About this Article
Written by: Lauren Chun
Written on: April 6th, 2000
Tags: computer science, communication
Thumbnail by: Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Lauren Chun was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California in 2000.
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Volume I Issue II > The New and Improved Reality
Augmented Reality is a technology in which virtual images are superimposed on views of the real world to provide users with additional information. Engineers are already experimenting with practical applications of Augmented Reality in the realms of medicine, manufacturing, emergency situations, and efficiency evaluation. However, improvements must still be made in the areas of tracking and realistic displays of virtual objects.

The New and Improved Reality

Mrs. Green wants to give her home a new look. To do this, she needs to purchase a couch, coffee table, and a few decorative vases. She has identified the pieces of furniture she wants to buy by locating them on the internet. However, she would like to see how they look when placed in her living room. She quickly downloads a few programs and slips on her specially designed goggles. Immediately, she sees the couch and coffee table arranged attractively in her living room and the delicate vase perched on a nearby desk. Mrs. Green is pleased with the arrangement and immediately orders the pieces.
Within a matter of minutes, Mrs. Green was able to find the right items, see them in her living room, and purchase them without stepping foot outside of her home. One might wonder if this type of shopping is a reality. Although it is not now, in the near future it will be. The goggles Mrs. Green would have used are very much real and have been under development for over five years; it is the technology of Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality is a system where computer-generated images are directly projected onto the user's view of the real world. Such enhancements include labels, instructions, 3D images, shadows, or other objects. Differing from virtual reality in which a user is completely immersed in a computer-generated world, Augmented Reality simply enhances the user's view of the real world. It is mainly aimed at providing users with additional information about their real-world environments [1].
Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: Augmented GeoTravel is an example of an iPhone app that displays information about the user's environment.

The Gear

Augmented Reality systems utilize four main components: video cameras, computers, head-mounted displays, and motion-tracking systems. The video cameras capture images of the real world, while computers create graphics, instructions, or other enhancements to superimpose on the real world images. The computers can range from regular desktop computers to wearable computers that strap onto users like backpacks. The computers are then hooked up to video cameras and head-mounted displays so that they can receive and integrate information from these various sources (see Fig. 1).
Head-mounted displays (HMD) are wearable goggle-sets showing users virtual images projected onto physical space. There are two main types of HMDs: optical-see-through and immersive. Optical-see-through HMDs visually superimpose computer-generated graphics onto real-world scenes. People using this type of HMD are really looking at real-world images with virtual images inserted into their field of vision.
Conversely, immersive HMD's use video cameras to capture images of real items. These pictures are then sent back to the computer and electronically mixed with computer-generated objects. This final combination of virtual and real images is then directed to the user and displayed through the HMD. People using the immersive HMD's are looking at images that have been generated by the computer. Meanwhile, motion-tracking systems are integral parts of Augmented Reality systems. Sensors and magnets are often used to monitor the movement of the user's head and body in relation to the virtual objects as well as the real setting (see Fig. 1). In this way, the computer is aware of where the user is looking and it can subsequently supply the appropriate information [2].