What is Augmented Reality – AR explained

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive technology that superimposes digital information and virtual elements onto the user’s real-world environment. Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), which creates a completely immersive digital experience, AR integrates digital components into the existing environment, allowing users to engage with both the physical and digital worlds simultaneously.  But what hat is Augmented Reality in particular?

How Augmented Reality Works

Augmented reality (AR) is an immersive technology that seamlessly integrates digital content into the user’s perception of the real world. To create this experience, AR systems rely on a combination of hardware and software components that work together to capture, process, and render digital information on top of the user’s environment. This article will delve deeper into the underlying mechanisms and technologies that make AR possible.

Hardware Components

The hardware components of an AR system typically include the following:


A camera captures the user’s environment, providing a live video feed that serves as the foundation for the AR experience. The camera also helps the system identify specific markers, points of interest, or spatial features in the real world.


AR systems require a display to present the combined digital content and real-world view to the user. This can be achieved through a variety of display technologies, such as screens on smartphones and tablets, head-mounted displays, or smart glasses with embedded projection systems.


AR systems often use various sensors to track the user’s position, orientation, and movements. Common sensors include accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and GPS receivers. These sensors allow the AR system to adjust the digital content based on the user’s perspective and location.

Processing Unit

AR systems require a processing unit to perform the computational tasks necessary for rendering and displaying digital content. This can be an integrated processor in a smartphone, tablet, or wearable device, or a separate computing unit connected to a head-mounted display.

Software Components

The software components of an AR system handle the processing, rendering, and interaction between the digital content and the real-world environment. Key software components include:

Marker Detection and Tracking

Many AR systems rely on marker-based tracking, where the software identifies and tracks specific visual markers or features in the environment. These markers can be pre-defined patterns, images, or natural features such as edges and corners. Markerless AR systems, on the other hand, use advanced computer vision algorithms and sensor data to track the user’s position and orientation without relying on pre-defined markers.

Scene Understanding

AR systems need to understand the geometry and structure of the real-world environment to place digital content accurately. This can involve estimating the position, size, and orientation of objects and surfaces, as well as detecting and avoiding occlusions.


Once the AR system has identified the appropriate location for the digital content, it renders the content and combines it with the real-world view. This may involve creating 3D models, images, text, or animations, and ensuring that the digital content is displayed in a visually consistent manner with the real-world environment.

User Interaction

AR systems often provide ways for users to interact with the digital content, such as gestures, voice commands, or touch inputs. The software components need to process these inputs and adjust the digital content accordingly to create an engaging and interactive experience.

Enhancing the Real World with Digital Elements

Augmented reality systems rely on a combination of hardware and software components to create an immersive experience that blends digital content with the real world. By capturing the user’s environment, tracking their position and orientation, understanding the scene, rendering digital content, and enabling user interaction, AR technology provides a unique and engaging way to interact with the digital world.

Applications of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) technology has experienced significant growth and adoption in recent years, providing innovative solutions across a wide range of industries. By overlaying digital content onto the user’s real-world environment, AR can enhance our perception, understanding, and interaction with the world around us. This article will explore the various applications of AR in greater depth, focusing on the underlying mechanisms and scientific principles that enable these applications.

Education and Training

AR can revolutionize the way we learn and acquire new skills by providing immersive, interactive, and contextually relevant educational experiences. By overlaying digital content onto real-world objects, AR can facilitate experiential learning, improve knowledge retention, and reduce cognitive load. Examples of AR in education and training include:

Medical training

AR can help medical students visualize and interact with virtual anatomical structures, providing a deeper understanding of human anatomy and physiology. Additionally, AR can simulate surgical procedures, allowing students to practice and hone their skills in a risk-free environment.

Industrial training

AR can guide workers through complex assembly or maintenance tasks by providing step-by-step instructions and real-time feedback. This can reduce errors, improve efficiency, and shorten the learning curve for new employees.

Language learning

AR can facilitate language acquisition by providing real-time translations and contextual information about the surrounding environment. This can help learners develop vocabulary and comprehension skills in an engaging and interactive manner.

