What is AR?

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Augmented Reality can be defined as the process where computer graphics are layered on a real world view through a camera controlled by the user. It may recognise an object or image using a visual search or a point of interest (POI) from GPS co-ordinates such as a building to provide contextual information. Although AR can be implemented on a desktop computer, it has a greater association when used on portable devices such as smartphone or tablets.


AR was originally developed in the early 90s but the recent advances in technology and proliferation of smart phone have made its use more viable. Early uses of AR were in marketing and advertising but it is increasingly being used in other areas, including education.

On a technical level, there are broadly two categories: Marker-based, and markerless systems.

Marker-based systems or natural feature tracking use physical-world symbols and act as a reference point for computer graphics to be overlaid. So I could take a 2-dimensional printed marker, point my mobile phone at the marker and my phone would interpret this symbol to overlay an on-screen graphic as if it were directly on top of the marker in the physical world.

An alternative approach is use of markerless systems which use location data or GPS to determine the position in the physical world. The location data can them be compared to a database to determine what the device is looking at, and influence what will be displayed on-screen.

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