Augmented Reality , “augmented reality” or “AR” in English, is a technology that enriches the user’s standard visual experience through the real-time overlay of 2D or 3D digital elements to the surrounding space.
Warning! It is absolutely not to be confused with Virtual Reality! This is not the visualization of a totally fictitious space made up of virtual objects. First of all, Augmented Reality integrates virtual objects with the surrounding real space; secondly, any real surface can be transformed into a virtual object display plane, not being constrained by viewing on a screen. Basically, we are talking about a combination of virtual objects and reality .
Origins of Augmented Reality
Contrary to what can be imagined, the first references to Augmented Reality are not so recent. One of the first and fanciful quotations dates back to the beginning of the 20th century , when the American writer L. Frank Baum, known to most as the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published the novel “The Master Key: An Electric Fairy Tale” . The book tells the story of a boy in possession of a pair of technologically advanced glasses , able to discover the goodness or the perfidy of people. These features would have appeared through the initial letter of the feature on the front of the person displayed through these glasses.
Subsequently, during the century, especially in the second half, science fiction films like Star Trek, Terminator, Minority Report, Avatar … not only hypothesized future real scenarios, but really stimulated the imagination of researchers suggesting new and unprecedented fields of experimentation and development . Even in the 1988 film “They Live” by John Carpenter, the protagonist discovers sunglasses that can display messages like “buy”, “watch TV” or “obey” on billboards or magazines.
It is not by chance that in the last decades of the last century, the first prototypes of Augmented Reality are realized in the military and aeronautical fields. These were devices capable of displaying virtual information related to objectives or flight indications, such as altitude and speed of the aircraft, directly in the viewers of American pilots, in such a way as to avoid distracting the eye to control the instrumentation on board.
Augmented Reality Inside Home
As I have already written, in the ’80s and’ 90s, Augmented Reality is still destined for the military and aeronautical field and remains, in fact, a technology not yet available to the population, both for the very high costs of development and realization, and for the technological limits of the period. To overcome this problem, alternative systems were constructed consisting of a helmet and wearing gloves to move within a limited virtual space consisting of polygons simulating the real world. The glove allowed to interact with the elements, but without giving the most complicated to develop a sense of touch.
However, even this Virtual Reality system is discarded and limited, for example, to the world of videogames.
The Advent of Smartphones
It is with the advent of the first smartphones , specifically the iPhone 3GS in 2009, that we can finally have one of the first applications of Augmented Reality literally “close at hand”. Layar , a reality browser , allowed, through the latitude and longitude data provided by the GPS and the accelerometer, to frame a monument or a building and receive historical information or advice on nearby attractions.
Not just Layar! From 2012 to 2014, Spam Magazine was printed, the first completely free magazine that is also a multimedia and interactive app that exploits Augmented Reality. Framing the pages of the magazine, the user could activate both editorial and commercial content such as videos, games, 3D objects, links, access to online shops and much more.
At this point, it is good to reiterate that Augmented Reality does not try to recreate a virtual environment , but it is a technology that allows to superimpose some virtual elements to the surrounding real world , the main context of the vision. At a technological level, this is a significant saving in terms of development and implementation time. Moreover, it can be exploited on any device with a camera or on smart glasses, which, unlike virtual reality viewers that obstruct the user’s field of view, allow to observe the surrounding reality in a standard way.
Here we are. Although the Google Glass project was finally closed in 2016 , there are still large companies that have introduced new visors specifically designed for Augmented Reality, such as Microsoft with HoloLens glasses and Magic Leap with its “miraculous” glasses that project 3D graphics directly on the retina of the eye.
What will the future hold for us? When will we start using Viewers and Augmented Reality in everyday life?