Introduction to AR

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What is AR?

Augmented Reality can be defined as the process where computer graphics are layered on a real world view through a camera controlled by the user. It may recognise an object or image using a visual search or a point of interest (POI) from GPS co-ordinates such as a building to provide contextual information. Although AR can be implemented on a desktop computer, it has a greater association when used on portable devices such as smartphone or tablets.


AR was originally developed in the early 90s but the recent advances in technology and proliferation of smart phone have made its use more viable. Early uses of AR were in marketing and advertising but it is increasingly being used in other areas, including education.

On a technical level, there are broadly two categories: Marker-based, and markerless systems.

Marker-based systems or natural feature tracking use physical-world symbols and act as a reference point for computer graphics to be overlaid. So I could take a 2-dimensional printed marker, point my mobile phone at the marker and my phone would interpret this symbol to overlay an on-screen graphic as if it were directly on top of the marker in the physical world.

An alternative approach is use of markerless systems which use location data or GPS to determine the position in the physical world. The location data can them be compared to a database to determine what the device is looking at, and influence what will be displayed on-screen.



Although Augmented Reality has been evangelized for years, there have only been a handful of examples for educational purposes, such as the British Museums’ Ancient Egyptian trail or The Augsburg Display Cabinet AR experience at the John Paul Getty Museum.

Recently, the National Geographic Channel have used an installation to promote educational documentaries on natural history. In a similar way AR was used to showcase interactive elements in the Belgrade Science Festival. The installation consisted of a giant book in which usual school subjects such as history, geography or science were presented with an AR twist.

As part of the SCARLET project, a video was developed showing a typical user journey on an iPad and how surrounding resources could be accessed.


AR first emerged predominantly as a new marketing tool to engage the smartphone generation. A number of products now use some form of AR to encourage the user/potential consumer to interact and learn more about the item. In a number of toys stores worldwide Lego have positioned kiosks that display animated 3D augmented content of the complete models.


Magazines have also used AR to provide their “readers” with additional content on news items such as videos and promotional 3D models. This recent issue of Heat magazine features an interactive augmented reality treasure hunt.


Advertising has brought Augmented Reality to the masses, gaining much publicity in such marketing campaigns as Lynx, where the public could interact with augmented angels in Euston Station.

Universal Pictures (UK), the leading film studio recently used augmented to bring to life its most famous titles, through a unique range of celebratory Blu-ray and DVD sleeves.

Absolut's augmented reality campaign, AbsolutTruths, shows consumers how vodka is made using an AR tag hung on Absolut bottles.In the Starbucks Cup Magic AR app, users point their smartphone at the cup producing animations involving five characters including an ice skater, a squirrel, a boy and his dog sledding, and a fox.


Net-A-Porter's use of an augmented reality window display can reveal videos of the catwalk, product information, 360 degree product models, pricing and the ability to purchase the products. Atol eyewear uses AR with facial recognition allowing users to virtually try on anything in the collection and see exactly how it looks on and moves with their face.The TryLive application turns augmented reality into a virtual fitting room. Users get a remarkably accurate picture of how apparel will look and fit on them — in real time and in motion on Kinect for the Xbox.


Research by BMW uses AR data goggles to assist in car repair and manufacture.

AR firm Metaio has designed a proof of concept demo showing users how to change a printer toner using 3D recognition.

Volkswagen have developed an instructional AR implementation to guide their mechanics when doing vehicle services.

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