What Is Augmented Reality?

Computers and software combine to enhance the reality we live in

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If you've ever used an app that sent you somewhere in the physical world to earn points, visited a website that allowed you to see what different hairstyles might look on your own face, or toured a historic site with the aid of a mobile device that narrated what you were seeing as you were seeing it, then you've experienced augmented reality, basically, "real life" supplemented with computing technology.

By definition, augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera). 

Augmented reality can help people live more productive lives, as information added by apps, web-based augmented reality services, and networked devices are ever more connected and available via wireless Internet connectivity. 

Why Augmented Reality is Important

The World Wide Web has and continues to be one of the most pivotal inventions in human history. Augmented reality is a natural outcome of how the Web continues to progress; and as more technology becomes available to everyday consumers, this evolution will continue. Industry pundits in a recent Pew Internet Research white paper (.PDF) recognized that augmented reality is set to be one of the most crucial technological advancement factors as the Web continues to grow:

How augmented reality will change how we view information online: “We will see augmented reality as the new interface for information. Overlaying it on the real world will come to be seen as an enormous shift; historically, there will be a period before and after the advent of the ‘aug,’ as some sci-fi writers call it.

In retrospect, telephony and smartphones and social media and Wikipedia will be seen as mere steps towards this larger goal.”

The Web will become more interactive than ever before:  “The most significant impacts of the Internet on people's lives by 2025 will involve augmented reality applications. Augmented reality tools such as AR mobile browsers (like Layar) or wearables (like Google Glass) will become affordable and widespread, and we will grow accustomed to seeing the world through multiple data layers. This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking,
and gaming, as well as policing and espionage.”

The line between online and offline will almost cease to exist: Privacy issues will be outweighed by the perceived benefits of being online and interacting with others all the time. I see wearable, or even embedded, technology managing even the most mundane aspects of our daily lives, from what we need at the grocery store to when it's time to change A/C filters to scheduling routine medical appointments and tests.”

How augmented reality can make a difference to our lives both on and off the Web: “Barring a catastrophic event, by 2025, we'll see a new commitment to personal, social, commercial, and political balance, both enabled by and in reaction to the Internet.

The Internet's greatest strength is its ability to remove friction of all sorts, both negative business friction but also positive interpersonal friction. (Just think about your first slow dance.) Today, we have families ignoring each other at the dinner table as each member looks at his or her own screen, but at the same time, a growing concern for our health has led to a rapid decrease in smoking, drinking soda, eating junk food and an increase in exercise. By 2025 we'll start to see more commitment to intellectual, digital and interpersonal wellness.” 

Examples of Augmented Reality

What does augmented reality look like in real life?

Here are some examples:

  • On the iPhone X, AR capabilities can, for example, overlay the faces and names of players and game stats over a live baseball game.
  • Pokemon Go, the smartphone game that places characters in various locations of a home, neighborhood or city, is a great example of how augmented reality software layers information (the cartoon character) into the real world (your living room).
  • It can go farther, too, with practical applications: A doctor in a remote village needs to confer with a colleague in a metropolitan area on the best course of action for a patient. Using a mobile device to connect wirelessly to the Web, the city doctor is able to give a virtual examination via virtualized biometric devices that send important data about the patient - without ever leaving her village. 

The Future is Now with AR

Ten years ago it would have been hard to imagine the advancements we have available to us in virtually every area of our lives via the Web and augmented reality. From interactive shopping experiences to equalized access to medical technology, augmented reality is a natural outcome of the evolution of the technology. 

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