What is Augmented Reality and how does AR work?

What is Augmented Reality and how does AR work?

By Alex

The last few years have been extremely successful for Augmented and Mixed Reality domains. As AR becomes more and more popular, lots of people would like to know more about this technology. By reading this article you will be able to find, and understand, all of the necessary information about how this technology works, different types of AR experiences, how to start developing your own AR apps and experiences, what are the use cases of AR, the devices that support Augmented and Mixed Reality, and examples of the best projects with Augmented Reality. 

How Augmented Reality works

Augmented Reality is about the layering of physical objects and real-world surroundings through digital content. The technology came from the military and various manufacturers and was originally pretty expensive. However, these days, users are able to use the cameras in their smartphones, and laptops or desktops to discover AR experiences. By using specific apps, or browser-based AR, users can unlock AR content by pointing their cameras at different targets and objects. These AR experiences can contain 3D models and graphics, sounds, animation, images, videos, buttons and more. The main goal of Augmented Reality technology is in providing a mapping of digital content to physical objects. As a result, this mapping feature provides the ability to see and discover immersive experiences through cameras and displays on users’ gadgets.  

Types of AR experiences

Today, the most popular types of AR, that you might have seen, are facial Augmented Reality masks and lenses. Everything started when Snapchat integrated Looksery AR filters and lenses into their apps. Facebook also joined this sector and acquired the Masquerade startup, with its similar technology of facial recognition and an AR module. A few years later Snap Inc. and Facebook introduced their Augmented Reality builders and editors. As a result, they have opened a door for creators and developers by providing the ability to create and develop branded AR effects and lenses. 

Image targets are also well-known experiences that allow the unlocking and discovering of AR content through the scanning of printed images, such as stickers, labels, posters, magazines, newspapers, etc. By using this type of AR experience, users are able to explore digital content directly on the printed image, through real-time mapping. Object tracking works well for augmentation vehicles, toys, spare parts and any other objects. Pioneering companies in those use cases are Vuforia, Wikitude, Blippar, Zappar

Thanks to the Pokémon GO game, location-based AR (Geo AR) is also one of the most popular experiences. By using a map, users are able to find hidden AR experiences and unlock them at specific locations. Geo AR also helps in terms of navigation. Users are able to use their devices and cameras to see real-time navigation in cities and discover attractions on the go. A new feature, named Landmarks by Lens Studio (Snap Inc.), provides the ability to augment buildings and attractions.

SLAM is also becoming more and more popular. Unlike facial or object-based AR, SLAM provides a mapping of digital content to surfaces (i.e. walls, floors, etc.). Spark AR by Facebook, Lens Studio by Snap Inc., Vuforia, ARKIt and ARCore allow the use of SLAM for mapping AR content to surfaces.

AR portal is also one of the most exciting Augmented Reality experiences. This type of experience allows the opening of 360° spheres by using cameras of smartphones and going deeper to discover the environment of the portal.

How to start developing your own AR apps and experiences

Before you start, you have to define the use case for your future Augmented Reality app or experience. If you are a non-technical user, feel free to use online editors and builders to create your own first AR experience or campaign. They work well in terms of creating MVP and PoC. Some of the best online editors that allow the creation of AR experiences, in a few minutes, by simply drag-and-dropping digital content, are Zappar, ROAR, Blippar and Goopy AR. If you know how to work with 3D modelling, animation and javascript, then Spark AR and Lens Studio would be the best tools for you. You can go further with ARKit by Apple and ARCore by Google if you know how to develop mobile apps by using Swift, Objective-C and Java. The Unity AR foundation would be one of the best solutions in terms of realizing immersive AR apps and experiences with 3D and animation. Finally, if want to go further you can build your own AR solution, or SDK, by using OpenCV and TensorFlow libraries and machine learning skills. 

Which devices support Augmented and Mixed Reality?

Starting from iPhone 6, Apple has had compatibility with Augmented Reality and ARKit. Android started supporting ARCore experiences with the Nexus 5X. But even before the iPhone 6, ARKit, Nexus 5X and ARCore people were able to discover AR on their older devices that were built based on Vuforia and Wikitude, because AR is more about the camera, object tracking, mapping and discovering digital content. Google Glass was one of the most innovative ways to discover AR content, but unfortunately, Google has stopped the manufacture and support of Google Glass One. However, the story hasn’t finished for Google Glass and the company is working on a new version. Magic Leap and Microsoft HoloLens are the most innovative Augmented and Mixed Reality headsets that provide a whole new level of interaction with digital content. Epson has its Augmented Reality smart glasses named MOVERIO. News outlets are stating that Apple is also working on their own version of AR smart glasses. The Niantic company that launched Pokémon Go is working on AR glasses with Qualcomm. 

Examples of the best Augmented Reality projects 

By using the Catchar Hub, users are able to find and get hundreds of the best Augmented Reality apps, lenses and campaigns for both business and personal use. The leader in the game section is Pokemon Go, but today users can a lot of new and interesting games. Definitely check out Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by Niantic, the Pokémon Go creators. ARise is a nice game where you have to solve puzzles in an AR experience. Minecraft Earth is also available in AR.

In terms of effects for Instagram, today’s most popular projects on Catchar are Joker Filter and FragmentRise. By using Snapchat lenses you can transform your face with mandalaMeshMess, Piggy Wiggy and Oni Gasmask.

If you are looking for entertainment AR/MR apps, feel free to check out the AR Magic app that allows the drawing and leaving of messages in Augmented Reality experiences. DoodleLens is a perfect app that allows the cloning of drawings and creates animation in AR. Shortly, the guys from DoodleLens will introduce a new version that provides the ability to clone physical objects into AR space.

In the education section, you will also find some interesting AR projects. Hologo is a perfect education app for learning anatomy, history and more in Augmented Reality experiences. The AR-kid space is a mobile application that works through Augmented Reality and allows children to discover space, and the history of its exploration, in an innovative, fun and immersive way.

Discover Catchar: The world's largest AR community

If you are looking for more Augmented and Mixed Reality projects, information and support, you must definitely check and join our website. Catchar helps users, developers and businesses to learn more and jump into these technologies. Here you will find thousands of the best AR projects, tutorials and professional creators. Start right away by using this link.

Cover image credit: Magic Leap