Developers are beginning to explore the potential of augmented reality (AR) in new and exciting ways. As its horizons continue to expand, it’s moved away from being solely for entertainment and towards having a variety of real-world applications — some even with life-saving capabilities.
In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look into this fascinating technology and discuss some of the many uses it has — some serious and some not so serious. By the end, you’ll know exactly what AR is, and you’ll have a good idea of how it can be used to benefit our lives.
In order to provide a clear augmented reality definition, we need to define virtual reality and mixed reality too, to clarify the differences between these 3 related technologies.
It may surprise you to learn that the origins of augmented reality date back to 1957, when Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama. Since then, many new advances have been made, both in the specific field of AR and in digital technology in general. These advances have made it possible for companies and individuals to develop a variety of very interesting applications for augmented reality.
But what is augmented reality being used for today? Well, here are 10 exciting augmented reality technology applications that are already having a positive impact:
1. Medical procedures
AR has many potential applications in the healthcare industry and has already been used to facilitate a total face transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in the USA. In 2017, the transplant team at the Cleveland Clinic used a Microsoft HoloLens to superimpose a holographic representation of a donor’s face onto the recipient’s face, helping them identify any potential alignment issues and plan the surgical procedure in advance. All of the necessary data was extracted from CT scans of the donor and then imported into the HoloLens software.
Augmented reality can also be used in vascular surgery and many other surgical fields. Healthcare professionals are likely to employ it much more widely in the future as it becomes more readily accessible.
2. Interior design
There are apps for both professional designers and homeowners that employ augmented reality, meaning it is now much easier to see what new colour schemes and furniture will look like in advance. Ikea Place is one such app, available for both Apple and Android phones. If you are planning to redecorate a room in your home, you can use Ikea Place to position furniture items in images of the room that you capture with your phone camera. In this way, you can see exactly what each piece of furniture will look like before you order and pay for it, helping you to make the best furnishing choices for any type of room in any type of property. You can, of course, also use it to see what new office furniture will look like before refurbishing a commercial space. This type of app makes it easy for people to experiment with a range of different options and be sure that their new look works well with their surroundings without having to make any physical changes first.
3. Aerospace and defence
Aerospace and defence contractors are using AR technology to streamline repairs, production and training. Third Eye’s X2 Mr Glasses use a combination of mixed reality and augmented reality to help engineers complete complex tasks more easily. By taking detailed workflows and superimposing them on the view of the components the engineers see in front of them, these glasses make it much easier for less experienced technicians to follow each step of advanced maintenance and repair procedures. They also allow engineers to share their view with more experienced personnel in remote locations, facilitating guided repairs and maintenance tasks. With teleconferencing software, they can enable geographically diverse teams of technicians to collaborate more effectively on all types of maintenance and repair procedures.
Choosing a new foundation, lipstick, eyeshadow and blush products online can be difficult as you don’t have the opportunity to try them out first. Cosmetics retailer Sephora has solved this problem with a mobile app – Virtual Artist – which allows you to experiment with a huge range of beauty products before deciding which ones to buy. After scanning your face and storing an accurate image of it, the app then lets you apply various products to the image, to see what they would look like if you used them in real life. Augmented reality camera apps like these have the potential to revolutionise the way we buy many things online, including clothing, cosmetics, footwear and eyewear. The ability to see what something will look like when you are wearing it — prior to purchase — should take a lot of the guesswork out of our online shopping experiences in the future.
5. AR games
The ability to superimpose virtual elements over a physical environment has made it possible for developers to create exciting new apps that merge our online gaming and realworld experiences. Pokémon GO is probably the best-known AR gaming app currently available. Using the GPS technology included in modern smartphones, this game overlays images of Pokémon characters onto local maps, allowing players to hunt and collect new types of Pokémon as they move around the area in which they live. It can also provide a muchneeded distraction for passengers on long car journeys. Although this game was portrayed by some media sources as a summer fad back in 2016 when it was first released, it still has many fans today and makes a great first AR game for people who are just beginning to explore this genre.
6. Language translation
Augmented reality translation apps are designed to make it easier for people to deal with foreign languages in all types of situations. The Lens app from Google has an AR translation feature, an excellent example of this type of application. Point your camera phone at a foreign language text, and it should translate the text and display the results on your screen. It can also be used to superimpose translated text over live video feeds of foreign language speakers. The future of the translation industry could look very different in a few years’ time if the fast pace of augmented reality development continues over the coming years.
7. Travel and tourism
With the ability to overlay relevant data on live images from a phone camera, the potential applications for AR in the travel and tourism industry are numerous. There are already a number of apps that use this technology to give users more information about their surroundings, including the World Around Me app, which indicates the location of ATMs, banks, restaurants, parks, museums and other places of interest that are in the areas you visit. Apps focused on providing useful information on museum pieces and art exhibits can also be downloaded and installed on your smartphone right now, providing you with a virtual AR guide when you visit new cities and attractions.
What is AR doing for our children? Well, quite a lot, actually. There are already a number of augmented reality education apps on the market, including Adobe Aero, which enables children to ‘spawn’ 3D objects when viewing their surroundings through a phone camera, then explore these objects in detail. solAR is an app that allows children (or adults!) to position the entire solar system or a single planet right in front of them in any location. Fancy studying Jupiter in your backyard? You can do it with this app.
Finding your way around huge shopping malls could be much easier in the future, with augmented reality wayfinding apps for retail spaces. When used in conjunction with a phone camera, these apps superimpose virtual pathways on the camera view, helping shoppers to find the retail outlets they are looking for. If these apps become more widespread, it will make visiting new shopping centres a far more relaxing experience. AR Wayfinding apps can also be used in other large buildings. In 2018, an app was created to help passengers find their way around the terminals at Gatwick Airport in the UK. It proved to be very successful and won a mobile innovation award following its introduction.
AR glasses — such as those in the Vuzix M-Series — are being used by companies to streamline their logistics operations. When wearing the glasses, workers can see digital packing lists superimposed on stock in a warehouse, along with suggested routes to travel when picking and packing, helping them to prepare orders for dispatch more efficiently and accurately. Some AR devices can also inspect individual items in warehouses, to check for damage and assess the container size that will be needed for new order