It’s all well and good writing about augmented reality, but what does that really mean? There is such a broad range of technology encompassing different types of reality, so where do you draw the line? Putting it another way, how do we differentiate between AR and mixed reality or even virtual reality?
Well on this website we believe the lines between these various types of reality are blurred. There is a lot of overlap. What one person calls AR, others might consider mixed reality. The way the technology is developing means that there are similarities and sometimes even shared characteristics between the various forms of digital reality.
Given how all this area is evolving, if you’re looking at augmented reality and its potential implications, then it seems you need to be open to looking at other forms of related technology too. That is why, while predominately focusing on augmented reality, we will look at various mixed reality and virtual reality platforms too. Basically we won’t be overly prescriptive about what should and shouldn’t be considered augmented reality.
But I digress…
Coming back to the original question, what is AR?
Well if we want to get down to the technical definitions of augmented reality then really we need to look at the various academic texts that tackle this subject. Surprisingly there are quite a number of different definitions which have been put forward over the years.
Probably the most basic definition is the use of digital information overlaid on a real world setting. But that doesn’t really go far enough. By that logic any digital projection is augmented reality – which it isn’t. Augmented reality needs to have some element of context in its application.
Arguably the most widely respected and cited academic definition comes from Ronald T. Azuma in his 1997 paper, A Survey of Augmented Reality. He argued that there are three requirements for AR:
That’s a pretty strong definition but it doesn’t take into account non visual types of augmented content. I know you can have 3D sound, but does the academic definition of 3D cover off other types of augmented content such as haptic, sense or smell?
Another definition comes from Tony Mullen in his book, Protyping Augmented Reality. “The term augmented reality (AR) is used to describe a combination of technologies that enable real-time mixing of computer-generated content with live video displays.”
Again the problem here is that augmented content doesn’t just need to be video related. Kipper and Rampolla in their book, Augmented Realty – An Emerging Technologies Guide to AR say, “Augmented Reality is taking digital or computer generated information, whether it be images, audio, video, and touch or haptic sensations and overlaying them over in a real time environment. Augmented Reality technically can be used to enhance all five senses, but its most common present-day use is visual.”
Probably the most comprehensive definition I’ve come across is by Alan Craig in his book, Understanding Augmented Reality – Concepts and Applications. He believes there are several distinct characteristics involved in defining AR, calling it “a medium in which digital information is overlaid on the physical world that is in both spatial and temporal registration with the physical world and that is interactive in real time”.
Of course there are a wide range of other definitions which have been published. Over time we will add further definitions to this page so that eventually it may become a repository for the various definitions of augmented reality that exist.