Entertainment and Gaming

AR has opened up new possibilities for interactive and immersive entertainment experiences. By blending digital content with the real world, AR can create engaging and immersive gaming experiences that encourage exploration, collaboration, and problem-solving. Examples of AR in entertainment and gaming include:

Location-based games

AR games like Pokémon Go and Ingress overlay digital content onto real-world locations, encouraging players to explore their surroundings and interact with other players.

Interactive storytelling

AR can create immersive narratives that unfold in the user’s environment, allowing them to become an active participant in the story.

Live events

AR can enhance live performances and events by adding digital content and interactivity, creating a more engaging and memorable experience for attendees.

Marketing and Advertising

AR can provide unique and engaging marketing experiences that capture consumer attention and encourage brand interaction. By overlaying digital content onto physical products or environments, AR can create memorable and shareable experiences that drive brand awareness and customer engagement. Examples of AR in marketing and advertising include:

Product visualization

AR can help consumers visualize products in their environment, allowing them to better understand the product’s features, size, and aesthetics. This can be particularly useful for furniture, home appliances, or fashion items.

Interactive campaigns

AR can create immersive and interactive marketing campaigns that encourage user participation and content sharing, increasing the reach and impact of the campaign.

Experiential retail

AR can enhance the in-store shopping experience by providing personalized product recommendations, contextual information, and interactive displays.

Manufacturing and Industry

AR can streamline and optimize various industrial processes by providing real-time information, guidance, and feedback to workers. By reducing errors, improving efficiency, and enhancing collaboration, AR can lead to significant cost savings and increased productivity in manufacturing and other industrial settings. Examples of AR in manufacturing and industry include:

Assembly and maintenance

AR can guide workers through complex assembly or maintenance tasks by overlaying digital instructions and visual cues onto the real-world environment. This can reduce errors, improve efficiency, and enable workers to complete tasks faster and more accurately.

Quality control

AR can assist in quality control processes by comparing digital models or specifications with real-world objects, automatically detecting deviations or defects. This can lead to more consistent and accurate quality control outcomes, minimizing the risk of costly recalls or rework.

Remote collaboration

AR can facilitate remote collaboration between workers and experts by allowing them to share a common view of the environment and interact in real-time. This can reduce the need for on-site visits, saving time and resources.

Healthcare and Medicine

AR can transform the healthcare landscape by providing clinicians with real-time, contextually relevant information to enhance patient care and outcomes. By visualizing and interacting with digital content in the context of the patient’s body, AR can improve the accuracy, safety, and efficiency of various medical procedures. Examples of AR in healthcare and medicine include:

Pre-operative planning

AR can help surgeons visualize and plan complex surgical procedures by overlaying digital models of the patient’s anatomy onto their body. This can improve surgical accuracy and reduce the risk of complications.

Intra-operative guidance

AR can assist surgeons during surgery by providing real-time navigation and guidance, such as displaying the location of hidden anatomical structures or tracking surgical instruments in relation to the patient’s body.


AR can support physical therapy and rehabilitation by providing patients with real-time feedback on their movements and progress, helping them to perform exercises correctly and achieve better outcomes.

Urban Planning and Architecture

AR can provide valuable insights and tools for urban planners, architects, and designers by visualizing digital models and simulations in the context of the real world. By overlaying digital content onto existing environments, AR can help stakeholders better understand the impact and implications of proposed designs and interventions. Examples of AR in urban planning and architecture include:

Design visualization

AR can help architects and designers visualize their designs in the context of the existing environment, allowing them to better understand the spatial and aesthetic implications of their proposals.

Public engagement

AR can facilitate public engagement and participation in urban planning processes by allowing community members to visualize and interact with proposed plans and designs in their local environment.

Construction and maintenance

AR can assist construction workers and engineers in understanding complex design specifications, monitoring construction progress, and identifying potential issues or deviations from the plan.

In conclusion, the applications of augmented reality technology are vast and diverse, spanning various industries and offering innovative solutions to a wide range of challenges. By seamlessly integrating digital content with the real world, AR has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn, work, and interact with our environment.

History and Development of Augmented Reality

Early Beginnings of Augmented Reality

The seeds of augmented reality can be traced back to the early 20th century, even before the invention of computers. Here, we explore some of the early ideas and experiments that laid the foundation for the development of AR technology.

