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.
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.
See a brief augmented reality demo: