The process of superimposing digitally rendered images onto our real-world surroundings, giving a sense of an illusion or virtual reality. Recent developments have made this technology accessible using a smartphone.
Augmented reality is hidden content, most commonly hidden behind marker images, that can be included in printed and film media, as long as the marker is displayed for a suitable length of time, in a steady position for an application to identify and analyze it. Depending on the content, the marker may have to remain visible.
It is used more recently by advertisers where it popular to create a 3D render of a product, such as a car, or football boot, and trigger this as an overlay to a marker. This allows the consumer to see a 360 degree image (more or less, sometimes the base of the item can be tricky to view) of the product. Depending on the quality of the augmentation, this can go as far as indicating the approximate size of the item, and allow the consumer to 'wear' the item, as viewed through their phone.
Alternative setups include printing out a marker and holding it before a webcam attached to a computer. The image of the marker and the background as seen by the webcam is shown on screen, enabling the consumer to place the marker on places such as the forehead (to create a mask) or move the marker to control a character in a game.
In some cases, a marker is not required at all to display augmented reality.
Using a mobile application, a mobile phone's camera identifies and interprets a marker, often a black and white barcode image. The software analyses the marker and creates a virtual image overlay on the mobile phone's screen, tied to the position of the camera. This means the app works with the camera to interpret the angles and distance the mobile phone is away from the marker.
Due to the number of calculations a phone must do to render the image or model over the marker, often only smartphones are capable of supporting augmented reality with any success. Phones need a camera, and if the data for the AR is not stored within the app, a good 3G Internet connection.
Augmented reality has its origins as early as the 1950s and has progressed with virtual reality since then, but its most significant advanced have been since the mid 1990s.
The technology has been around for many years, used in CAD programs for aircraft assembly and architecture, simulation, navigation, military, medical procedures. Complex tasks including assembly and maintenance can be simplified to assist in training and product prototypes can be mocked up without manufacturing.
Augmented reality has been proven very useful on a day to day basis when tied with location based technology. Several apps are available that will show consumers their nearest food outlets or subway transport stations when they raise the app and view their surroundings through the camera.
Their use in marketing is particularly appealing, as not only can additional, detailed content be put within a traditional 2D advert, the results are interactive, cool, engaging and due to the initial novelty - have high viral potential. Consumers react positively to fun, clever marketing, and brands become memorable.
The potential audience varies depending on the application of AR. Through a smartphone, it is limited to an audience with suitable handsets, and those willing to download an app. With printing a marker for use with a webcam, it is limited to those willing to follow through these steps, though often opens a wide demographic including children (printing an AR code on a cereal box to play a game for instance).
What is certain is that the smartphone population is rising, and with this, the level of processing power is too. More and more consumers are carrying phones capable of displaying augmented reality, and once an app is downloaded and they have scanned their first code, they are far more receptive to future appearances of a code - driven by curiosity. As long as the resulting augmented content remains engaging and innovative, consumers will certainly adopt augmented reality as a new and fun twist to conventional marketing and services.