What is Augmented Reality(AR)? – Definition, Examples and Uses

We are in an exciting new world of technology where augmented reality is becoming a part of our everyday life. The popularity of AR owes to initiation by some of the tech giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. While Apple launched its ARKit in 2017, Google came up with its web API in the same year. Apple AR glasses are another notable development in the AR industry.

While augmented reality technology might be complex to understand initially, it is much more exciting and overwhelming to experience. So, if you are wondering what AR is, what is the purpose of augmented reality and how it works, you are at the right place. 

What is augmented reality (AR)? 

Augmented reality is a new and evolving technology that lets its user experience a world augmented with digital content like visual images, graphics, and other information. 

The word augmented is derived from a Latin word meaning “to add”. Essentially, AR enhances the experience of the real world by adding elements to the existing world.

The possibilities for using AR are enormous. I, therefore, tripped on some exciting information to find out the history of AR, present-day usage of AR, and the future of AR.

So, let’s dive in. 

It was in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland (known as the “Father of computer graphics”) and Bob Sproull (Sutherland’s student) first invented the first VR and AR head-mounted display system. It supported primitive graphics. The virtual environment looked like simple wireframe rooms. 

After several developments in improving the experience, the term AR was coined in 1990 by Thomas Caudell and David Mizell (researchers at Boeing).

In 1992, Louis Rosenberg built Virtual Fixtures at USAF Armstrong’s Research Lab. They used it for training US air force pilots. Later, Virtual Fixtures found application in healthcare and other industries. 

In 2000, the Japanese scientist Hirokazu Kato developed the ARToolKit. It is a library that uses video tracking to overlay objects in the real environment. It is widely used even today.

In 2008, Wikitude, an Austria-based mobile AR technology provider created an AR travel guide. It was an AR revolution in the travel and tourism industry.

Today, Google Glass, Microsoft’s HoloLens, and Niantic’s “Pokemon Go” game are widely used for exciting AR experiences.

what is augmented reality ar


How does augmented reality work? – the technology behind augmented reality

You can interact with Augmented Reality on your phone, iPad, or laptop while still seeing the outside world. Do you not wonder how it works?

The elementary idea of augmented reality is to merge real-world objects and virtual objects. It is during building the AR experience when you take data from the real world (image or surface details) and virtual objects (digital assets – 3D object, test, images, etc.) to create the experience and store it on the cloud to view later. 

Now, let’s see in detail how you will build an AR and experience it later.

Building an AR experience involves three major steps:

You will use AR software—— to create the experience. Either choose an image as a marker or a surface over which you want to impose digital content.  

  • The next step in the process is overlaying videos, animations, images, and 3D objects on images of the real-world environment. Generally, AR applications come with thousands of digital assets like 3D objects, images, texts, and animations. Also, you can create assets of your own.
  • The third step is to publish and share the experience. Generally, there are three options to view the experience – QR codes, embedded links, and URLs in WebAR. If you want to view the experience on your mobile or tablet, you must have the AR application installed on your device.
  • Also, an augmented experience allows its users to control it to some extent. Sometimes you can rotate it to view from different angles, pinch to zoom in, and do many more through touch, voice, and other gestures.

How is augmented reality different from virtual reality?

Virtual reality is when you put on a headset and completely immerse yourself in a virtual world. It transports you to a whole new world that looks and feels real.

Unlike Virtual Reality, you are not fully immersed in a virtual world when using Augmented Reality (AR). You can interact with Augmented Reality on your phone, iPad, or laptop while still seeing the outside world.

What are the different types of augmented reality?

There are two types of augmented reality used across business needs. Depending on your need, you can choose to create an AR experience in any of the two: 

  • Marker-based AR

Marker-based AR uses images as markers. Digital elements like 3D models, images, videos, and animation clips are imposed on the marker to create an AR experience. In WebAR, by scanning the QR code, you can view the AR experience by pointing toward the marker. In mobile AR, you must install the AR app. And when you point toward the marker, an AR experience will appear.  You can see the digital elements and images in greater detail. You can also rotate the AR experience to see the objects from different angles.

  • Markerless AR

Marker-less AR uses a surface as the starting point of creating an AR experience. Digital content is overlaid on the surface for creating an AR experience.

You will not need a physical marker to trigger an AR experience in the real world. When you use an AR app, it will recognize the surrounding location using GPS, compass, and accelerometer. It also identifies features of the real world like color and pattern, thus placing virtual objects within the real world. The trial of a painting on the wall can be an example of using markerless AR.

