Augmented Reality Simplified
Rajesh Dangi, May 2021
Augmented Reality (AR) is real, even closer to reality. Using augmented elements layered atop the real-life visuals along with a sound or other sensory stimulus, augmented reality enriches the value of our perceptions, interactions, and overall experience. There are many success stories and use cases of AR that are becoming part of our lives seamlessly transforming the way we learn, interact, and experience the world around us.
As human nature, we love to interact and learn when we use more than one of our sensory capabilities like we taste the food and smell the food, making it an aromatic experience. Similarly, when we learn we read and recite the content to remember, this two-dimensional sensual interaction becomes effective, engaging, and thus easier to remember. The wide adoption of AR is thus not a surprise, across multiple domains ranging from education, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and eCommerce, etc. have many proof points about leveraging this technology.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland from Harvard created a head-mounted display system of AR and superimposed virtual simulations on the physical environment paving way for AR adoption for aviation, military, and industrial purposes. From the legacy of not so recent past examples like, Morton Heilig’s Sensorama, Ivan Sutherland’s “Sword of Damocles” VR headset, and Edwin Link’s “Pilot-Maker” flight simulator we have crossed multiple milestones and laid the foundation of many more inventions contributed to the cutting-edge technology called AR, leading the wave of transformation and testimonials that support our vision of reality. Almost after a decade, in 2008 BMW marketing team used AR for visualization of the BMW mini car model via device cameras pointing to the printed media advertisement. This was the path-breaking moment since the users could now experience the look and feel of this car in three dimensions and thus paved the way for augmented reality to the next level of digital experience for the masses.
Today, the augmented reality has become part of our life and we have experiencing it like the trajectory of cricket balls shown on the TV during the live telecasts or the popular ‘Pokeman Go’ mobile game and even in the video conferencing applications filters for AR masks and avatars, and custom backgrounds, etc
Augmented reality and virtual reality are two sides of the same coin, given that each has a different purpose and underlying technologies. The augmented reality makes the best of both worlds as it stimulated the human senses' closure to reality while virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation where one’s environment is replaced artificially. Simply, Augmented reality adds virtual components such as digital images or visuals, vibrations, or sensations (sound and smell) as a new layer of interaction coupled with the actual physical experience.
Over the period from 2017 to 2025, the augmented reality market size is estimated to increase by over 195 billion U.S. dollars, increasing from roughly 3.5 billion in 2017 to over 198 billion U.S. dollars in 2025, mentions Statista
Since AR is all about experience, the hardware components and software components are blended together for the effective rendering of AR, the devices could be a smartphone, specialized displays (HUDs), glasses or AR headsets, wearables like VRDs ( Read, Virtual Retinal Display) powered by a strong backend of AI-driven software to integrate the augmentation with real-world via images, coordinates and camera angles/visuals, etc. the algorithms specially used in AR called augogram is a specialized field of study under augography, a science and discipline in itself. Thus, the cameras, sensors, displays, and the applications/algorithms must work in tandem to ‘immerse’ the users with near real experience.
To effectively deliver an AR experience there are three aspects that need to be looked at, an augograph as a combination of real and virtual world images, real-time interaction within the framework, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects. The role of artificial intelligence in augmented reality is fundamental to the core and the complex use cases with multiple technologies interplaying together simply cannot rely solely on human programming to display virtual objects against a real-world backdrop. Neural networks and machine learning can accomplish these tasks with far higher efficiency and can improve augmented reality experiences drastically.
There are several techniques used for feature detection methods like corner, blob or edge detection or thresholding, and few other image processing methods and markers. Markers are visual cues that trigger the display of the virtual information when a distinction is made between two distinct modes of tracking, known as marker and markerless. The Markerless tracking or instant tracking user positions the object in the camera view preferably in a horizontal plane. It uses sensors in mobile devices to accurately detect the real-world environment, such as the locations of walls/objects and points of intersection and angle of interaction, etc. to perfectly vectorize the image coordinates for rendering in the simulated context, known as AR scenes. ARML is a data standard to describe and interact with AR scenes and deals with the location and appearance of virtual objects in the scene and properties of the virtual objects in XML format.
With a large-scale interest in AR application development, the community soon realized the need for software development kits (Read, SDKs) to allow the developers’ community to standardize solutions and shortcuts in development, instead of solving all generic and typical problems grounds up. Today there are multiple SDKs and development frameworks available for building focused use cases for smartphones, wearable glasses, or even plain browser-based AR applications. Vuforia, ARToolkit, ARkit, Wikitude, ARCore, EasyAR, DeepAR to name the few toplines SDKs popular among the developers, most of these are supporting SLAM, 3D object tracking, screen recording and simultaneous detection, and marker-based and marker less location and tracking for multiple types of targets and native platform API’s and provide seamlessly support for Objective C (iOS) and Java (Android), whilst cross-platform support for all major platforms including Mac OS, iOS, Android, Windows, and Unity 3D.
Apart from Gaming, the leverage augmented reality is providing to industries like automotive, engineering, education, healthcare, retail, real estate & tourism, sports and even military is remarkable, transformational and indeed seen a large-scale adoption.
In Summary, Augmented reality is augmenting our lives and ‘things’ around us digitally transforming the content and context thereof. From self-driving or connected cars, aircraft simulators, virtual try-on for online stores, remote diagnostics, the AR has and will change the way we experience our world, the way industries design and deliver that experience, and the technologies that enrich the value of that experience. The advancements in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT, and even 5G will keep the AR space buzzing with new accolades, empowering unification of the physical and digital world for us!