Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is frequently confused with virtual reality. Even though both share some elements, they are very different. While virtual reality tries to immerse its users into a world that is completely artificial,

and usually generated by software, augmented reality enhances the perceptions its users have about the real world by adding new information, under the form of images, video, audio, or any other kind of information that may help change or improve the way users interpret reality.

So for example, an augmented reality application might -in a very simple implementation- superimpose static images on top of a video captured through a camera in order to offer more information, or just entertain. More sophisticated implementations may use video, audio, positioning information given by a GPS, or interpret input to the application and present them back to the user in a modified way, for example adding colour trails to moving objects in a real time video feed.

Early example of augmented reality on mobile devices.
Image by Glogger, used under the Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

Applications for augmented reality have grown at a significant rate as portable devices with wide information capture capabilities have become ubiquitous. The increase in both usage and power of smartphones have made it possible for platforms such as Layar to offer basic tools to build augmented experiences that are both useful and available to an increasingly bigger portion of the population.

And this is just the start of the evolution of the paradigm and its possibilities. The fact that a company as important as Microsoft invests its time and capital developing a product such as HoloLens is a signal that both the application possibilities and acceptance speed of augmented reality are going to grow at an exponential rate in the next few years. Maybe HoloLens will be the next Kinect.

Image by Microsoft Sweden on Flickr, 
used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license




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