What is Augmented Reality (AR): definition, lenses, AR vs VR

What is Augmented Reality (AR): definition, lenses, AR vs VR

Have you ever played Pokémon GO? Or tried to see how furniture from IKEA looks in your apartment by pointing the phone screen at a specific place in the house? Maybe you managed to walk into a museum and see what it looked like 200 years ago. This is augmented reality, innovative technology that superimposes virtual objects into "reality" with a smartphone, optical device, or tablet screen. This article will introduce you to augmented reality and explain how it works.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality creates an interaction between the real world and virtual data (such as objects, images, text, etc.). This virtual data is superimposed into reality with 2D or 3D images through the screen of a connected device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or connected glasses.

Augmented reality devices generally use some sort of geolocation, such as the GPS data of a user's device. This data helps the technology gather information about someone's immediate surroundings, so that information can be incorporated in a more personal way.

What is the difference between AR and VR?

While seemingly similar, augmented reality and virtual reality are very different technologies.

  • Virtual reality or VR replicates an environment (real or imagined). It simulates a user's physical presence and the environment by primarily appealing to their vision and hearing. It often involves full immersion and requires using a headset (such as the Oculus Rift). 
  • Augmented reality, on the contrary, provides more freedom for the user. It adds digital layers to the real world and doesn't require any specific equipment – a smartphone or a tablet is usually enough.

How does the AR work?

How could you see in an app the same landscape as you see with your own eyes? Augmented reality works through S.L.A.M. (simultaneous localization and mapping) and depth tracking (a sensor that calculates data, such as your distance to objects). The images, videos, 3D models, and animations are projected onto your surroundings as a second layer.

If you're having trouble visualizing how augmented reality works, look no further than Pokémon GO, which uses this technology to superimpose virtual Pokémon into a user's immediate environment. The digital images are nothing more than pixels on a user's screen, but the technology makes it appear that the Pokémon are just within reach. That's why hunting Pokémon is so exciting and thrilling: it feels like you are inside a computer game but with your own very familiar decorations.

What are the best AR experiences?

Augmented reality is hugely popular and used in different sectors such as entertainment, e-commerce, culture, tourism, and much more. It can enrich the content, bring in new audiences, and make life easier. Here you will find some engaging AR experiences which can make your day.

  • Google has many services that facilitate life, such as augmented reality for Google Maps. If you are lost and need the exact directions, Google overlays directions right on top of your world.
  • If you are a devoted fan of the Harry Potter saga, you can try the game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and see how your favorite book and movie characters appear in your reality. You can download the game here for Android and here for iOS devices.
  • Try walking in your apartment or a local park with Acute Art, which collaborates with famous artists such as Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, KAWS lately, and others. It makes artists’ pieces live in your surroundings.
  • You can try a new chair or a sofa in your apartment without going to the shop. The famous IKEA Place app scans your surroundings and places a selected item in it so you can see whether you want to buy it or not. You can download it here for Android and here for iOS devices.
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