Augmented reality present in our lives today

Hand interacting with screen

Google Glass may have brought it to the foreground but augmented reality has been with us for a longer time than most of us might realize. Augmented reality can best be explained as enhancing or augmenting the physical, real-world environment with computer-generated sensory input. This sensory input can consist of video, sound, graphics and more. It is basically using technology to extend the senses you already possess.

To be involved with augmented reality does not necessarily mean that you need to have fancy, technologically advanced eyeglasses attached to your head. The equipment we already use every day can fall into the most basic category of augmented reality. The mouse you use is an extension of your hand and enhances your ability to interact with your PC or laptop. Touchscreens use special sensors to detect the movement of your hand to help you move elements on the screen in a way you would not be able to before without it. The same as you may have seen in movies like “Minority Report” and “Iron Man” but on a smaller scale.

In many of the new smartphones optical sensors have the ability to track your eye movements in order for the screen to sense what you are doing or are going to do next. Take the Samsung Galaxy S4’s Eye Scroll camera sensor technology for example. This makes use of the front-facing camera technology in order to know when the reader’s eyes reaches the bottom of a page and then it automatically scrolls the page so that the person doesn’t need to physically do anything.

Gaming is one of the first areas to be affected by augmented reality and the technology has been put to use already. Second Life is a game that was launched in 2003 featuring a virtual world where people can interact with each other via the use of avatars. Some develop real-life relationships as well as marry in-game. In this game there is the possibility of creating virtual workplaces where characters conduct meetings, perform corporate communications and conduct training sessions. With the in-game economy you can use virtual money (Linden Dollar) to acquire land and other items. Some people have even started to earn money by simply playing this game taking its use to a whole new level as an extension of real-life activities.

Google Ingress

There are many games currently using AR technology. Google’s Ingress allows people to capture beacons in real-world locations, giving you the opportunity to physically drive to an approved place and then log in on the game app itself. Parallel Kingdom has won awards as the best augmented reality game on the market. You use GPS and capture places in the real world, starting in your own area and then moving outwards to places you might not even physically have been (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France). You can also hunt mythical beasts and gather resources via GPS tracking. Get On Target is another game which uses floating beacons that you have to hit in real life in order to score points. Furthermore, you have Zombies, Run! (which a recent article of ours has explained) and Paintball where you use virtual paintball guns to splatter your friends (screens flash as soon as you have been hit). Also, Nintendo’s Wii is a perfect example of combining real-life actions with virtual environments.

Augmented reality apps have already been developed, even before the rise of Google Glass. Wikitude has developed apps that superimpose virtual content onto the real world that you are currently travelling in. Using your GPS, Wikitude will show you the points of interest if you’re new in town or the best restaurant within a certain radius. Holding up your mobile device’s camera will show you various pieces of information about the area, placed onto the image you are viewing. You can even hold your mobile device up to a person’s outfit and it will show you where the items come from as well as their costs.

As seen with the above, travel and transport can be made significantly easier with the use of AR technology. Acrossair Nearest Tube app is a portable form of this project where Londoners can find the nearest tube station through the mobile device’s video function. An app called Metro AR Pro will do the same but for most of the major cities around the world like Paris, Tokyo and others. For those travelling outside of their comfort zone, there are plenty of AR apps to help you find the best places to go and avoid tourist pitfalls. The eTips City Guides app series (for iOS and Blackberry) provides daily itineraries for the city you are in along with GPS-enabled maps that have popup recommendations as soon as you pass a hotspot. One of the best features is that these things are still available offline if you are not connected (which, while travelling, can be a problem).

There are other, more important areas of life that can also be affected by the development of AR. Medical students can get practical experience without having to use real life human beings. An app called iSkull allows people to see the inner workings of a human skull and have the ability to move it around. Other apps in the field can superimpose a real scan of a person’s brain onto the person being investigated to give a more accurate representation of what it looks like without resorting to invasive procedures. There are also apps like DoctorMole available that scans the skin of a patient and tells you whether or not the person has an abnormal skin condition.

Even the simplest tasks in life can now be enhanced using augmented reality. BUTLERS Augmented Reality ViewAR enables people with interior design aspirations to place an object via a mobile device onto a real-world location. For example, one can see whether a desk will look good in a room or where in that room it would look good by overlapping the image of a desk onto a picture or video that you have taken of the location. Even amateur stargazers can get in on the AR action. Google Skymap allows you to point your camera to a part of the sky and it will show you what constellations you are viewing, their distance from earth and you can even search for a specific star in the night sky.

Ever wanted help with something but not having any luck with describing the situation accurately over the phone? A company called Metaio has found a way to solve this by allowing the customer service representative a real-life view of your problem through your mobile device’s camera without needing to explain it from a distance. The rep can even overlay instructions through the camera to show you exactly what part of the machine they are talking about and give step-by-step instructions.

Sports events are being exposed to augmented reality as well. In May of this year, The Royal Challengers Bangalore will be handing out tickets that provide you with helpful bits of information regarding the event. It will provide live traffic updates, a 3D stadium view, a call-a-cab option, access to the team store, video highlights and behind-the-scenes exclusives.

Shopping is another area in which AR is making its mark. Esquire Magazine even created an entire issue about augmented reality where one can see the things featured in the magazine come to life by downloading an app for PC or mobile device. Then there is also the option of visiting the virtual store where the clothes in the issue are showcased by a live model. There are even apps that create virtual dressing rooms (the company Zugara created their Webcam Social Shopper). These types of virtual dressing rooms turns the webcam on your PC or in your laptop into a digital mirror that reflects your image so that you can “try on” clothing to match what you are wearing and to see if you like it or not without having to visit an actual store. It also monitors hand movements so that you can virtually browse through clothing rails.

There are so many areas in life that has already been affected by augmented reality. This technology will probably never serve to replace real-life experiences but is rather a manner in which people can enhance their lives and make planning easier to enjoy the things that truly matter.