What Is Augmented Reality (AR)? Apps, Games, and How It Works

You use augmented reality on a regular basis—even if you don’t realize it. If you’ve ever seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Space Jam, then you have an idea of what it looks like. The same goes for the yellow first down marker used in football broadcasts and virtual gauges in-flight training simulators. Augmented reality, or AR, blends the digital and real world in both subtle and profound ways. The technology is now taking off in the mobile industry, with popular apps like Pokémon Go, Ingress, and features on Snapchat introducing many to the futuristic concept for the first time, and it’s only going to become more prevalent. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is the process of enhancing the real world by superimposing digital images and sounds onto the environment. It’s important not to confuse it with virtual reality, which puts users in a fully digital computer-generated simulation.

The term “augmented reality” was coined in 1990 by Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell to describe head-mounted displays used by electricians when assembling wiring harnesses. But the first use of AR came much earlier and is widely contributed to computer scientist Ivan Sutherland, the “father of computer graphics,” who created the first AR head-mounted display in 1968. The aptly named “Sword of Damocles” was a primitive machine that looked like it came from the mind of an evil eye doctor and was so large it had to be suspended from the ceiling.

The next big development came in 1992, when Boeing researcher Louis Rosenberg built Virtual Fixtures for the U.S. Air Force. What some consider the first immersive AR platform, Virtual Fixtures consisted of an upper-body exoskeleton suit and used AR vision to replace a user’s real arms with two usable robotic arms. Then ARToolKit, an open-source software library used to overlay computer graphics on camera, was developed and would later find its…

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