Augmented Reality (AR)

What is AR?

Augmented reality is designed to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, by overlaying digital information onto real-world space. The intention is to deliver information to the eye more quickly than through conventional means.

AR has found uses across many markets and typical interfaces are via smartphones or wearables such as glasses. It is often used for training purposes to help solve problems faster and improve efficiency. In manufacturing, it helps designers and engineers prototype designs, it helps field engineers deliver better service and maintenance and in education, it helps students visualise and learn. In the automotive market, it is used in heads-up displays to provide driver information directly on the windscreen. In the entertainment market is it used in smartphone games, virtually placing characters and objects in real-world locations.

The difference between AR, MR and VR

AR, VR, and MR are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. To put it simply, here is how all three are different:

AR (Augmented Reality) adds digital elements and media to a live view, usually using a camera on a smart device or lenses. A popular example of this is Pokémon Go, but it has many applications.

MR (Mixed Reality) combines parts of both AR and VR, using real-world and digital elements, allowing them to interact. An example of this is using a virtual avatar, controlled by a user who is somewhere else in the world, that interacts with others in a real-world environment.

VR (Virtual Reality) usually requires complete immersion in an experience outside of our physical world. Using VR devices such as Oculus Rift, Meta Quest, or HTC Vive, the users’ visuals and audio are fully experienced through a virtual world or setting. This means you can transport yourself into a fantastical environment that you would not be able to do otherwise, so is commonly used for gaming.

How AR is used across different industries

Augmented Reality is used across many, industries and as it develops it will become even more prevalent. Here are a few use cases.

Architecture: AR can aid in visualising projects. Images of a structure that is yet to be built can be superimposed onto a real-life view before any construction is approved or built, saving time and money. AR can also be used by architects by rendering 3D imagery into their 2D drawings to help with scaling and accuracy.

Fitness: AR hardware such as smart glasses have been used by Tour de France cyclists and outdoor running athletes to visualise a realistic vision of exercise outside whilst remaining indoors. It’s even arguable that AR gaming applications such as Pokémon Go and Jurassic World Alive help with fitness as they encourage walking outside. These applications use AR to place 3D visuals of game characters into real-world environments through smartphone and tablet cameras.

Healthcare: one of the earliest applications of AR was in healthcare to support the planning, practice, and training of surgical procedures. A study from 2016 revealed that AR technology has both improved university students’ laboratory skills and has also helped them to build positive attitudes related to both surgical and laboratory work.

Other areas in which AR is prominent include television broadcasting, using overlays to display sports scores, and the weather, and superimposing graphics to accompany news stories and topics currently being discussed. Translation applications use AR to instantly interpret foreign text via smartphone cameras, replacing the current text shown with the translated. Snapchat is a leader in using AR with camera filters; something that almost all forms of social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have since adopted.