Within markerless AR, there are four different types of AR:

  • Location-based AR: This type of markerless AR uses GPS, compass, and accelerometer of your smart device to locate the physical space to position virtual objects. Hence, even if the surface where you want to display an augmented object is moving, you can view the experience. Further, location-based AR functions in three different ways:
    1. Surface-based AR- Using an AR application of your device, you can view the experience on any surface by pointing your device camera in the direction of the surface.
    2. Area-based AR– Unlike surface-based AR, you cannot view the experience on any surface. You must point to the targeted area to produce augmented digital content.
  • Projection-based AR: Projection-based augmented reality is in the context of static space and can be used to display AR experience only in the projected areas. So, only if a physical surface over which you wish to superimpose a digital object stays within the area where your device camera projects, you will be able to see the experience. 
  • Overlay AR: As the name “Overlay AR” suggests, it is used to mask real-world objects with virtual objects so that the human eye can only see the replaced image with added digital content. 
  • Contour-based AR: This type of AR uses special technology to make use of your device camera to add borders to objects you face. It is especially very popular in locating objects when there is low visibility. 

What is the purpose of augmented reality?

Augmented reality is already helping creators build experiences that solve problems. It will continue to grow and find its application in several futuristic technologies, marketing, and business operations.

Top augmented reality use cases

As AR looked promising in solutions across a wide range of problems in business, technology, and marketing, its adoptions widened. Let’s look at some of the popular use cases across industries. 

AR use cases for:

  • Automobile: The automobile sector uses AR to recreate virtual showrooms and car models on a one-to-one scale. It helps them boost car sales. Potential customers can experience walking through the showroom, viewing car models, and taking test drives without actually visiting the showroom physically. 
  • Advertising: The advertising sector uses AR to create interactive advertisements that could foster greater engagement and boost product sales.
  • Education: Over the past few years, classroom education has been more interactive with the application of AR in education. Teachers use virtual examples of concepts, use game principles to bring interesting subjects to life using AR.
  • Print Media: The print media is gradually moving towards transforming their old catalogs, brochures, business cards, and other marketing and communication documents into an interactive medium through a persuasive AR experience. 

Imagine you give your business card to people and they put it on a stack of tens of other such cards. You will hardly get a call from them. Moreover, it is not possible to fit every appealing detail on a small printed card. With interactive AR business cards, you will stand out and also increase your chances of getting a good response.  

  • Tourism: After Wikitude first created an AR travel guide, we saw several other developments that make traveling fascinating. Creating augmented places and adding interactive elements positively impact travelers’ perception of a place. It, thus, boosts bookings and encourages more tours and traveling. 
  • Retail: AR technology helps Create a smart retail experience, allowing people to walk through the stores without visiting physically. People can have an immersive experience of the store, viewing products closely to make better buying decisions online.
  •  Fashion: The fashion industry has widely adopted AR technology to allow customers to take a tour of their showrooms that look and feel real. “Try on” was another effective AR solution to allow people to try products without even visiting the showrooms. It helped fashion stores and e-commerce brands boost sales online.

Augmented reality in action: Top examples

The best example of using AR is when you can try products from your home without even purchasing them or visiting showrooms. In 2020, 120 million people used AR to trial new products (NOKIA). Many popular brands have adopted AR technology to provide immersive shopping experiences to their customers, some of which are:

AR for IKEA furniture

Today, online shopping is more about the experience. Rather than products, people buy experience. IKEA was one of the early adopters of AR to enhance customer experience while shopping for furniture online. You can try placing the IKEA furniture in your home to see how it will look and fit in the space. 

Dulux paint colors on walls

Dulux allows customers to use their Android and iOS application to see how around 1200 different paint colors will look on their walls.

Gucci’s virtual “try-on”

Virtual “try-on” Gucci sneakers allow its customers to try 3D wearable sneaker images to see how it fits before buying.

How PlugXR can help you build the best AR experience?

PlugXR is a no-code platform for creating immersive applications in minutes. So far, it has helped 3500+ creators and businesses across the globe integrate augmented to enhance customer experience and boost sales. 

What makes PlugXR the best option:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Powerful features
  • No code, no dependency
  • Hasslefree experience building
  • Effective customer support

The future of AR

While businesses are using AR technology to their advantage, there are still endless possibilities for creators to explore and create innovative AR experiences and use their creativity and problem-solving approach to build solutions.

It is the next big thing in the technology space and a crucial component of the futuristic vision of the Metaverse, where the internet is a single, universal and immersive virtual world.

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