Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, optic, somatosensory and olfactory.
AR can be defined as a system that fulfills three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive (i.e. additive to the natural environment), or destructive (i.e. masking of the natural environment).
This experience is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, augmented reality alters one’s ongoing perception of a real-world environment, whereas virtual reality completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one.
Augmented reality is related to two largely synonymous terms: mixed reality and computer-mediated reality.
The primary value of augmented reality is the manner in which components of the digital world blend into a person’s perception of the real world, not as a simple display of data, but through the integration of immersive sensations, which are perceived as natural parts of an environment.
The earliest functional AR systems that provided immersive mixed reality experiences for users were invented in the early 1990s, starting with the Virtual Fixtures system developed at the U.S. Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory in 1992. Commercial augmented reality experiences were first introduced in entertainment and gaming businesses.
Subsequently, augmented reality applications have spanned commercial industries such as education, communications, medicine, and entertainment. In education, content may be accessed by scanning or viewing an image with a mobile device or by using markerless AR techniques.
Augmented reality is used to enhance natural environments or situations and offer perceptually enriched experiences. With the help of advanced AR technologies (e.g. adding computer vision, incorporating AR cameras into smartphone applications and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulated. Information about the environment and its objects is overlaid on the real world.
This information can be virtual or real, e.g. seeing other real sensed or measured information such as electromagnetic radio waves overlaid in exact alignment with where they actually are in space. Augmented reality also has a lot of potential in the gathering and sharing of tacit knowledge. Augmentation techniques are typically performed in real time and in semantic contexts with environmental elements.
Immersive perceptual information is sometimes combined with supplemental information like scores over a live video feed of a sporting event. This combines the benefits of both augmented reality technology and heads up display technology (HUD).
The difference between virtual reality and augmented reality
In virtual reality (VR), the users’ perception of reality is completely based on virtual information. In augmented reality (AR) the user is provided with additional computer generated information that enhances their perception of reality.
For example, in architecture, VR can be used to create a walk-through simulation of the inside of a new building; and AR can be used to show a building’s structures and systems super-imposed on a real-life view. Another example is through the use of utility applications. Some AR applications, such as Augment, enable users to apply digital objects into real environments, allowing businesses to use augmented reality devices as a way to preview their products in the real world.
Similarly, it can also be used to demo what products may look like in an environment for customers, as demonstrated by companies such as Mountain Equipment Co-op or Lowe’s who use augmented reality to allow customers to preview what their products might look like at home through the use of 3D models. Augmented reality (AR) differs from virtual reality (VR) in the sense that in AR part of the surrounding environment is actually ‘real’ and just adding layers of virtual objects to the real environment.
On the other hand, in VR the surrounding environment is completely virtual. A demonstration of how AR layers objects onto the real world can be seen with augmented reality games. WallaMe is an augmented reality game application that allows users to hide messages in real environments, utilizing geolocation technology in order to enable users to hide messages wherever they may wish in the world. Such applications have many uses in the world, including in activism and artistic expression.
Hardware components for augmented reality are: a processor, display, sensors and input devices. Modern mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablet computers contain these elements, which often include a camera and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors such as an accelerometer, GPS, and solid state compass, making them suitable AR platforms.
There are two technologies used in augmented reality: diffractive waveguides and reflective waveguides.
Various technologies are used in augmented reality rendering, including optical projection systems, monitors, handheld devices, and display systems, which are worn on the human body.
A head-mounted display (HMD) is a display device worn on the forehead, such as a harness or helmet-mounted. HMDs place images of both the physical world and virtual objects over the user’s field of view. Modern HMDs often employ sensors for six degrees of freedom monitoring that allow the system to align virtual information to the physical world and adjust accordingly with the user’s head movements. HMDs can provide VR users with mobile and collaborative experiences. Specific providers, such as uSens and Gestigon, include gesture controls for full virtual immersion.
AR displays can be rendered on devices resembling eyeglasses. Versions include eyewear that employs cameras to intercept the real world view and re-display its augmented view through the eyepieces and devices in which the AR imagery is projected through or reflected off the surfaces of the eyewear lens pieces.
A head-up display (HUD) is a transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. A precursor technology to augmented reality, heads-up displays were first developed for pilots in the 1950s, projecting simple flight data into their line of sight, thereby enabling them to keep their “heads up” and not look down at the instruments. Near-eye augmented reality devices can be used as portable head-up displays as they can show data, information, and images while the user views the real world. Many definitions of augmented reality only define it as overlaying the information. This is basically what a head-up display does; however, practically speaking, augmented reality is expected to include registration and tracking between the superimposed perceptions, sensations, information, data, and images and some portion of the real world.
Contact lenses that display AR imaging are in development. These bionic contact lenses might contain the elements for display embedded into the lens including integrated circuitry, LEDs and an antenna for wireless communication. The first contact lens display was patented in 1999 by Steve Mann and was intended to work in combination with AR spectacles, but the project was abandoned, then 11 years later in 2010–2011.
Another version of contact lenses, in development for the U.S. military, is designed to function with AR spectacles, allowing soldiers to focus on close-to-the-eye AR images on the spectacles and distant real world objects at the same time.At CES 2013, a company called Innovega also unveiled similar contact lenses that required being combined with AR glasses to work.The futuristic short film Sight features contact lens-like augmented reality devices.Many scientists have been working on contact lenses capable of different technological feats.
A patent filed by Samsung describes an AR contact lens, that, when finished, will include a built-in camera on the lens itself. The design is intended to control its interface by blinking an eye. It is also intended to be linked with the user’s smartphone to review footage, and control it separately. When successful, the lens would feature a camera, or sensor inside of it. It is said that it could be anything from a light sensor, to a temperature sensor.
The first publicly unveiled working prototype of an AR contact lens not requiring the use of glasses in conjunction was developed by Mojo Vision and announced and shown off at CES 2020.
Virtual retinal display
A virtual retinal display (VRD) is a personal display device under development at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory under Dr. Thomas A. Furness III. With this technology, a display is scanned directly onto the retina of a viewer’s eye. This results in bright images with high resolution and high contrast. The viewer sees what appears to be a conventional display floating in space.Several of tests were done to analyze the safety of the VRD. In one test, patients with partial loss of vision—having either macular degeneration (a disease that degenerates the retina) or keratoconus—were selected to view images using the technology.
In the macular degeneration group, five out of eight subjects preferred the VRD images to the cathode-ray tube (CRT) or paper images and thought they were better and brighter and were able to see equal or better resolution levels. The Keratoconus patients could all resolve smaller lines in several line tests using the VRD as opposed to their own correction. They also found the VRD images to be easier to view and sharper. As a result of these several tests, virtual retinal display is considered safe technology.
Virtual retinal display creates images that can be seen in ambient daylight and ambient room light. The VRD is considered a preferred candidate to use in a surgical display due to its combination of high resolution and high contrast and brightness. Additional tests show high potential for VRD to be used as a display technology for patients that have low vision.
The EyeTap (also known as Generation-2 Glass) captures rays of light that would otherwise pass through the center of the lens of the wearer’s eye, and substitutes synthetic computer-controlled light for each ray of real light.