposed onto the physical environment.
AR glasses are devices which consist of:
- A camera which captures the real-life images;
- A microcomputer which is capable of running the AR app and processing the real-life images;
- Lenses through which the CGI images are projected onto the physical environment.
These smart glasses are not stand-alone equipment: they still need to be paired with a smartphone which has the AR app or game installed on it.
The Software Side
AR apps have really taken off since the launch of the ARKit for Apple iOS and ARCore for Android. These two platforms allow the embedding of augmented reality experience into apps with a compact storage size to facilitate installation on a wide range of mobile phones.
Elements of augmented reality are also included in various social media platforms – such as the chat filters for Snapchat. However, the best-known types of AR apps are those developed by retail companies. Cosmetics, furniture, home improvement and fashion brands have launched apps which allow people to point their mobile phones and “try on” products before buying them.
Practical Uses for Augmented Reality Technology
Apart from AR shopping and games, there are various ways in which you can experience this technology in a practical manner:
- Information overlays triggered by QR codes – most frequently seen in museums, where each display is accompanied by a detailed AR description;
- Object modeling and exploring – used for educational purposes, especially in sciences such as math, geometry, and physics, to allow students a clearer understanding;
- Discovering ancient sites – computer-generated graphics of historical sites can be superimposed on the current day ruins through the mobile phone camera, to get a glimpse of how they looked in their golden age.
Augmented reality technology will certainly have a bright future, given the fact that smartphones become more and more powerful and capable of rendering realistic 3D images with minimum lag. The practical applications of this technology are reaching more and more industries, making augmented reality a standard feature of most apps and games in the near future.