What is Augmented Reality Technology?

March 17, 2020 • Shannon Flynn


Have you ever wished that you could see what a piece of furniture would look like in your home before you bought it, or how an outfit looked on you before you ordered it from Amazon? That technology — augmented reality — is actually already here and might be making it’s way to your smartphone or another mobile device sooner than you might think.

What is augmented reality, how is it used and why is this new technology so important?

What is Augmented Reality?

Did you play Pokemon Go when it first debuted in 2016? This mobile version of the now 20-year-old Pokemon games made you walk around your city or neighborhood, looking for elusive Pokemon that you could try to catch. If you had a compatible device, you could use your phone’s camera to project the Pokemon on real-life surfaces in your neighborhood.

Congratulations — you’re already familiar with augmented reality.

Augmented Reality, or AR, works by projecting virtual items onto the real world. As most of these technologies, AR started out in the gaming industry but has expanded into everything from retail to aerospace.

Today, NASA engineers are using an AR assembly manual with the Microsoft Hololens to assemble the Orion deep-space capsule, and you can use AR on your phone to see how a piece of furniture will look in your home before you order it from Amazon.

How Does AR Work?

AR might seem simple — all you have to do is open an app and hold up your phone — but what’s happening under the digital hood is a little bit more complicated.

First, your device captures an image of the area where you need to project these digital items. Then it collects more data — GPS locations, infrared, etc — to help it build a 3D digital rendering of your space.

Once it has all of that information, the program is able to project it’s virtual items onto your space. You can only see these items through your device, but it gives you the tools to navigate these virtual items in the real world.

Why is Augmented Reality So Important?

While being able to catch Pokemon in the real world might seem like an awesome feature for gamers, does AR have applications outside of gaming and retail?

How about art? Apple has worked to create six different virtual art exhibits in cities around the globe that you can only fully appreciate with a smartphone and the company’s augmented reality app.

Retail brands are starting to use AR to connect with their customers.  Before Avengers: Endgame came out, a Korean telecom company used AR as part of a promotion to encourage people to try out their new 5G network.  Participants had to find cards using augmented reality that featured characters from the Marvel movie.

AR gives us the tools to mesh the digital world with the real one, something that has been impossible until recently. There are already a handful of tools available for programmers who want to try their hand at creating an AR app for smartphones. Some are expensive but others, like the Apple ARKit 3, are free though it may only work with Apple devices.

The Future of Augmented Reality

Augmented reality might be in its infancy, but if the last couple of years are any indication, this technology isn’t going anywhere and the creations that we can make with it are only going to get more elaborate and more amazing as time goes on.

Where have you seen AR recently? It’s becoming more common with every passing year, and will likely influence our lives and how we perceive the world for many years to come.