L. Frank Baum’s Character Marker (1901)

One of the earliest references to a concept similar to AR can be found in L. Frank Baum’s science fiction novel, “The Master Key.” In the book, the protagonist receives a device called the “Character Marker,” which, when worn, reveals a letter above people’s heads, symbolizing their character traits. Although it wasn’t called augmented reality at the time, this concept illustrates the idea of overlaying additional information onto the real world.

Sensorama (1962)

In the 1950s and 60s, cinematographer Morton Heilig developed an immersive entertainment system called the “Sensorama.” This mechanical device aimed to engage all the senses, combining a stereoscopic 3D display with sound, vibrations, smells, and wind to create a multisensory experience. While not exactly AR, the Sensorama was an early attempt to merge the physical and virtual worlds, providing a glimpse into the future of immersive technologies.

Ivan Sutherland’s Head-Mounted Display (1968)

Considered the “father of computer graphics,” Ivan Sutherland made a significant contribution to the development of AR technology with his groundbreaking head-mounted display (HMD) system, known as the “Sword of Damocles.” This rudimentary HMD used half-silvered mirrors to project simple wireframe graphics onto the user’s field of view, allowing them to see virtual objects seemingly integrated with the real environment. The Sword of Damocles was an early example of a wearable computer and demonstrated the potential of HMDs for augmenting reality.

These early beginnings provided the foundation for the development of augmented reality as we know it today. As technology progressed, the concept of overlaying digital information onto the real world evolved into more sophisticated and practical applications, paving the way for the modern AR landscape.

First Steps Towards Augmented Reality

The first steps towards augmented reality (AR) as we know it today were made in the late 20th century as technology advanced and researchers began to explore the potential of integrating digital information with the real world. Here, we examine some of the key milestones in AR’s early development.

Myron Krueger’s Videoplace (1970s)

Myron Krueger, a pioneer in interactive art and virtual reality, created “Videoplace” in the 1970s. This experimental system used projectors, video cameras, and on-screen silhouettes to enable users to interact with virtual objects and other users in a shared space. Although it did not involve head-mounted displays, Videoplace was an early example of computer-generated environments that responded to human input, laying the groundwork for future AR experiences.

Boeing’s AR Research (1990s)

In the early 1990s, researchers at Boeing began exploring AR’s potential for improving assembly processes. They developed a system called the “Wire Bundle Assembly Helper,” which used a see-through head-mounted display to overlay virtual wire bundle paths onto physical aircraft components. This early AR application demonstrated the technology’s potential for enhancing productivity and reducing errors in complex tasks.

ARToolkit (1999)

Developed by Hirokazu Kato in 1999, the ARToolkit was a groundbreaking software library for creating AR applications. It enabled developers to overlay virtual graphics onto real-world video feeds using fiducial markers for tracking. The ARToolkit was instrumental in making AR more accessible to developers and researchers, spurring further innovation and experimentation in the field.

Early Mobile AR (2000s)

As mobile technology advanced, researchers began exploring the potential of AR on smartphones and handheld devices. One of the first mobile AR systems was “ARQuake,” developed in 2000 by Bruce Thomas and colleagues at the University of South Australia. This experimental game adapted the popular first-person shooter “Quake” to an outdoor AR environment, using a wearable computer, GPS, and a head-mounted display. This early work helped pave the way for the development of modern mobile AR applications.

These first steps towards augmented reality set the stage for the rapid growth and development of AR technology in the 21st century. As computing power and graphics capabilities improved, AR experiences became more sophisticated, diverse, and accessible to a wider audience.

AR in the 1990s

Augmented reality (AR) made significant strides in the 1990s as researchers, engineers, and computer scientists began to explore new possibilities for merging the digital and physical worlds. Here are some notable advancements and milestones in AR during this time:

The Term “Augmented Reality” (1990)

The term “augmented reality” was first coined by Tom Caudell, a researcher at Boeing. He used the term to describe the technology he was developing to assist workers in assembling wiring harnesses for aircraft. The system utilized head-mounted displays to overlay digital information, such as wiring paths, onto the workers’ view of the physical components.

The KARMA System (1991)

Developed by Steven Feiner, Blair MacIntyre, and Doree Seligmann at Columbia University, the Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance (KARMA) system was one of the earliest AR applications. Using a see-through head-mounted display, KARMA projected digital instructions onto physical objects to guide users in performing tasks, such as printer maintenance.

