What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is one of the most exciting technologies that have been introduced to the market in recent years. And though we’re very far off from how useful AR could actually be, it’s already making impressive progress as it is being adopted by several high-profile industries such as healthcare, entertainment, tourism, retail, and more.

If you don’t know what AR is, how it works, what benefits it brings to the table, and its applications in the real world, this article is for you. We’ll go into great detail and explain all the core information about AR so that even if you’ve never heard of it before, by the end of this read, you’ll have a crystal clear idea of what AR is and what it means for the future.

What Is Augmented Reality (AR)?

AR or also known as augmented reality is a technology that fuses the virtual and the real world together for a more immersive, engaging, and interactive mixed reality. An AR system allows virtual and real objects to overlap within an existing real world environment in real time. One of the most familiar examples of augmented reality is social media selfie filters. Remember the famous dog filter on Snapchat? That is augmented reality taking place in real time.

With that being said, this type of AR is very basic and doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of what is possible currently and what will be possible in the future should AR continue to develop at the rate that it does.

Definition of Augmented Reality

A more technical definition of the term augmented reality is that it’s a technology that involves overlaying different sensory information onto the world we live in. For example, adding a CGI element to a video in real-time, adding filters to an image on your camera, or even changing a person’s voice as it’s being recorded, whether as a video or a single audio file.

Unlike virtual reality, AR is very different. Virtual reality creates a whole new digital world in which people can immerse themselves. Augmented reality, on the other hand, fuses the digital and physical together to create a unique experience. Types of Augmented Reality

There are many different types of augmented reality and below, we’ll talk about each one of them.

Marker-based A

This type of AR is based on using different markers in the camera’s frame as a reference point for placing the AR image. This is the most common type of AR and the one that’s most widely used today.

This type of AR works through a computer or AR device recognizing different points and real and virtual objects within the frame. Most of the time, these points and objects have been pre-programmed for the AR device to recognize. The device can recognize points in many ways, but once it finds the marker, it uses the marker as a reference point so that it can superimpose the AR image in the right place.

Marker-less AR

This is a more complicated type of AR. Augmented reality technology works with the AR device to recognize objects as they pass through the screen through an algorithm. The device uses different parameters like size, color, shape, and texture to determine what an object is then uses an accelerometer, GPS, and compass as a reference to ensure the AR image is in the right place.

Project-based AR

This type of AR superimposes a 3D image within the user’s physical space. With this type of AR, the user freely walks around the real environment where there is a fixed projector and a camera to produce the AR. This is great for producing illusions by projecting light onto flat surfaces, which produces a very unique result.

An example of this is using projection-based AR to present instructions for certain tasks that people perform in a specific space. This makes communication much easier and ensures that everyone understands what they need to be doing.

Superimposition-based AR

Superimposition-based AR is typically used in the medical field. A great example is when doctors project and superimpose an X-ray on the patient’s body, giving them more context and a clearer view of the patient’s condition.

This AR works with the camera or AR device recognizing a certain object, then superimposing an image on top of that. This is done to either fully or partially replace the object in the frame.

The Origins of AR Technology

Some people trace the birth of augmented reality back to 1957 when a cinematographer named Morgan Heilig invented a device known as the Sensorama that can add visual, auditory, and even olfactory stimuli to the viewer. This isn’t the same as the computer-driven AR we know of today, but it’s one of the first instances of someone enhancing an experience by introducing new stimuli and data.

However, most people consider the first functional AR device to be the one that USAF produced in 1992. This system used superimposition to overlay more sensory information in a workplace in an effort to speed up productivity.

But nowadays, AR is very different. The system back in 1992 was huge and very robotic. This is very different from modern AR devices which are very compact by comparison.

Modern AR incorporates various technologies and devices to add different stimuli to our physical world. And we’re only beginning to discover the potential and possibilities with the technology, which paints a really exciting image of what’s to come in the future.

How Does AR Work

Before we discuss how AR works, let’s talk about what technology you need for AR to work. AR starts and ends with a camera-equipped device such as a tablet, laptop, mobile phone, or as of late, even smart glasses. Do note that for these to work, they need to have AR software installed.

Once the technology is set up, all AR basically does is use the camera of your device to project what’s in front of you, and using AR, it can bring in virtual objects and layer them on top of the content the camera is capturing.

In its most simple form, an example of AR would be using the dog filter on Snapchat or adding a pink set of glasses to a selfie. In more complex cases, AR can be used to display crucial information for pilots, surgeons, and other professionals so they can do their job better and in a more safe manner.

AR Devices

There are quite a few types of AR devices available on the market today. All of them aim to achieve the same unique experience and can be used in many different industries and for various applications. In fact, you might even have some of these devices at home without even knowing about them.

So, here are a couple of the prominent types of AR devices and how they work.

Kinect Cameras

If you have an Xbox at home, there’s a high chance that it came with a Kinect camera. And while it might seem like another silly accessory for the console, it’s actually an AR device. These AR cameras detect different points in the room and use them as a reference when displacing AR images onto the screen.

While it’s primarily known as a gaming device, Kinect cameras have actually been used in a range of different situations such as mapping fossils, medical education, and even in medical assistance.

Cameras & Sensors

Another example of AR devices is cameras with sensors. The camera captures the image or frame then the sensors detect different objects to use as reference points. From there, the device can add different digital visual elements to the scene and fuse the real and virtual worlds together.

Processing Devices

Processing devices can be anything from an AR smartphone to computers that use GPUs, CPUs, RAM, and more to process 3D images and sensor signals. These processing devices can be used to measure the angle, direction, speed, orientation, and more.


Projectors are another simple yet effective way of creating augmented reality. Certain projectors can superimpose images within a certain space. For example, some doctors can use projectors to project an X-ray image onto the patient’s body for a clear indication of where the trouble area is and to get a better view of the patient’s condition.

