Reality… in a Nutshell

- The Next Big Wave in the Industry — ‘Augmented Reality’

Sunil Raj


Augmented reality (AR) is a type of interactive, reality-based display environment that takes the capabilities of computer-generated display, sound, text, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory and effects to enhance the user’s real-world experience. It has many different implementation models and applications, but its primary objective is to provide a rich audio-visual experience. AR works by employing computerized simulation and techniques such as image and speech recognition, animation, head-mounted, and hand-held devices and powered display environments to add a virtual display on top of real images and surroundings.

AR offers us a new way to interact with the physical (or real) world. Merging and combining the virtual and the real can leverage a totally new range of user experience, going beyond what common apps and software are capable of. When compared to other reality technologies, it lies in the middle of the mixed reality spectrum; between the real world and the virtual world. An enhanced version of reality where live direct or indirect views of physical real-world environments are augmented

We are at the cusp of a major revolution from mobile to immersive computing. It is the blending of interactive digital elements — like dazzling visual overlays, buzzy haptic feedback, or other sensory projections — into our real-world environments. The possibilities of AR tech are limitless. The only uncertainty is how smoothly, and quickly, developers will integrate these capabilities into devices that we’ll use daily. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive or destructive and is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment.

Augmentation techniques are typically performed in real time and in semantic context with environmental elements. Immersive perceptual information is sometimes combined with supplemental information. This combines the benefits of both AR technology and heads up display technology.

What is AR?

We can say that it is the combination of what is acquired through the senses, its processing and matching with pre-learned models that result in the perception of reality. So, the reality is not solely what can be perceived by our senses, but it goes beyond that, just as do our perception mechanisms. In fact, perception involves acquired models and concepts, that may completely change the interpretation of any sensed (acquired) information

An AR system generates a composite view for the user that is the combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer that augments the scene with additional information.

Augment means to add or enhance something. As both virtual and real worlds harmoniously coexist, users of AR experience a new and improved natural world where virtual information is used as a tool to aid in everyday activities.

How does AR work?

AR can be displayed on various devices like smart devices, screens, glasses, handheld devices, mobile phones, head-mounted displays. It involves technologies like SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), depth tracking. The type of AR one is most likely to encounter adopt a range of sensors, certain computer components, and a display device, much like a projector to create the illusion of virtual objects in the real world.

By using smart algorithms and other sensors the device can keep the augmented elements coordinate with the image of the real world. The simplest form of tracking is for the device to use GPS to figure out the position automatically

AR these days is much more sophisticated than before, there is the interactive and spatially aware implementation of the concept where digital objects such as 3D models or video are outlined onto the physical view of reality as if they were there.

As it turns out, there are three key components to this:

· It must combine virtual and real information, with the real world as the primary place of action;

· It must be interactive with real-time updates;

· It must have virtual information registered in 3D space, in the physical environment.

Tools, Devices & Technologies used in AR:

  • Head-mounted Display (HMD): It is a display device worn on the forehead. HMDs place images of both the physical world and virtual objects over the user’s field of view
  • Eyeglasses: AR displays can be rendered on devices resembling eyeglasses
  • Head-up Display (HUD): It is a transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints
  • Contact Lenses: The bionic contact lenses might contain the elements for display embedded into the lens including integrated circuitry, LEDs and an antenna for wireless communication
  • Virtual Retinal Display: A display is scanned directly onto the retina of a viewer’s eye. This results in bright images with high resolution and high contrast
  • Eye Tap: It captures rays of light that would otherwise pass through the center of the lens of the eye of the wearer and substitutes synthetic computer-controlled light for each ray of real light
  • Handheld: A Handheld display employs a small display that fits in a user’s hand
  • Tracking: Accelerometers, GPS, Gyroscopes, Solid State Compasses, and RFID. These technologies offer varying levels of accuracy and precision
  • Computer: The computer analyzes the sensed visual and other data to synthesize and position augmentations. Computers are responsible for the graphics that go with AR. The more that computers progress, AR will become more flexible and more common in our society. Computers are the core of AR
  • Software and Algorithms: The software must derive real-world coordinates, independent from the camera, from camera images. That process is called image registration and uses different methods of computer vision, mostly related to video tracking. Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) can map relative positions. AR Mark-up Language (ARML) is also used
  • Visual Key-point matching: This method uses a visual trigger — or marker. Unique features (corners, edges) of the visual target extracted and stored in a target database
  • Spatial mapping: Detect flat surfaces in the real world (horizontal and vertical) and use the virtual “mesh” of the real world for occlusion. Using spatial mapping we can define the virtual anchors in the real space and position virtual content in relation to those anchors. Occlusion of the virtual content with real-world objects is just as important, if not more important. Spatial AR (SAR) augments real-world objects and scenes without the use of special displays such as monitors, head-mounted displays or hand-held devices. SAR supports both a graphical visualization and passive haptic sensation for the end users
  • Sensors and Cameras: Sensors are usually on the outside of the AR device and gather a user’s real-world interactions and communicate them to be processed and interpreted. Cameras are also located on the outside of the device, and visually scan to collect data about the surrounding area. The devices take this information, which often determines where surrounding physical objects are located, and then formulates a digital model to determine the appropriate output. Collecting data about user’s interactions and sending it for processing
  • Processing: AR devices are basically mini-supercomputers packed into tiny wearable devices. These devices require significant computer processing power and utilize many of the same components that our smartphones do. These components include a CPU, a GPU, flash memory, RAM, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi microchip, global positioning system (GPS) microchip, and more
  • Reflection: Mirrors are used in AR devices to assist with the way our eye views the virtual image. A so-called light engine emits the light towards two separate lenses (one for each eye), which consists of three layers of glass of three different primary colors (blue, green, red). The light hits those layers and then enters the eye at specific angles, intensities, and colors, producing a final holistic image on the eye’s retina

