Augmented Reality (AR) is a term used when a view of the real world environment is mixed with computer generated information, such as images or text. It is a concept that is becoming more and more common and, as it becomes more advanced, is sure to play a progressively larger role in the way we interact with both our virtual and real environments.

By far, the easiest way to understand the concept is to see it in action. Whilst it is certainly a concept that is still in its earlier stages and have had relatively limited exposure, it may be a suprise to some how developed some AR applications already are. Following is an example of some ‘jump right in’ AR links, which require little more than a decent internet connection and a webcam:

  • BMW Z4 Demonstration


Get a 360 degree view of the BMW Z4, simply by printing out a design and holding it up to your webcam

  • Transformers Autobot Simulator


Ever wanted to become a transformer? The autobot simulator places optimus Primes head over the top of your own, so that you can be a transformer to your hearts content

  • Priority Mail package size simulator


A very practical use of AR. This virtual simulator allows you to compare the size of your items to the size of the packages that the USPS send. (Note: Make sure you print the logo, before launching the simulator)

  • Ray Ban Virtual Glasses Simulator


A practical way to try on the latest Ray Bans, without leaving your home! Requires a bit of setting up, initially.

There are many iPhone applications which are using AR in order to push the boundaries of what technology can do. Here are some iPhone 3GS applications that utilise AR to achieve their goals:

  • Nearest Places


Find the nearest coffee shop, service station, bar, restaurant…. by utilising the iPhone’s compass, camera and gps. (Website doesn’t provide the best explanation)

  • Theodolite – Reality compass and Inclinometer


Uses the inbuilt iPhone technology to display latitude, longitude and altitude, amongst other information.

  • Pocket Universe – Astronomy Lessons in your pocket


Hold an iPhone up to the night sky for an explanation on stars, constellations, plots the position of the sun, moon and planets, and much more.

A lot of AR is currently marketing focused or fun, but gimmicky. However there are already some really practical uses for augmented reality; take the United States Postal Service or Nearest Places iPhone apps, which are both featured above. Other practical examples that currently exist are subway (as in trains, not the food provider) trackers which is used in conjunction with your iPhone camera to help you track down the nearest entrance to a subway and ways that brands can connect with their fans, for example the Star Trek Enterprise AR simulator which comes with some editions of the recent Star Trek movie and allows you to explore the Star Trek enterprise in a fair amount of depth.

So, what part will Augmented Reality play in future? There is very little doubt that this type of technology will become an everyday occurrence and a useful tool to the average person and no doubt an annoyance in some instances. There is a wide variety of potential future uses, such as in motor vehicles or with direct assistance to the human eye (either through glasses or through eye implants; testing on such ideas is already occurring).

However, AR is costly to develop and is still some way away from being commonplace. As demand grows, these costs will of course reduce and allow for more advanced and useful applications to occur. I believe that AR will rise rapidly in the coming years and one thing is for sure, AR is not a concept that will go away and it is sure to become an important part in how we see the world.

Further Information:

Written by Alastair Grigg

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