By Sofia Rodriguez
In 2016, Pokemon Go shook the world as the first widely available application of augmented reality. But what actually is it and how does it work? With such great technological advances in the past 4 years, what are some more recent applications?
Pokemon Go, a mobile game that incorporates AR to help users catch Pokemon in the real world (credit: Phys.org)
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality, abbreviated as AR, is a technological innovation that adds digital elements into the real world. It creates an illusion that holographic and software-generated content is a part of the surrounding world through the use of technology. It is able to then overlay
How it Works
For Augmented Reality to be fully functional, there are 3 main components that must function: the hardware, software, and application.
The hardware component is the equipment through which both input data is taken and through which virtual images are projected. It is composed of sensors, the graphics processing unit, a camera, and the processor. The processor serves as the brain of the device, which also determines the speed and the technological limits of the device. The graphics processing unit (GPU) controls the visual rendering of the display on the device. The GPU must perform highly in order for data to be relayed and superimposed quickly and seamlessly. Sensors are devices that measure physical properties and tell the computer how to respond to it. The camera relays images within the frame of the lens and creates a digital rendering of it, which is made by the GPU. Any average AR application uses many sensors, including a gyroscope, depth sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, and light sensor. The gyroscope measures the angle and position of the device through its orientation in space. The depth sensor measures the depth and distance of the scope of the camera. The accelerometer detects changes in velocity, movement, and rotation of the device to understand the movement of the device through space. The light sensor works hand in hand with the camera and GPU to relay information about the light intensity and brightness of the frame.
The software component uses computer vision algorithms to give computers a high-level understanding of digital images and videos taken in by computer cameras and sensor data. TIt uses computer vision to categorize and itemize what is in the photos. Using algorithms, it is able to connect patterns, represent colors as numbers, search for lines or create angles, identify textures, and match images to large databases. This intakes, interprets, analyzes, and outputs data in a fraction of a second to make the user feel like the images are being superimposed in real-time to create a fully immersive experience. The 3 core principles of this technology are motion tracking, environmental understanding, and light estimation. Motion tracking lets the computer understand its relative position to its environment and allows objects to be superimposed in relation to its environment. An environmental understanding is the use of algorithms to detect and understand surfaces and objects in the camera, which collects, processes, and sends related digital content. Light estimation perceives the lighting conditions of the surrounding environment using the light sensor to get a better understanding of the field of view.
The application component of AR is the user interface and how the user interacts with the software and hardware, also known as the “front end programming.” It is the code that the user interacts with themself, acting as the start button to trigger everything. There are 2 ways the application can put everything together: marker-based tracking and marker-less tracking. Marker-based tracking requires optical readers, such as QR codes, to trigger the AR. It requires action from the user to begin the input-output loop that makes it work. Marker-less tracking is based more on object recognition and needs no user input to begin the input-output loop. It requires more advanced interpretation from the software, but creates the same output as marker-based tracking.
Applications and Future
In 2016, Pokemon Go used AR for entertainment purposes to create an AR game that allowed people to collect pokemon in the real world. Snapchat also uses AR to overlay filters over your face, even as you move. AR is all around us and is becoming increasingly popular and relevant to all aspects of technology. The use of AR is versatile and universal, allowing people to modernize their companies and reach a broader audience. People are using AR for navigation because of how the sensors are able to track location. In the advertisement industry, AR is used to grasp onto users and engage them to get them hooked on a product. E-learning uses AR to engage young learners to incorporate hands-on learning both inside and outside the classroom. Many companies, such as Home Depot, Sephora, Inkhunter, and Ikea, use AR to allow users to interact and test out products before they buy for convenience. In the military, AR is used to even create digitally enhanced training missions for soldiers to better prepare them. In business and construction, AR is used for modeling.
AR allows companies to utilize technology for their corporate advantage. It allows them to do more while maintaining standards of safety and ethics. It also lets companies drive down production costs by creating digital models that they can superimpose onto the real world, to get a better perspective on the potential. And as technology becomes more accessible and advanced, it will be more normalized and used in society, driving technological innovation in an industry already predicted to reach a net worth of $200 billion by the end of 2020. So the more we use and innovate on AR, the more we can mix reality and technology to create a better tomorrow.
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