What is Augmented Reality ?

No one could have anticipated the likelihood that “Glassholes”—people who constantly talk to their Google Glass, ignoring the outside world—may have actually been onto the cultural times of the future. Although the term died out when production was ceased in 2014 as Google decided the technology was premature, augmented reality is now thriving in its adolescence.

When tech giants like Facebook and Google start investing heavily in certain technologies, the rest of the world notices. Goldman Sachs’ full market report on augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) estimates that in a worst case scenario, AR will become an $80B market. They estimate that if AR hits an “accelerated uptake”, the market may grow to a massive $182B.

Augmented reality is a very different technology from Virtual Reality, and knowing the difference between the two will help develop a better understanding of their strengths and how they will apply to both businesses and the end consumer. This article can provide a brief overview, but for now, let’s start by examining Augmented Reality, what it is, and how it differs from Virtual Reality.

Augmented reality is a technology that allows for virtual objects to be placed in the real world in real-time, enhancing our information about the world around us. Imagine looking outside and seeing today’s weather forecast appear before you on the window itself. AR layers detailed information over what we see around us while still allowing us to navigate through the real environment.

AR is not a new concept. In 1968, Ivan Sutherland made the rst attempt at AR when he created the rst head-mounted display (HMD) that rendered simple wireframe drawings.

The 1st and Ten Line computer system was rst broadcast by Sportvision in 1998, casting the rst virtual yellow rst down marker during a live NFL game. In 2009, Esquire Magazine became the first print publication to try augmented reality. Sports cars have had similar technology for projecting the speedometer onto the windshield for years. It allows drivers drive more safely by providing critical information without forcing them to take their eyes off of the road. As AR continued to mature, it has grown into a technology that works seamlessly with the physical world, leading to exciting opportunities in areas as diverse as gaming, marketing, manufacturing, and retail, just to name a few.

Virtual Reality differs from AR in a few key areas. First, VR seeks to not just enhance reality, but to recreate reality in an immersive environment. To accomplish this, users are often separated from the real world by headsets (often referred to as HMDs). HMDs completely block out
the user’s surroundings, isolating them from the outside world. Such technology is indeed immersive, but it is also somewhat limited in its applications. Certain types of training might be enhanced with VR, and gamers are salivating at the thought of being able to actually inhabit their games. Currently, the gaming and entertainment industries have found the most success with this quickly developing medium.

This distinction between AR and VR is based on the current state of both technologies. However, the future will bring head-mounted displays that are capable of both AR and VR (we’ll touch on that later). It is easy to imagine an HMD that allows users to see through to the outside world in AR mode, then becomes opaque and switches to VR. There are no known players developing such a hybrid system, though it is likely on the roadmap for every active company in the space. AR and VR remain separate domains performing different functions; VR seeks to create a world of its own separate from reality, while AR seeks to increase a user’s experience in the real world and enhance reality.

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