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What is so 'real' in Augmented Reality?

What is Augmented Reality?

Science and technology, since its inception, has played a pivotal role in fundamentally transforming human lives. Through the expanse of time, civilization has witnessed various inventions and discoveries that have altered the course of people’s lives and the ways through which they communicate, connect and carry out transactions. Improvement in the field of science and technology has become a necessary condition for the development of a nation. The 21st century too has witnessed several developments in the domain of science and the innovation of augmented reality has proved to be a major milestone.

Augmented Reality (AR) refers to the technology that creates an interactive experience of the real world where the objects, which are present in the real world, are ameliorated by computer-generated perceptual information. In other words, augmented reality expands and eases our comprehension by adding layers of digital information on to it. The three basic features of the technology include the amalgamation of the real and virtual world, precise 3-D registration of real and virtual objects and real-time interaction between both the worlds.

There are broadly two types of augmented reality, marker-based AR and markerless AR. Marker-based AR uses image recognition to identify objects that have already been preprogrammed into the AR application or device. For it functions adequately, the presence of a special visual object and a camera to scan the object is essential. The AR device, through a component called the fiducial makers, a technical part placed in the field of view for users as a point of reference, can determine the position and orientation of its camera. The markerless AR does not have any marker preprogrammed into the device and hence, is trickier. It has to recognize items on the fly. The recognition algorithm in the device looks for patterns, colours, or other features that might tip it off.

AR should not be confused with virtual reality. Virtual reality, unlike augmented reality, enables the user to perceive reality on the basis of virtual information only. AR, on the other hand, enables the user, through additional computer-based information, to better perceive reality by combining both, real and virtual world.

Before we progress onto the multifaceted areas where augmented reality has been applied, it is important to acknowledge the history of the development of augmented reality. Though the term ‘AR’ had been first used in 1990, the development of the technology had begun in the 1960s itself. In the year 1968, Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull had, together, created a head-mounted display which displayed basic computer graphic. They had called it the Sword of Damocles. Later in the year 1975, Myron Krueger had produced an artificial reality laboratory and had called it the Vedioplace. Krueger’s imagining of artificial reality consisted of interaction with the digital world through human movements. The technology was applied to certain video cameras and projectors among other equipment. Steve Mann, in 1980, had developed the world’s first portable computer and had named it Eye Tap. The equipment was designed in such a manner that it could be worn in front of the eye. The equipment would record the scene and would superimpose the effects on it later. In 1987, Douglas George and Robert Morris had created the model of heads- up display which successfully displayed the astronomical data over the real sky. With ever-progressing time, the 1990s witnessed rapid developments in the field. The term ‘augmented reality’ was first used in 1990 by Thomas Caudell and David Mizzell, researchers in one of the world’s largest aerospace company called Boeing.

In 1992, Loius Rosenberg, a member of the US Air Force, developed an AR system called Virtual Fixtures. And in 1999, a group of scientists had successfully developed and tested a navigation software which was able to generate data on runways and streets as a result of the usage of helicopter videos. The year 2000 seemed to be even more revolutionary when it came to furthering the developments in the field of AR. Hirokazu Kato, a Japanese scientist, had developed and published the ARToolkit. The ARToolkit is segregated under the open-source computer tracking software library which promoted the creation of strong augmented reality applications that overlaid virtual reality on the real world. The technological innovation, then, underwent certain product modifications and adjustments in order to be blended with Abode. The decade and the one following that recorded enormous developments in the AR technology. As of 2013, Google revolutionized the technology through the inception of Google Glass- smart glasses which displayed information in a smartphone-like and hands-free manner. The software giant Microsoft too has begun innovations with respect to AR. AR has been successful in transforming the gaming sphere as well. The launch of a game called PokemonGo had an overwhelming impact on the gaming world and the game was able to earn 2 million dollars within just the first week of its launch.

Augmented Reality has been applied across several spheres of life. Apart from technology and technology-related fields like gaming, the scope of AR being applied across several fields remains wide. The usage of AR in sectors like retail, tourism, healthcare, and military among others has become more common and rampant. In the retail sector, Augmented Reality enables better customer engagement and retention and helps to create more awareness about the brands and sales available which might, in turn, result into a more informed choice of customers. AR’s potential to improve the healthcare industry has been widely acknowledged. Despite being introduced very recently, the impact of Augmented Reality can be felt in medical areas like surgery, education of future doctors, diagnostics, etc. The three-dimensional reconstruction of organs or tumour helps not only in the surgery process but also in the early detection of diseases. With the invention of smart glasses, AR has also eased the development of smart ultrasound scanners.

Augmented Reality in Education

Though it hasn’t yet been applied extensively in India, the potential of AR to revolutionize education has been recognized and acknowledged. With the increased availability of smartphones, it has been suggested by various technology and education enthusiasts to combine the two, smartphones and augmented reality. AR is expected to ease learning for students by granting them extra digital information about any subject and by making complex information easier to understand. With the availability of such technology across some schools, the teachers are in a position to captivate the attention of young children through the use of animated content in classrooms. Making presentations which would give a little more information, through the medium of 3- D models, historical data about events or discoveries or historical data, etc. Augmented reality facilitates the easy imagining of all objects and materials that are generally difficult to imagine through the usage of the 3- D model. It seemed to be a breakthrough for learners who rely more on their visual abilities and enhanced the learning of all by translating the theoretical model into a real concept. The technology helps to motivate students to learn. The technological innovation also helps to encourage innovation amongst students and helps teachers to engage with their students in a more interactive manner. The increased interactions, in turn, is hoped to enhance learning among students. For example, with the availability of AR, medical students are able to learn about the anatomy in a more constructive manner because of the interaction with the three-dimensional models. AR also encourages students to not just limit themselves to theoretical knowledge but gain expertise in technical domains through augmented tutorials, digital modelling and simulations. Through such a medium, it is expected that students would be motivated as a result of the connections that they are able to make and would continue pursuing the learning experience. It would also help to increase confidence and satisfaction among students.

Challenges with the Use of Augmented Reality in Education

Users of the AR technology may face usability issues and technical problems and some may even find the technology to be complicated. Usability has been described, according to a study conducted by Khan, Johnston and Ophoff in 2018, as both an advantage and disadvantage. Though no evidence has yet been found related to usability issues being connected to the AR technology, there exists evidence related to inadequate technology experience, interface design errors, technical problems and uncertain attitude of people towards the technology. The combination of real and virtual objects may cause confusion among students as they may have difficulties navigating between the fantasy and real world. Students might also feel uneasy about a great deal of multitasking demanded by the technology. Students need to engage with multitasking in order to engage with large amounts of information and multiple technological devices to accomplish complex tasks. That may result in cognitive overload and a feeling of being confused and overwhelmed. Teachers too may be apprehensive about implementing the AR technology in schools. The inflexibility, a primary feature of AR, might restrict the teacher from exercising control over the content of education. Also, technology does not enable teachers to look into the specific needs of the students. Also, all teachers might not be willing to adapt to the very innovative teaching approaches that technology demands. The stability of the mobile AR technology is not guaranteed which can pose as another one of the challenges. People might face difficulties if the technology lacks well- designed interfaces and guidance as it may result in the further complication of the technology. Also, it is very natural to expect users to take time to get familiar and comfortable with new innovations.

The above research has been conducted by Sampurna Sarkar, Sociology Student at TISS

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