Types of AR:

  • Marker-based AR: Marker is visual cues which trigger the display of the virtual information. The camera recognizes the geometries by identifying specific points in the drawing. Some also call it to image recognition, as it requires a special visual object and a camera to scan it. It may be anything, from a printed QR code to special signs. The AR device also calculates the position and orientation of a marker to position the content. Marker-based applications use a camera on the device to distinguish a marker from any other real-world object
  • Marker-less AR: Marker-less tracking, also called instant tracking, does not use markers. Instead, the user positions the object in the camera view preferably in a horizontal plane. It uses sensors in mobile devices to accurately detect the real-world environment, such as the locations of walls and points of intersection. Location-based or position-based AR, that utilizes a GPS, a compass, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer to provide data based on the user’s location. This data then determines what AR content you find or get in a certain area
  • Projection-based AR: Projecting synthetic light to physical surfaces, and in some cases allows to interact with it. These are the holograms; it detects user interaction with a projection by its alterations. Detecting the user’s interaction is done by differentiating between an expected (or known) projection and the altered projection (caused by the user’s interaction). The projector can essentially turn any surface into an interactive environment
  • Superimposition-based AR: Replaces the original view with an augmented, fully or partially. Object recognition plays a key role, without it the whole concept is simply impossible. In this AR, object recognition plays a vital role because the application cannot replace the original view with an augmented one if it cannot determine what the object is

Future of AR:

AR would blur the lines between physical and digital worlds. Once AR reaches maturity, users may not be able to differentiate between the real and the virtual world. We would live in a seamless world where digital information blends naturally into the physical world thus creating an augmented world. Those days of augmented future is not far from now. AR is not limited to displays and visual stimuli. However, audio, haptic, olfactory and gustatory AR is more difficult to achieve

The goal of AR is to create a convenient and natural immersion


· AR has many uses in different fields:

· Archaeology & Architecture, Commerce & Education

· Video Game Consoles & Mobile smartphones, Art/installations/ visual arts/music, Tourism, Broadcasting, Industrial design

· Medical Practices & Military applications, Marketing and Advertising

Developer Take-A-Ways!

· AR Toolkit, flAR Toolkit, AR Kit, AR Core, Vuforia, Wikitude












· A-Frame, Apertus VR, Argon, ArUco, Goblin XNA, mixare, PTAM, DroidAR, Augment, Augmented Pro Creator, Blippbuilder,, Catchoom CraftAR, Hoppala Augmentation, Layar Creator, Waking App, Vectary, AugmentedPro, Upskill Skylight, zSpace, Aurasma, Blippar, Layar, Nokia City Lens, Torch AR


AR is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. It uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. It is likely to wiggle its way into our day to day lives frequently, influencing various industries. The way we interact with computing devices and think about the chasm between analog/physical and digital/virtual reality is likely to change fundamentally.

A lot more is there to explore in this technology, and a lot more concepts keep on evolving with the integrated technologies and lay us a foundation to make the possibilities become true.

I’m going to share a bunch of tools for developers at the Take-A-Ways Section of the story, but feel free to comment, share or send me any other interesting videos or links you might have found.

If you feel like this story was useful or informative and think others should see it too, make sure you hit the ‘clap’👏 button. See you soon! 👋

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