AR – Technology at its best!

Over the past couple of years we’ve all been going gung ho about VR. It opened up a lot of possibilities and entertainment to people. But amidst all of this noise and talk, there was something similar that was preparing itself for the big launch.

Augmented Reality or commonly called as AR, it is!! Augmented Reality turns the environment around you into a digital interface by placing virtual objects in the real world, in real-time. Augmented Reality can be seen through a wide variety of experiences.

Let’s imagine you’re a fighter pilot flying over a warzone with anti-aircraft fire shooting up at you. You really have to concentrate and looking down at all the gauges on your instrument panel is a distraction you can do without. Fortunately, you’re wearing what’s called a heads-up display (HUD), a set of goggles with built-in, miniaturized computers that automatically project instrument readings so they “float” in front of your eyes. You can find out everything you need to know without taking your eyes off the sky.

The first AR technology was developed in 1968 at Harvard when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland (named the “father of computer graphics”) created an AR head-mounted display system. In the following decades, lab universities, companies,  and national agencies further advanced AR for wearables and digital displays. These early systems superimposed virtual information on the physical environment (e.g., overlaying a terrain with geolocal information), and allowed simulations that were used for aviation, military and industrial purposes.

How Does AR work?

You’re out and about in the real world with your laptop, netbook, or cellphone, it’s easy enough to get information: just bring up Google and type in some words. In the brave new world of augmented reality, it’s even easier: you get the extra information automatically. That means your portable computing device needs some automatic way of finding out where you are or what you’re looking at—a problem known as tracking.


Where have we seen it being used?

The first commercial AR application appeared in 2008. It was developed for advertising purposes by German agencies in Munich. They designed a printed magazine ad of a model BMW Mini, which, when held in front of a computer’s camera, also appeared on the screen. Because the virtual model was connected to markers on the physical ad, a user was able to control the car on the screen and move it around to view different angles, simply by manipulating the piece of paper. The application was one of the first marketing campaigns that allowed interaction with a digital model in real time.


Other brands started adopting this idea of situating content on a screen and having consumers interact with it through physical tracking markers. We start seeing more advanced versions by brands such as National Geographic in 2011, which showed rare or extinct animal species as if they were walking through a shopping mall; Coca-Cola in 2013, which also simulated environmental problems, such as ice melting right beside you in a shopping mall; and Disney in 2011, which showed cartoon characters on a large screen in Times Square interacting with people on the street.

In each of these examples, the AR technology was used to engage customers at events or in public spaces. These types of displays aren’t always scalable, as they require considerable investment—but we still see them today. For instance, Skoda ran a campaign in 2015, placing an AR mirror in a Victoria railway station in London, so that people passing by could customize a car and then see themselves driving it on a large screen.


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