What is augmented reality and where is it used?

What is augmented reality and where is it used?

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that adds digital objects to the real, physical world. For example, a military pilot's helmet with glass displaying the distance to the target, flight altitude, various angles and a bunch of other combat parameters; a phone screen where a pokémon image is superimposed on the picture from the camera; a product package that turns into an exciting animation when the camera is pointed at it.

In contrast to augmented reality, virtual reality (VR) is a full immersion in a computer-generated world. You need a special helmet or glasses to perceive this reality. 

Many items and technologies were originally created for military use: for example, a city backpack or the Internet. AR and VR technologies were no exception.

In the middle of the 20th century, when AR and VR were not yet distinguished, the multinational Philco Corporation created the first virtual reality helmet for the Pentagon.

Then there were projects for the CIA, NASA and the entertainment industry. Noteworthy here is the Sensorama device, which never became popular. It was something like a 5D movie theater. Not only did the device show the viewer a movie with sound, but it also blew them in the wind, rocked them on a chair, and filled their nostrils with scents appropriate to the plot of the movie. So much for analog VR. But the invention was too revolutionary and therefore did not attract the interest of investors.

In 1990, the scientist Tom Codell coined the term "augmented reality. Since then, the roads between AR and VR have diverged. 

In what areas AR is used

AR can be used to solve a virtually unlimited range of tasks. For example, Amazon uses AR to check the social distance of its employees. In the most crowded areas of the office, monitors are installed that broadcast images from the surveillance cameras attached there. A circle of a safe diameter is drawn around each person, and if people are too close, the circles around them turn red.

AR is actively used in medicine. There is a device that reads the grid of a patient's blood vessels by thermal radiation and projects it on his hand. With such a gadget, the nursing staff will never miss while giving an IV or a shot into a vein.

What benefits does AR bring to business?

A lot of world-renowned brands actively use AR in their marketing programs.

A great example is Pepsi's London stops. The company does not disclose the results of the campaign, but even this video shows how many people filmed everything that was happening and shared it on social networks. AR helps solve two marketing problems:

  1. Brings the business an increase in initial sales;
  2. Helps businesses increase repeat sales;

Increase in primary sales is achieved by better informing the potential consumer about the product. For example, a customer needs a new kettle, and with AR he can see how the product will look like in his kitchen, and in real size, as well as select the appropriate color.

As for repeat sales, the basic idea is to provide the customer with an additional free service using AR, thus establishing a positive emotional connection with him. This is what the mechanics of innovative loyalty programs are based on.

WebAR is used for the first group of tasks and MobileAR for the second. These are two segments of technology that differ in the way they access AR content.

To get an augmented reality experience through MobileAR, the user needs to download the app and point the device's camera at a marker, horizontal surface or object. This number of actions can only be performed by the existing client. That's why this method is used exclusively to increase repeat sales.

In the case of WebAR, this is not necessary. This subspecies of technology allows the user to access AR content simply by visiting a website or social network. WebAR includes all AR applications, social media masks and most of the animated packages. A very large segment of WebAR is taken up by online stores, especially in the area of home goods. You can walk around them, zoom in on the products you like, and even consult with salespeople or watch ads on virtual monitors. 

The economy of the future will be based on AR

The main vector of AR development is the ubiquitous availability and high quality content. The only thing, which restrains the explosive growth of popularity of this technology is a lack of high-quality and relatively inexpensive AR-glasses. With the advent of such glasses, getting AR-experience will become incomparably more convenient, which means the number of users will grow many times over. 

As soon as this gadget appears - any supermarket will be like an oriental bazaar, but the place of salespeople-callers will be taken by the packages. They will be vying with each other to tell you about the properties of their products, promotions and bonuses. Any physical product will have a digital component. And this is not the distant future. The world giants (Apple, Facebook, Google, Samsung) are racing against the clock to prepare AR glasses, and they are expected to hit the market very soon.

As for communication channels, they are already ready. Many developed countries are using the 5G developed specifically for AR/VR. The peculiarity of this standard is that it distributes calculations between the mobile device and the server in real time. Before that, the obstacle to the widespread use of AR/VR was the low computing power of mobile devices. To be exact, it was enough for AR, but it was impossible to make content of the same quality as a real movie or a modern cartoon. The gadget was very slow.

The new standard does not have this problem. The most voluminous calculations will be transmitted to the server, and from there, the finished result will be returned to the device. And all that in real time, that is, completely unnoticeable to the user.