This type of AR device is also largely used in educational settings. For example, people leading historical tours can use a projector to superimpose different images and videos onto a certain location. That way, it provides for a more immersive and interactive learning experience.


When it comes to AR, reflectors refer to mirrors that are used on AR devices to help the human eye view virtual images. For instance, a number of curved mirrors are used to reflect light directly to the AR camera and the user’s eye. This is mostly done to properly align the image the user is seeing.

Mobile Devices

Modern-day mobile devices are nothing like they once were. They have become so powerful and capable that they can be used as AR devices. This is because the camera and the different sensors built into these devices are more than capable of doing all the necessary calibrations for producing AR imagery.

A great example of this is when you use your phone to take pictures with different filters on social media. A lot of the filters we see on apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram are great everyday examples of AR.

Whenever you use the AR apps to swap faces, put dog features on your face, or even just tweak the contrast and colors in the frame, you’re using AR. So, most people actually use AR on a daily basis without knowing they are.

AR Glasses

For the longest time, augmented reality glasses were strictly a product of science fiction. Back in the day, it was impossible to build a system that can project images and play sounds that you could also wear on your face like a typical pair of reading glasses.

But things are different now and AR technology has gone a really long way. AR glasses (such as Google glass) are now a thing and are fully capable of projecting images and playing sound that you can see and hear right in front of you.

For example, the glasses could display directions on where you need to go. Another example is glasses with microphones and small speakers. These glasses will allow you to speak to your AI assistants like Siri or Alexa directly through your glasses.

Heads-Up Display or HUD

Another way augmented reality has proven to be useful outside of gaming and entertainment is through the head up display or HUD. You can typically see HUD used in airplane cockpits. These are transparent screens in front of the pilot that display images projected on them.

This means the pilot can take in all the information they need without looking down. It’s important for pilots to constantly look forward. A HUD allows them to view critical information like altitude, airspeed, flight controls, and more without breaking their focus.

Not only that but HUDs have been incorporated into modern automobiles as well so that the driver can view their speed, RPM, gas levels, and more without having to look down or to the side.

Benefits of AR Technology

There are many benefits that AR can bring to the table thanks to its wide possibility for application. It can not only make video games more exciting, but it can make museum tours more engaging and interesting for tourists. And those are just two of the many industries AR is currently being used in.

To give you a better idea of why more and more industries are starting to adopt AR, check out the different benefits AR can offer:

  • Increase engagement and create a better user experience
  • Increase the value of a product or brand through AR marketing
  • AR shows customers that an organization is modern and innovative
  • Can boost safety for pilots, drivers, medical professionals, and other
  • Can provide businesses with key analytics to help them better understand customers
  • Can be used for more immersive training experiences

Augmented Reality Applications

Augmented reality is more than just an entertainment and marketing tool. Here are some of the different ways the technology is being used throughout different industries right this moment.


It’s common for modern games to include some sort of AR augmented reality feature. For example, the popular video game Pokemon Go famously used AR to bring the magic of Pokemon into the real world. With the game, players could use their phone cameras to find different Pokemon hiding right in their city, which offered an experience like no other game did in the past.


There are a few great examples of AR being used in retail, one of which is IKEA. Using the IKEA AR app, customers can select a product from the vast collections of items IKEA have, use their mobile phone’s camera to scan around their room, and in just a few seconds, the IKEA AR apps will position the item the customer has selected perfectly within their home.

That way, customers can really see what the item would look like at their home before they spend any money on it.


Advertisers love using augmented reality AR because it immerses the viewer in the promotional content that much more. For example, social media users could use a certain filter that can place a CGI logo or marketing animation on a video that the user is taking. This allows the brand to share its message in a unique way while also giving the user a fun way to try out AR.


There are tons of ways to use AR systems and the technology in manufacturing. A great example is by projecting process instructions right on the machinery, guiding the employee through every step. That way, they don’t have to refer to an instruction manual or listen to one person give a lecture using sub-par visual aids.


One of the main ways the military incorporates AR is in training their personnel. AR can make training more immersive and realistic, which provides a solid foundation for military personnel in a safe environment.


AR is also particularly popular in the education industry as it can make lessons more interactive, engaging, and enjoyable. Some people even believe that AR will soon start to challenge traditional learning methods and become more and more used across educational institutions.


AR imaging is widely used in the medical field to help nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel get a better view of the patient’s condition. For example, they can use their mobile device and pair it with special software to project an X-ray of a patient right onto their body, allowing them to view the patient’s condition from a better perspective.


There are tons of hotels and hospitality establishments that incorporate AR into the guest experience. This improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, which is a huge driving force for success in the industry.

Examples of Real-Life AR Applications

  • Here are some real-world examples of AR in various industries:
  • Pilots using a HUD to view critical information while still looking forward
  • Playing games using Instagram filters such as the New York Times wire game
  • Doctors projecting X-rays onto patients for a better and more accurate view
  • The Pokemon Go game
  • The L’Oreal makeup app can preview how the makeup would look on your skin and face
  • The IKEA studio app can help customers view how a piece of furniture will look in a certain space
  • Virtual museum tours


Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality is a technology with a ton of potential that can really make a shift in operations and standard practices in real world environments across nearly every industry today.

Thanks to its wide applications, augmented reality AR is slowly but surely being adopted across industries like entertainment, healthcare, tourism, manufacturing, and more.

And the best thing about augmented reality is that everybody can access AR without the need for a fancy device to do so. Truthfully, AR is still in its early days, and despite that, it has already made some significant changes in how business is conducted across several fields.

That being said, AR is a very exciting technology, and it will be interesting to see how it will impact our everyday lives and the mixed reality we'll get to experience in the near future.

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