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The Augmented Reality — A brief explanation

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The Augmented Reality — A brief explanation

What is Argumented Reality

Augmented reality (in short, AR) is a technology that expands our physical world by adding various digital layers to it. Unlike virtual reality (in short, VR) it does not create an entire virtual environment and, above all, it does not replace the real environment with a completely virtual one.

Augmented reality is introduced directly onto the existing environment, adding various sounds, videos, 3D models, graphics and more.

In short, AR is a vision of the physical / real environment with in addition computer generated images, superimposed on each other, which thus change the perception of reality.

Once defined what AR is, it will make it strange to know the history of this technology and the various terms associated with it. The first use of such a technology dates back to the years 90, especially in the military sector. From the 2000s onwards, thanks to the advent of smartphones, this technology (which was still used) was rediscovered for commercial use thanks also to interactivity and the use of 3D models.

After some history, we need to define the macro categories to differentiate certain uses and types of augmented reality of our day:

  • Marker- less

  • Marker- based

  • Projection-based

  • Superimposition-based

How can this technology be implemented?

It is certainly the first question that each of us asks at the first contact with this technology.

To answer correctly we must premise that, unlike VR, we must also refer to some principles of computer vision , given that we are in a real environment. It is clear that the levels that we will add can be enhanced with well-defined data types such as images, animations, videos, 3D models and localized audio.

Knowing the possible types of data we can therefore also know a series of possible devices on which it will be possible to perform the AR such as: monitors, smart mirrors, portable devices, smartphones, smart glasses and so on .. paradoxically it is sufficient to have a device with display and graphics engine (of course, there will be minimum requirements based on usage).

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Why did we have to refer to computer vision before? Well, because in AR we can implement computer vision technologies such as SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), depth tracking (distance between objects) and more.

This is possible with the support of these hardware / software components:

  1. Camera and sensors — Collect data and allow direct interfacing with the user

  2. Performing CPU and GPU — The computing power to manage all the components, processing and continuous rendering are fundamental tasks but also designed and ensuring stable FPS is of primary necessity. The latest generation smartphones have GPUs and CPUs capable of handling the load of an AR application, while older devices may suffer from FPS lag or overheating

  3. Holographic projection — It is an augmented reality device

Knowing now, in broad terms, how it works behind an implementation in AR we can therefore analyse the various types.

Types of augmented reality

  1. **Marker-based — **an image recognition algorithm of special images, called markers, is implemented. Markers are images made up of characters, QR codes or special geometric shapes which, if printed and framed with the camera within an AR application, will display the 3D image or model or a digital animation mapped for that marker.

  2. **Marker-less **— in the absence of the printed images, an AR application can still rely on the hardware of the device and use the location using the GPS module. Similarly, data from a compass, gyroscope or accelerometer can be used. In this way the data can be associated with GPS coordinates, with an error radius, and when the user is in that defined radius it will be possible to view our data which can be a digital map, an advertising billboard or anything else

  3. **Projection-based — **Holograms. This type requires special devices since they must project a light beam containing a series of information so that the result is pleasant

  4. **Superimposition-based **— is the replacement of a part of reality or the addition / overlapping of a digital data within reality. An example could be the Ikea AR app which, taken from an object from the catalogue, will be possible to position it inside your home through the camera of our device

In which contexts and use cases is it possible to implement an AR experience?

Augmented reality can be integrated into many daily activities, in various ways, even if the main field of use is often recreational, such as games such as Ingress or PokemGO.

At the implementation level, the only limit is often the creativity of the developers because basically everything could be implemented in an AR application, just create it, this is the difficult one.

For example, in retail, an AR experience could encourage customer engagement and loyalty, as well as facilitate brand expansion and consequently increase sales.

Another context, always within the same sector, could be to favour customers and guide them in the purchase (such as the example of Ikea), perhaps by providing data on the product, viewing it in 3D, providing indications between the various departments or indicate on a digital map where to find a product.

There are ideas that can be applied in multiple sectors and in any case could be successful.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about smart working: we could think of interactive models for learning and / or training purposes, practical chemistry lessons through AR, physics or other subjects.

AR is a technology that helps and extends reality to accomplish a specific goal.

Conclusion: why use such innovative technology?

Surely a company that offers AR as a marketing strategy or as a user / customer loyalty campaign is a company that focuses on innovation and creativity.

Customers often look for safe ways, AR is an experiment that the customer might like, because it is safe, and the customer because it is new and, especially in Italy, little seen and used by companies.

In the next articles of this little series about AR/VR: The Sorting Hat Experiment in WebGL!

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