How does Augmented Reality work?

ThinkMobiles Team 08/06/2017

How augmented reality works? It fuses real and digital world into one, by overlapping digital information onto surrounding environment. It may be any type of data from images and video to 3D models. So users are still aware that they are staying in real world advanced by computer vision, compared to the full immersion of virtual reality.

Details about how Augmented Reality works

Augment reality around a user is, surrely, the main and the only idea of augmented reality. But there are many ways to realise it. Unfortantly, there is no ideal method to bring computer vision into the real world. So technologies may be categorized into several types. Each type of augmented reality has its own requirements, advantages and disadvantages.

Below, we show those different ways to bring augmented reality into life:

Slam

Simultaneous localization and mapping technology (also known as SLAM) is one of the most advanced technology of augmented reality. By processing a bunch of complex algorithms and managing sensor data it maps unknown surroundings and identifies its own localization at the same time.

Concept idea of SLAM was born in the 80s. But real step to realize has been done just in last few years. Two main causes may simply explain the reason in few words:

  • It still needs some pre-existing map of surroundings to orient there correctly.
  • Requirements to device hardware are pretty high, so it can’t be easy to realize till now.

Most developers herald that SLAM would be a key driver of all automatic vehicles. Drones, self driving cars, even robotics would use SLAM technology.

Depth tracking

Depending on sensor data destined to the objects on the camera scene, depth tracking enables a user to interact with virtual objects. While depth of digital objects is connected to the scale of real objects, they are fused together. That means any 3D model, video media or any other digital element would change in scale depending on how far it is from a user.

Marker-based

Marker-based, also known as Image Recognition, is most popular method worldwide. It requires camera and special tigger marker to function. Meantime, AR marker may be anything from QR code to printed image. In addition, trigger may be integrated into any real world object to support it with AR data. However, QR code is mainly used because it may be easily recognized both by device and user.

When marker falls into scene application recover special digital content that is related to it. In this case position of AR content and marker is also calculated. So, any position change of marker would also affect position of AR content. Meantimr, some of AR models are specially designed to fully overlaid their marker.

Superimposition based method is some kind of evolve marker-based technology. Here a real object is replacing by augmented version of this object. It means that images in a magazine may be become 3D model or AR videos. Meanwhile, recognition capabilities play the main role, while the method would not function as it can’t determinate target.

Markerless-based

Also known as location/position-based augmented reality. Technology uses GPS data, integrated compass, gyroscope and accelerometer to provide information about your current location. This data would determine what AR content you may find and experience around yourself.

Augmented reality content for this case should have additional data integrated in it (for example, GPS data). As a result, most of content that may be found here linked to real places. Applications that use markerless method of it is:

  • location events and information.
  • business and ads pop-ups.
  • navigation support.

Project-based

Such kind of method based on projecting artificial light and sensing its changes. It allows a user to interact with projected light and so interact with application. It is possible by sensing differences between known (or expected) reflection of light on the real surface. As a result, special changes would trigger application to react on it.

Reversed project-based method is holograms as we know them from sci-fi films. Its main idea is by using plasma laser capabilities project 3D interactive model directly into real world.

Spatial

Spatial augmented reality often falls out from AR list, as it doesn’t require any special device to display it and is not associated with software. But it is still augmented reality. As light projected onto neutral objects enhance them with additional information or models, it’s a good example of a new way to augment reality around us.

Augmented reality devices

Many modern devices support augmented reality. It may be common smartphones, and tablets as well as specialized devices. Such kind of gadgets like Google Glass and head-up displays (HUD) augment reality in front of a user. Meantime, handheld devices enhance reality via camera of a device and use a display to view result to a user.

As time goes, AR technology continues to evolve. Such advances effect different sides of AR technology, especially their capabilities and hardware requirements. That leads to more flexible usage of it, for example by things like contact lenses and even retinal display.

Hardware requirements

As any other technology, augmented reality has its own requirements to hardware or device. Some of these are:

Sensors and cameras

Sensors are using to gather information about user actions in the real world and interpret them into data. On the other side, cameras are using to collect data about user’s surroundings. Both data flows are processing and interpreting to provide natural augmented reality experience to a user.

