Augmented Reality is a relatively new term coined in 1996 by scientists who were looking to improve upon the vision prosthesis of monocular visual systems. By “enhancing” an object in such a way as to add the missing elements, this is generally done by superimposing a digital image onto the natural image. Augmented reality has come a long way since its inception. There are many applications for this technology from education, training and manufacturing to healthcare and warfare. The ability to create an Augmented Reality Environment has opened up entirely new worlds of opportunities for companies, governments, medical centers and nonprofit groups.
Augmented reality is the art of converting one or more real or virtual images into data that may be processed and presented in some form to a user. It is often confused with Virtual Reality, which is similar in some ways but more involved in presentation. In order to better understand the difference between the two, it is important to have a clear understanding of how they work. In short, the computer that is running the Augmented Reality system is “aware” of the world around it, and can take that data and convert it into any form that the user wants it to.
This is very different from the traditional computer monitor, where it treats the computer screen as a blank piece of paper. The computer is just using the screen to capture images. So when you look at the computer screen, you are actually seeing the computer image. In the case of augmented reality, these images are captured from real world sources. The images are then “laid over” on a digital computer skin, so when you see the image on your monitor you actually see it on your eyes.
The idea is this: the computer is smart and knows that you, the user, will want to see exactly what is being presented to you. It pulls up a presentation, slides or whatever it is that you are trying to view. You pull up the smart board. The computer then figures out exactly where you can see it best, by displaying it on your eyes first. Then, if you want, it pulls up another screen to show you the other parts of the presentation.
As you can see, it’s quite smart. And, it’s also a lot of fun to use. I used it last week to visit my sister-in-law’s house, which is a bit older than our house (and a little out of date). We were able to sit down and see her digital reconstruction of the front yard of her house, complete with trees and grass and all. That was quite an amazing experience!
While there are many forms of augmented reality that I haven’t mentioned here, the two I most remember are Unity3D and Google Earth. Unity3D was a very simple program for our demonstration. You’d walk into some simple scenes that were created by their artists and point, click and manipulate objects within the scene. It was impressive, but somewhat unpractical because we could only move and view in certain directions.
Google Earth, on the other hand, was completely revolutionary. It let us virtually tour the whole United States of America. This was done by loading our computer with data from satellites and using computer algorithms to generate an aerial view of the country. It was impressive, but again, a little impractical because we couldn’t move around much.
Augmented reality smart boards are poised to take our lives by storm. They represent a powerful yet simple idea: a way for computers to interact with the physical world around them. By combining two or more computer programs, each one working in concert with the others, they allow computers to do things beyond the current ability of the human mind. Imagine the next generation of mobile augmented reality hardware running games, weather reports and displaying information from the sky about the weather. All of this is possible and very likely already being developed right now.