Virtual Fixtures (1992)

Dr. Louis Rosenberg at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory created the “Virtual Fixtures” system, which combined AR with robotic technology. The system utilized a head-mounted display to overlay virtual objects onto the user’s field of view, providing guidance for teleoperated robotic manipulation tasks. The Virtual Fixtures project demonstrated AR’s potential for enhancing human performance and precision in complex tasks.

Studierstube (1996)

Dieter Schmalstieg and Anton Fuhrmann at Vienna University of Technology developed Studierstube, an AR system that enabled users to interact with digital information in a 3D workspace. Studierstube combined a see-through head-mounted display with a stylus and tablet interface, allowing users to manipulate virtual objects and collaborate with others in a shared AR environment.

ARToolKit (1999)

As mentioned in a previous response, Hirokazu Kato developed ARToolKit in 1999. This influential software library made it possible for developers to create AR applications that overlaid virtual graphics onto real-world video feeds using fiducial markers for tracking. ARToolKit played a crucial role in democratizing AR development and fostering further innovation in the field.

The 1990s were a pivotal decade for the development of augmented reality. As technology continued to advance, researchers and developers gained a better understanding of AR’s potential applications and challenges, laying the groundwork for the widespread adoption of AR in the 21st century.

21st Century: Mobile AR and Beyond

With the advent of the 21st century, augmented reality (AR) has gained widespread popularity and adoption, fueled by advancements in mobile technology, computing power, and internet connectivity. Here are some notable milestones and developments in AR during this period:

ARQuake (2000)

ARQuake, an outdoor AR game developed by Bruce Thomas and his team at the University of South Australia’s Wearable Computer Lab, was one of the first AR gaming experiences. The game combined a wearable computer system with a head-mounted display, GPS, and orientation sensors, allowing players to navigate a physical environment while interacting with virtual elements from the popular game Quake.

Mobile AR (2008 onwards)

The release of smartphones with built-in cameras, GPS, and accelerometers enabled the development of mobile AR applications. In 2008, Wikitude released one of the first mobile AR apps, which used a smartphone’s camera and GPS to overlay location-based information on the user’s screen. This marked the beginning of a new era in AR, making the technology more accessible and widespread.

Google Glass (2013)

Google introduced Google Glass, a wearable AR device, in 2013. The device featured a small screen that projected digital information into the user’s field of view. While the initial consumer version did not gain widespread adoption, Google continued to develop the technology for enterprise applications, and it has found success in various industries, such as manufacturing and logistics.

Pokémon GO (2016)

Niantic’s Pokémon GO became a global phenomenon in 2016, popularizing AR gaming on a massive scale. The game used a smartphone’s camera and GPS to overlay digital creatures called Pokémon onto the real world, allowing players to capture and interact with them. Pokémon GO demonstrated the potential of AR for engaging users and creating shared experiences.

Apple ARKit and Google ARCore (2017)

Apple and Google released their respective AR development platforms, ARKit and ARCore, in 2017. These platforms made it easier for developers to create AR applications for iOS and Android devices, leading to an explosion of AR apps in various domains, such as gaming, retail, education, and navigation.

Microsoft HoloLens (2016) and HoloLens 2 (2019)

Microsoft introduced its HoloLens, a self-contained AR headset, in 2016. The device allowed users to interact with digital holograms projected onto their field of view. The second iteration, HoloLens 2, was released in 2019, featuring improved comfort, accuracy, and a larger field of view. The HoloLens series has been primarily aimed at enterprise applications, such as design, training, and remote assistance.

The 21st century has seen rapid advancements in AR technology, driven by the proliferation of smartphones and improvements in computing power. AR has become more accessible and widely adopted, with applications spanning various industries and use cases. As AR technology continues to evolve, it will likely become an even more integral part of our daily lives and reshape the way we interact with the digital world.

Augmented Reality with ARVISUS®

Augmented Reality is an innovative technology that has the potential to transform the way we interact with the world around us. By seamlessly integrating digital information and virtual elements into our real-world environment, AR offers new possibilities for enhancing user experiences, improving productivity, and creating more engaging and interactive applications across various industries.

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