Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is a growing area in virtual reality research. The world environment around us provides a wealth of information that is difficult to duplicate in a computer. This is evidenced by the worlds used in virtual environments. Either these worlds are very simplistic such as the environments created for immersive entertainment and games, or the system that can create a more realistic environment has a million dollar price tag such as flight simulators. An augmented reality system generates a composite view for the user.

It is a combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer that augments the scene with additional information. In all those applications the augmented reality presented to the user enhances that person's performance in and perception of the world. The ultimate goal is to create a system such that the user cannot tell the difference between the real world and the virtual augmentation of it. It depicts the merging and correct registration of data from a pre-operative imaging study onto the patient's head. Providing this view to a surgeon in the operating theater would enhance their performance and possibly eliminate the need for any other calibration fixtures during the procedure.

What is AR?

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.

How is it used?

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.

How does it work?

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 smart phones 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 vs. Virtual Reality

Augmented Reality

• System augments the real world scene

• User maintains a sense of presence in real world

• Needs a mechanism to combine virtual and real worlds

• Hard to register real and virtual

Virtual Reality

• Totally immersive environment

• Senses are under control of system

• Need a mechanism to feed virtual world to user

• Hard to make VR world interesting