IT Trends

How Augmented Reality Works: Technologies Behind It

July 29, 2020

Augmented reality is the hottest technology for all business owners, but many still don’t know exactly what it is. You might have already met some apps based on AR, such as Snapchat, YouCam Makeup, or even Google Translate. Have you ever thought about how Google apps translate a text on the image in real-time? The app has a wonderful AR feature – camera mode that allows you to understand any written text without any troubles. Next time you are going to any foreign country, you won’t get lost. And that is thanks to AR technologies. 

However, Google Translate is not a full AR solution; it is an app with elements of augmented reality. AR apps provide far more functions and opportunities to its users. Want to know more about AR, and it’s functionality? Would you like to understand the difference between smart glasses and headsets? We decided to help you explore AR technologies and guide you through the theme. Keep reading the article to find answers to all your questions.

What is Augmented Reality? 

If you are here, you have probably heard something about AR or VR and want to know more. The majority of people know about AR thanks to science-fiction movies with interactive displays, animated holograms, and 3D models. But all these things already exist in real-life. 

Augmented reality or AR is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory [1]. In simple words, AR allows digital content to be a part of a physical environment. 

The best example of AR is a popular several years ago mobile game – Pokemon GO. It was launched in July 2016 and became a cultural phenomenon that is still in demand on Google Apps and Apple Store. According to Guinness World Records, Pokemon GO’s revenue was the highest among mobile apps for the first month of release – over $207 million.

AR functionality caused huge excitement around this game. Pokemon GO uses a smartphone’s GPS and clock to detect your location and make Pokemons appear “around you”. Once you see them on your screen, you can run and catch them, until no one catches them instead of you. The game allows realizing that you are a Pokemon trainer who collects species and competes with Ash to be the first in the Pokemon League Ranking. 

AR in Pokemon Go

Augmented Reality History

The history of AR started in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull developed the first head-mounted display to display computer graphics. The scientists called it the Sword of Damocles. Interesting that the phrase is commonly used in anecdotes to illustrate imminent peril for those who are in power

1975 – Myron Krueger created the first artificial reality laboratory – Videoplace. The scientist followed the conception to interact digital solutions and human movements. Later it was used for video cameras and projector.

1980 – Steve Mann made the first portable computer designed to be worn in front of the eye. The inventor called it EyeTap. Mann recorded a scene to superimposed effects and showed how users could play with it, moving a head. 

1987 – Creation of the prototype of a heads-up display. It showed astronomical data over the real sky. 

1990 – The term “augmented reality” was firstly used in a book. 

1999 – A group of scientists tried new navigation software. It was used to generate runways and street data from a helicopter video.

2004 – Trimble Navigation created an outdoor helmet-mounted AR system. 

2013 – Google tested its Glass with an internet connection via Bluetooth. 

2015 – Microsoft presented Windows Holographic and HoloLens.

2016 – Niantic launched the Pokemon Go game. 

In the future, we might expect that AR will gain more prominence by 5G networks. And, according to GlobalData surveys, will be a $76 billion market by 2030. 

How does AR Work?

To understand AR work, we need to consider the technologies it involves. To show the content to users, augmented reality applies computer vision, S.L.A.M or simultaneous localization and mapping, depth tracking to calculate the distance between the user and an object, and the following components:

  • Cameras and sensors to scan the location and collect data of user’s interaction. Your device will locate objects generating 3D models. 
  • Flash memory, RAM, GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi to measure speed, directions, angles, orient in space, and many more. 
  • Projector to take data from sensors and deliver digital images on the surface. 

So, all these technologies help collect data, send it, and process it to show an augmented content we need. 

Let’s consider how AR works in the example. Imagine that you go shopping with AR navigation, like on the video below. Computer vision will process your location and objects using a camera of your device and recognize it. Then, the app will put labels onto objects you see. The process happens every time you point the camera on the location that has already been mapped. 

What are the Types of AR? 

Projection-based AR places digital images on the physical space. It can be either interactive or non-interactive. Interactive can project a smartphone on your hand. Non-interactive creates projections of objects that you can place and explore. For example, a projection of a surface for geography class. 

Recognition or marker-based AR comes when we scan QR codes or particular images. Such apps will recognize markers and replace them with corresponding digital objects. 

Location or markerless-based AR uses smart devices’ location detection features like GPS, gyroscope, compass. This type is popular among tourists who seek new exciting places. Reading your smartphone’s GPS, an AR app will scan and give you relevant information about where to go and what to explore. You can either view the information on the map or see projected markers on the real street. 

Superimposition-based AR replaces an entire object or a part of it with an augmented view. To understand how it works, try IKEA Catalog to place their virtual furniture in your physical room. 

What Hardware to use for AR Apps? 

Depending on the AR-type and requirements of an application, you need to choose a suitable device. Let’s cover all possible types that support augmented reality. 

Mobile devices 

Smartphones and tablets are the best tools to run AR apps. Almost anyone nowadays has a smartphone that supports AR games, analytics, networks, sports, and more. 

Head-up displays

A head-up display or HUD is a transparent display designed primarily for augmented reality experience. It displays the content in front of a user. HUDs were originally used for military purposes, aviation, automotive, and others to simplify training processes. 

The technology stack of the head-up display includes a projector and a video processor to generate visual content. 

Smart glasses

AR glasses are a wearable device that generates digital content around the user’s viewpoint. The glasses allow seeing physical surroundings like traditional glasses and add augmented abjects. 

There are many top-notch models, such as Google Glasses, Vuzix Glade, Meta 2 Glasses, Solos, and others. These models are capable of displaying notifications from your phone, access content hands-free, and more. 

Smart lenses

Augmented reality lenses are the latest trend in the industry. They are an advanced version of previously mentioned glasses. Users wear them the same way as contact lenses. 

Top companies already work on developing the lenses. For example, Mojo previously released Mojo Lens that uses microelectronics and a tiny display to share critical information. Moreover, such lenses also fix the vision [2]

Virtual retinal displays

A virtual retinal display or VRD is probably a game-changing solution for AR. Unlike previously mentioned devices with physical displays, VRD doesn’t have it. The device looks like smart glasses, but it creates visual content using scanned light beams and projects them directly onto the retina [3]

The device is heavy compared to other AR solutions. But it is more healthy for our eyesight since it doesn’t make users focus on images they see. They can relax and enjoy VDR images longer than content from other AR displays. 

Why Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality apps can be used in any sphere, including entertainment, real estate, education, defense, fashion, shopping, tourism, and others. For example, in real estate, AR applications may bring more customer engagement and increase brand awareness. Your customers will be able to experience your real estate with 3D models of any colors and shapes. You can offer real-estate AR tours around your apartments, which can increase your sales. 

Choosing AR for your business, find a reliable partner to develop a tech-savvy solution that you need. OTR has over 13 years of experience in AR development. With 500+ successfully compiled projects, we understand how to implement all client’s needs and wishes. We use the best technologies, like Vuforia or ZapWorks, to create scalable and multifunctional solutions working without any bugs and issues. 

Looking for AR experts? Contact OTR to level up your business. 


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