Processing

Whatever device is, tablet, or glasses, it should contain enough resource to process and interpret information. Moreover, it should have access to data from:

  • Accelerometer.
  • Gyroscope.
  • Compass.
  • GPS.
  • Internet connection via Wi-Fi (optional).

So, to manage every bit of data any device should be complicated with enough CPU, GPU, RAM and flash memory.

Displaying

To provide the best augmented reality to a user, a device should have enough capability to show it to him. In the first place, it enables a user to see AR content.

  • displays – provides an image of the real world and digital model fused in one.
  • projection – provides AR content of any real world surface, so no need in displays.
  • reflection – mirrors play the main role as projection system to create holograms from artificial light beam.

Mobile devices suitable for Augmented reality

Modern mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have all required hardware, sensors, displays and processing for AR usage. Meantime, most of people today already have such device for everyday use. Here are the major advantages of mobile AR development lies – huge part of the world is potential users of AR.

Moreover, people feel already comfortable to use mobile apps for different purposes. They use time-killers games to escape boredom and get some fun, as well as apps help in business analytics, everyday activities, hobbies and even sports. So, the main quest of developer is to create such an AR product that will fit audience needs.

In the end, the last but major extra bonus. AR app development for mobile devices isusually cheaper than for specific AR gears.

Special Augmented reality devices

  • This category includes all devices that were designed specially to provide augmented reality to the user in the first place. Surely, they may have a wide functional kit of various other options. But all of them are just extra features that support AR technology, or simply buff user experience.

Head-up display (or HUD)

Head-up display transparent display provides visual data directly in the scene of users’ viewpoint. Originally, it was designed and created specially for military fighters pilots. However, as time passed HUD found its use case in civilian fields. Nowadays, except for traditional military fields, it wasl also used in civilian aviation, automobiles, some industries and sports.

Standard HUD technology stacks, whatever its generation is, including connection of three main parts:

  • Projector unit. It is responsible for projecting image on display.
  • Combiner. This is glass used to capture light from projector unit and allow a user to see AR image.
  • Video generation computer. It includes all hardware required to process and generate ar data.

Augmented reality glasses (or smart glasses)

Since google published its famous Google Glasses there were many new projects and startups that try to bring them down from the top.

  • Meta focuses on what Google Glass does not. It superimposes AR on user surroundings. Moreover, it allows to manipulate with it with own hands.
  • SeeThru manage to become first genuine wireless AR eyewear. However, instead of gathering information about user’s surroundings, its content depends only on GPS and its own data about location.
  • Icis’s augmented reality glasses, designed to looks like any traditional glasses. At the same time they contain everything required for support AR features.

Augmented reality contact lenses (or smart lenses)

We take one step forward to meet Sci-fi concept in reality. Both world electronic company giants Samsung and Sony announcedt their own research and development of AR supported lenses.

  • Samsung design lenses as accessory for their smartphones. It would be able to overlay additional digital information real environment using a bunch of incorporated cameras, sensors and transmitters.
  • Sony is talking less about augmented reality, but designed lenses as independent devices with their own functional kit. Despite AR support it would be also capable to take a photo, capture a video and even store data on it.

Virtual Retinal Displays

VRD creates images by projecting low power laser light directly onto user’s retina. This allows to create bright, high contrast and high resolution image. Instead of other Augmented reality device it doesn’t require any transparency elements, or displays.

Conclusion

While Augmented reality technology history takes its start from mid of XX century, only the latest performance capabilities would make it suitable for massive use. Any of IT and electronic world leaders doesn’t ignore AR trends and takes part of its evolution. Google, Facebook, Apple, Sony and Samsung invest billions into AR fields to make future today.

But for most AR developers, beside many specialized AR devices, mobile augmented reality stays most relevant. It contains major advantages compare to development for specific AR device:

  • Huge part of the world has already smartphones and tablets suitable for mobile AR.
  • Meantime, most of people would not buy AR devices like smart glasses or lenses in near future.
  • App development for mobile is lower than for AR devices, while it is even faster and simplier.
  • Nowadays, people would prefer to use their mobile devices for everyday actions instead of devices like smart glasses, because it is too uncommon yet.

But as time will pass, things may change completely. But we can be sure, that AR would find its place in future everyday life of people.

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