What Is Augmented Reality? The Ultimate Guide

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  • 28 March 2023
augmented reality

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Augmented reality (AR) may seem like a relatively new term, but it's already been in use for quite some time. You may have even unwittingly encountered it in real life, particularly in some of your favourite mobile apps. 

A good example of augmented reality technology is camera filters. Museums are another example; they use augmented reality to make it easier for visitors to view information about their displays. Visitors simply need to point their phone's camera at a display, and they readily get information about the piece on their device's screen. 

Now, if you want us to define augmented reality in simple terms, it's an enhanced or altered form of reality. Digital content is often superimposed on the real world. If this interests you and you want to dive into this field in the future or make a career out of it, then you'll need a B.Tech degree

[Also Read: Top New Technology Trends]

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality technology's meaning can be defined as an embellished or altered form of reality. The technology mainly allows users to add digital assets/elements to their current environment. It's used in multiple fields for several different purposes. For example, it helps fighter pilots when flying at nearly twice the speed of sound; surgeons use it when performing complex procedures. 

Other examples include Snapchat or Instagram filters, probably, some of the most common ways people use and encounter AR. The Pokemon GO game? That's AR too. 

Augmented reality's meaning or concept was discovered at Harvard University in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland — an electrical engineering professor. Its initial form involved a head-mounted display system called the Sword of Damocles, which was incredibly heavy to the point where it had to be anchored to the ceiling. Users also had to be strapped into the system for it to work. 

Since then, several improvements and advancements have been made to the system. For example, between 2011 - 2013, companies like Coca-Cola, Disney, and National Geographic adopted augmented reality technology to launch large-scale campaigns in public places like shopping malls. 

Additionally, some of the best-paying jobs in technology involve working closely with augmented reality technology.

How Does Augmented Reality Technology Work?

Here is a breakdown of the processes and how this technology functions. 

  • Cameras And Sensors

To create AR, you first need to capture actual reality. This can be done through cameras or sensors that gather information on your surroundings. The real-time information gathered here is a backdrop for the user's AR experience. 

For example, smartphone applications use your phone's built-in camera to gather this information. Whereas devices like Microsoft's HoloLens use a variety of specialised built-in cameras. Generally, AR experiences work better when using cameras that can read 3D images since they can detect the depth of images, which allows for more realistic AR experiences.

  • Processing

Augmented reality technology also requires high processing power to process real-time visual inputs like acceleration, position, tilt, and depth to create more immersive experiences. Most smartphones these days already have these features built into their hardware. 

So devices no longer need any external hardware to use AR tech. However, this advancement took years of trial and error. It took Google years to shrink its sensors and cameras to a size small enough to fit into a phone. As AR technology becomes more advanced, more and more devices will being to incorporate this technology. 

  • Projection

After capturing and processing the real world, the augmented reality device uses projection to layer the digital element onto the scene/backdrop. For example, if you were using your phone for this, the projection would display on your phone screen against the current backdrop your phone's camera is filming.

It's also possible to project directly onto surfaces removing the need for screens or headsets. Holograms are an excellent outcome of AR technology.

Difference Between AR And VR

Now that you know what AR is, you're probably thinking, "Hold on a second! This sounds an awful lot like VR!". While many people do tend to conflate the two because of their similar definitions and uses, there is one key difference. 

VR or virtual reality usually employs devices like the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR headsets. VR goes one step beyond AR to create entirely new digital worlds. While this sounds exciting, VR is an impractical solution for most common tasks. It also employs expensive devices that most people don't have access to.  

In contrast, AR, or augmented reality, is less obtrusive and easier to use and incorporate into our daily lives. Augmented reality by definition combines digital elements with the real world around us.

Types Of Augmented Reality Technology

Today's businesses have learnt to adapt augmented reality technology for real-world applications and use it to improve their operations and customer satisfaction. There are many kinds of AR technology, each having its specific use. In total, there are five types: 

  • Marker-Based Augmented Reality (AR)

This uses a trigger as a cue to display content. Think QR codes. This type of AR requires the least amount of processing power and is the easiest to set up. The downside is that it isn't as versatile since it still needs a trigger to work.  

  • Markerless Augmented Reality (AR)

Markerless AR uses cameras, GPS, and accelerometer information to track where the user is and displays relevant information. This combination of inputs is called Simultaneous Localization And Mapping, or SLAM. It's more versatile than marker-based AR, and most devices today use SLAM for markerless experiences. 

  • Projection-Based Augmented Reality (AR)

As the name suggests, it projects directly onto a surface within the user's environment. For example, you could project a fully functioning keyboard onto your desk with projection-based AR. It eliminates the need for screens or a headset. However, it's not the most practical option for daily use.  

  • Outlining Augmented Reality (AR)

This type of AR uses image recognition to outline boundaries or shapes. For example, it's used in cars to help drivers see the edge of the road in low light conditions and to guide pilots to landing strips.

  • Superimposition Based Augmented Reality (AR)

This AR technology uses object recognition to entirely or partially replace an object in the user's environment. For example, a doctor could use this to add a digital x-ray over part of a patient's body during an operation.


Augmented reality features are used in almost every field today. The technology is incredibly adaptable. It goes beyond imposing camera filters or mobile apps. As you can see, it's used in transportation, marketing, retail, education, entertainment, sports, and even healthcare. 

For anyone wanting to pursue this field of study, consider colleges powered by Sunstone. Colleges that offer B.tech courses with Sunstone's benefits give students first-hand experience and hands-on training with real-world applications of their field of study. This makes students more employable and equips them with practical skills they can use in any field. 

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