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Augmented reality

By Jean-Claude Elias - Feb 05,2015 - Last updated at Feb 05,2015

Doesn’t the name sound good? Even before knowing what it actually represents you are inevitably drawn and want to find out more about it. Anything that promises more than “just” reality must be good.

Augmented Reality (AR) comes new in a long series of high-tech imaging techniques that never cease to amaze us. From simple graphics, to 3D, animation, then 3D animation and VR (Virtual Reality), and last but not least CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), AR brings a big, a huge plus to the world of digital imaging.

An example will illustrate it best. Take out your smartphone, point it to a simple still image of say the English archaeological site of Stonehenge (we call it the target picture) and watch your phone’s screen turn into a movie showing you the site in all its splendour, with a text and sound detailed explanation about its history. It will immerse you in the world of Stonehenge.

Another example. Point your smartphone to a still picture of a human’s heart and watch a 3D animation about arteries transplant surgery with incredible details and realism.

In a way AR is a combination of VR and CGI.

Instead of using a still image as a target picture you can just point the smartphone (or a tablet, or any digital device able to perform the trick, for that matter) to the real thing, i.e. Stonehenge for instance, if you happen to be there. The AR application will not only recognise the landmark but also its GPS position, therefore perfectly identifying it and then displaying the pertaining video, 3D animation or any other information about it.

In architecture, and arts in general, AR offers an invaluable tool for understanding structures and working on them. Another example, this time in the world cosmetics and beauty, and that, arguably, would attract women more particularly. Choose the proper AR application, select a manufacturer like Revlon, L’Oréal or Shiseido to name a few, point your smartphone to your face (think selfie!) and see yourself in various kinds and doses of foundation, lipstick, eye shadow, mascara and so forth, as if you had bought the products and tried them on, without really having to.

Merchants’ catalogues of products can greatly benefit from AR. By pointing a smartphone or tablet to the target picture of a given product one can explore it in glorious 3D motion, learning everything about it before buying it thanks to the “augmented” (hence the name) information.

Because the information, the 3D photos or animation, the videos that AR usually provides come in high definition and are made in digital from the ground up, quality is outstanding and constitutes an exhilarating experience for the viewer.

Though it really picked up in a noticeable manner around 2010 and is making waves now, AR actually started circa 1990 in the USA with professor Caudell who initially developed software to monitor the cabling construction in aircrafts for Boeing. This saved the company the trouble of coming up with traditional user manuals that, compared to AR would be expensive, slow and time consuming, hard and long to update, etc.

The future of AR is bright and beyond discussion. It falls in the same category as cloud usage — there’s no going back. Most AR application runs under the two main OS for mobile computing, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

As for the field of education, AR is not just helping but is expecting to change education in a radical manner somewhere between 2020 and 2025. When children can point a mobile device to say a driving wheel and then start learning all about driving and traffic rules and regulations with attractive information, well presented, in high definition, nothing can be more motivating or stimulating. But AR is a visual experience and no text-based explanation can give a true feel of what it is or how it works!

Soon AR will be as common as sending a selfie to your friend via Whatsapp. Soon there will be a law stipulating “no AR while driving”!

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