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augmented reality app (AR app)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

An augmented reality app (AR app) is a software application that integrates digital visual content (and sometimes audio and other types) into the user’s real-world environment. AR software is used for training, work and consumer applications in many industries including healthcare, public safety, gas and oil, tourism and marketing.

Augmented reality gaming software is probably the most common type of AR app, in particular since the popularity of the Pokémon GO game for smartphones. Computing headsets like Google Glass and heads-up displays  in car windshields are other well-known consumer market uses of AR software.

Augmented reality apps are written in special 3D programs that allow the developer to tie animation or contextual digital information in the computer program to an augmented reality "marker" in the real world. When a computing device's AR app or browser plug-in receives digital information from a known marker, it begins to execute the marker's code and layer the correct image or images.

AR applications for smartphones typically 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.

Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell coined the term augmented reality in 1990 to describe the head-mounted displays that guided electricians in the assembly of complicated wiring harnesses. One of the first commercial applications of AR technology was the yellow "first down" line that began appearing in televised football games sometime in 1998.

This was last updated in August 2016

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