FallenWriter · Aug 14, 2012 at 08:30 am

What Augmented Reality is and Why it Matters to You

Augmented reality is a term so many of us have heard, yet know so little about. When you ask someone what augmented reality is, their first reaction is usually to describe an application on their mobile device. Google touts its Project Glass as the next big thing in augmented reality and an innovation in the field. Even Apple has has a patent for “Peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays.” Yet with all of these happenings, no one has really sat down and explained what augmented reality is or why it can change the world.

What Exactly is Augmented Reality?

The first true mention of augmented reality is in L. Frank Baum’s novel The Master Key. Printed in 1901, the book mentions a “character marker” set of electronic spectacles that when you view someone through them would show a letter on that person’s forehead regarding their character (funny note, the protagonist actually makes a joke at the end of the story about this and other devices “being a century ahead of the times”). In other words, unlike virtual reality where your entire realm of sensory perceptions is replaced for interaction by an electronic device, augmented reality uses computer generated imagery and sounds to enhance the real world.

As technology has advanced and become focused on mobile development, augmented reality has become closer to practical use than ever before. A computer that used to require hardware the size of an arcade case to produce enough processing power for augmented reality, can now fit in the palm of your hand. Google Glass, while innovative in its design and features, is simply the next logical (and oldest) step.

Why Do We Need This?

While companies like Google choose to make devices that bring augmented reality to a personal level, there are literally hundreds of practical applications for it. BMW and Audi have both announced testing of AR devices that work with car windshields to assist the driver with traffic and weather reports. The United States military is working on systems that allow soldiers to be able to combine data from multiple viewpoints, to better assist in targeting enemies and wounded on the battlefield.

The medical field in particular has embraced this technology by taking it to the next level, which is known as mixed reality. Mixed reality combines virtual and augmented reality in a way that allows real and digital objects to interact with another. The important thing to note is that our lives can be greatly enhanced by the benefits of this wondrous idea that was first thought up over a hundred years ago.

A Sample of Current Technologies

While undergoing my normal trolling activities on the forum, I stumbled across a post in the Android Development section. It was from a user named Yelamos announcing a company named ARLab’s release of two SDK’s being made freely available for developers during their beta phase. Intrigued, I headed over to the website and discovered some pretty interesting development.

The first SDK available is the AR Browser. To quote ARLab, the SDK allows developers to, “Add augmented reality geolocation view to your Android or iOS application in less than 5 minutes.” In essence the application intercepts the feed from your camera during use and allows points of interest, animations, and social networking/sharing integration all at once on the screen. The uses for this, as you can imagine, are quite varied and allow for a rich experience while travelling both abroad and in your home town.

The second SDK available is Image Matching. Rather than viewing an image and then sending the data off to a cloud server somewhere to be analyzed, the analysis can actually be done through a database directly on your device allowing for a faster response time. From paintings to movie posters, this system has a strong chance of being used in places where people may see something and find it easier to simply take a picture of the item, letting the phone do the legwork for search, analysis, and identification.

Of course, the best part about the SDK’s is the extensive documentation and ease of integration into existing applications, which translates to a better experience for the end user. In fact, there are several more SDK’s coming in the next few months, so if you’re developer be on the lookout for those as well. You can find the current SDK’s here.

Integration, APIs, and Documentation

Despte this, many developers may not want to use the SDK for the products. They may just want to incorporate specific features into their build. For these folks, ARLab has gone a step further and made both the API’s and the documentation for them available. Even better is the fact that many developers who do work on Android also develop for the iPhone as well and ARlab has released their work for both platforms.

For those of you who don’t know, an API is simply a collection of data that tells software components how to interact with one another. An Application Programming Interface is crucial for standardization, and the release of API’s with documentation allows for easier integration of features into applications. Everything from YouTube to Google Maps has an API associated with it. So it makes sense for a company like ARLab to open them up for developer use. Interested? Head on over here for the Android API’s and have a look at them.

What the Future Holds

With features like geolocation, image recognition, and object tracking, it makes sense that augmented reality when combined with an Android device like Google Glass will make our world a better place. By combining our love for social media and need for knowledge into a streamlined set of packages for developers to use, ARLab is helping pave the way for a better integrated and interactive lifestyle. Hopefully some developers here on XDA will take advantage of this. If you are a developer and have something you’d like to share with the community, sound off in the comment section below; if you’re looking to read more about ARLab, have a look at their XDA announcement or their website.

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FallenWriter is an editor on XDA-Developers, the largest community for Android users. I am the Fallen Writer of XDA. I was a News Writer who was cast into exile for my sins. Now I have returned to haunt the forums of XDA with my writings. View FallenWriter's posts and articles here.
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