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What is Augmented Reality? The History and the Future of AR.

Our reality is pretty good and until past century the physical world was considered the only reality we as human beings could experience. But  today due to emerging technologies we can dive into completely new artificial realities  or amplify existing reality with additional information layers. This technology is called Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a user`s real world view with computer generated virtual text or image on user`s viewing mobile device screen. Virtual text or image can be superimposed on selected objects in the real world view of the user, where the virtual text or image is about the selected object.

If we look into AG definition we`ll see that Augmented Reality is based on Context  Aware Computing. For an AR user the real world and virtual objects coexist on the same view. For example in a museum there is Mona Lisa, and if you look at this picture of Mona Lisa through an augmented reality smartphone the information of Mona Lisa will be imposed on top. In addition it may include information like the artist(da Vinci), as well as the year that was estimated this picture was drawn.

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History of Augmented Reality

Let`s talk a bit about the history of Augmented Reality.  In 1901 author L. Frank Baum first mentions the idea of “character marker” which is an electronic display overlaying on real life (or people). In 1989 Jaron Lanier  coins the phrase “Virtual Reality”(VR) and its concept model. In 1990 Thomas P. Caudell creates the concept and phrase “Augmented Reality”(AR). And from then AR and VR are used but the question is – what`s the difference between them.

It looks like Augmented Reality is an old technology as it has been mentioned so long ago. Why has it become so popular only nowadays?  Indeed, the concept of Augmented Reality is old, but only recently it became fully implementable and reliable. Let`s see why!
First of all, higher resolution cameras on smart devices enable accurate image and object identification. Before the cameras on smart devices did not have these resolutions and therefore whatever objects were identified an error rate was very high. Secondly, enhanced processing capability of CPUs and GPUs on smart devices enable fast and reliable image processing, object identification and feature extraction. In addition large memory and fast input/output memory access enables large amounts of AR object information to be stored and quickly used. The other component is high-definition displays on smart devices. This enables sharp virtual text and images to be superimposed in an elegant and easy-on-the-eye fashion. What else is needed – broadband wireless and wired networking technologies. This enables AR servers and databases  information to be quickly retrieved and brought to the device so that it can be displayed on this device for the user to be able to see it quickly.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Let`s take a look and compare Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Let`s start with Virtual Reality because it came first. A virtual reality user is fully immersed into an artificial (animated) environment. This is like a game playing space. A user (game player) commonly uses an avatar to exist and interact inside the VR space. The user`s view in virtual reality is different from the real environment. Fantasies and illusions surrounding the avatar are easy to create in the virtual world.
Augmented Reality instead is a mixture of real life and virtual reality. So Augmented Reality combines information and does various things but its basis is real life – what the user actually sees. Augmented Reality users are able to obtain useful information about location and objects, and can interact with virtual contents in the real world. So the virtual contents are superimposed onto the real world image that is seen by the user. The AR users can distinguish the superimposed virtual objects. They also are able to turn on and turn off selected AR functions (which may be related to certain objects). In other worlds if I`m wholly interested in object and not in location, in that case, I will go and adjust my AR functions in such  way that location information doesn`t pop up on my user screen – I`ll only get object information. Things like that are controllable in futuristic systems. In comparison to Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality users commonly feel less separated from the real world, because basically the foundation of the view is exactly the real world. Things are just superimposed on the real world view of the user. So fantasies and illusions can be created and superimposed on a real world view.

So to cut the story short

Augmented Reality is a virtuality based on reality while Virtual Reality is a reality based on virtuality.

That`s the difference.

Augmented Reality classification

Now let`s take a look at augmented reality classification.
First there`s sensor based augmented reality. It is based on GPS, Gyro sensors, Accelerometers. The examples of this AG technologies are: Layar, Wikitude, Sekai Cam. The other type is vision based Augmented Reality which is based on Computer Vision, Open GL (Open Graphics Library). The examples are Vuforia, Metaio, Total Imersion ARToolKit. Then comes Hybrid Tracking based AR which is the combination of Vision and Sensor technologies together. Examples include Outdoor AR systems.

The Future of Augmented Reality

What is the future of Augmented Reality? First of all, new AR platforms are coming: smart glasses, smart watches, wearable IoT devices and other new smart devices. All of these can serve as a new platform for AR. Therefore Augmented Reality will only get better. It will become faster, more accurate, more informative, lower power consuming, easier to use, more portable, cheaper, more reliable and obtaining more functionality for sure.