What is augmented reality (AR)? - Definition from WhatIs.com


augmented reality (AR)

Part of the Multimedia and graphics glossary:

Augmented reality (AR) is the integration of digital information with live video or the user's environment in real time. Basically, AR takes an existing picture and blends new information into it. One of the first commercial applications of AR technology is the yellow first down line in televised football games. 

The key to augmented reality is the software. Augmented reality programs are written in special 3D augmented reality programs such as D'Fusion,  Unifye Viewer or FLARToolKit.  These programs allow the developer to tie animation or contextual digital information in the computer program to an augmented reality "marker" in the real world. 

The end user must download a software application (app) or browser plug-in in order to experience augmented reality. Most AR applications are built in Flash or Shockwave and require a webcam program to deliver the information in the marker to the computer. The marker, which is sometimes called a target, might be a barcode or simple series of geometric shapes. When the computer's AR app or browser plug-in receives the digital information contained in the marker, it begins to execute the code for the augmented reality program. 

AR applications for smartphones include global positioning system (GPS) to pinpoint the user's location and its compass to detect device orientation. Sophisticated AR programs used by the military for training may include machine vision, object recognition and gesture recognition technologies.

Hallmark Cards, Inc., is using AR in their line of webcam greeting cards. The marker is on the card. In order to view the animation, the end user has to visit the Hallmark website and download a small software program for that specific card. 

Some of the many actual or potential uses of augmented reality:

  • The changing maps behind weather reporters.
  • A navigational display embedded in the windshield of a car.
  • Visual displays and audio guidance for complex tasks.
  • Images of historical recreations integrated with the current environment.
  • A display in a pilot's helmet that allows the pilot to, in effect, see through the aircraft.
  • Mobile marketing involving product information displayed over that product or its location.
  • Video games with digital elements blended into the user's environment.
  • Virtually trying on clothes through a webcam while online shopping.
  • Displaying information about a tourist attraction by pointing a phone at it.

Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell coined the term augmented reality in 1990, in reference to a head-mounted display Boeing used to guide workers as they put together electrical wiring harnesses for aircraft equipment.  

If you'd like to experience augmented reality for yourself, visit this General Electric website -- they used augmented reality for a marking campaign on smart grid technology. You will need a printer, a webcam and a computer with Internet connection.


Learn More About IT:

How Stuff Works explains How the First-Down Line Works.

> junaio is an augmented reality browser.

> Here's MIT Technology Review's article about SixthSense, an AR technology that uses gesture recognition.

> Anna Leach reports on augmented reality for The Independent.

> The Augmented.org blog maintains AR news and videos.

> Wikipedia traces the history of augmented reality back to 1936.

> For IEEE Spectrum, Babak A. Parviz writes about 'Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens.'

> BMW ran an augmented reality ad campaign for the BMW Z4 automobile. 


This was last updated in January 2011
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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