Augmented Reality

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Augmented reality is a concept which on first approach may seem to be a technology for the distant future, or something of a work of fiction; the idea that computers can interact seamlessly with humans and their environments. The idea that there could be something of a merge between aspects of virtual reality, and true reality would have been thought to be only for movies and computer games by the average person a decade or so ago, but now augmented reality has become a reality, and evidence of its progression can be seen in early technologies and computer systems that interact with humans. Augmenting reality can take several forms, but it usually encompasses combining a ‘real world' or true reality view or image with a computer generated virtual image or environment. On the topic of virtual reality, this is often something that is confused with augmented reality. Virtual reality is where a user is immersed into an artificially created environment. Virtual reality requires the computer to produce highly realistic visuals and ambience to provide the user with a realistic experience, and must also provide sufficient interaction with the user to make the simulation more apparent. One feature which highlights the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality is that the virtual environment has the ability (and is in fact a requirement) to completely immerse the user in the virtual environment and block out any ambient features of the real world. As explained earlier, augmented reality utilises aspects of a ‘virtual' environment and merges this with the real world environments.

So why augment reality in any case? This idea can be derived from how Ambient systems have been, and currently are influencing and becoming part of our daily routines and lifestyles. Taking ambient intelligence one step further, we can see how the notion of the disappearing computer [5], which is how computers have become able to interact so seamlessly with our everyday lives that people may not realise that their lives are revolving around the dependence of computer systems, can lead to systems providing augmented reality to make human computer interaction even more seamless.

The future possibilities of augmented reality are endless, and many systems already have, or are currently developing software and hardware to make augmented reality a common occurrence. The uses for augmented reality range from tourism, to business, to the military [2]. One simple example of how augmented reality is somewhat already in use in the military is the Heads Up Display (HUD) in military aircrafts. This is where information about navigation, targets, attack, and other pieces of vital information are superimposed on the visor of a pilot's helmet or their windshield [1]. This gives the pilot more information about his real environment and therefore greater control over it. Other areas of the military are also planning to implement HUD style systems, and are running various trials with software. Currently, similar systems are being used with foot soldiers as training methods, and trials are running for smaller, more portable Heads Up Displays to be used by individual soldiers for use in the field, displaying tactical and positional information among other things. This is the type of thing we have seen in futuristic computer games, and it seems that now, with technology advancing exponentially, works of fiction are becoming a reality.
Other simple, yet effective uses of augmented reality can also be found in the Sports and Entertainment sectors. In the USA, the sport of American football is televised using computer generated lines to indicate and show where the ‘1st down' mark lies, to show the viewers how far the players have to travel. Similar tools are used in football in England and other countries, where offside lines are superimposed onto the video footage to show and analyse the game. In cricket, a virtual reality model of the...
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