Paving the path to the future will see augmented reality changing how we view the world around us

BY Rehan Fernando

The real world and the virtual arena converge in augmented reality (AR) where digitally constructed elements are placed over a true to life backdrop. In its simplest form, it’s like focussing a smartphone camera on the surroundings and seeing the environment blend with virtual elements, which we could also interact with.

Here are some commercial applications of AR, many of which are gaining popularity today.

INTERIOR DESIGN No longer is there a need to buy or rent trial furniture, hire movers or go through the hassle of returns. There’s no need to construct a 3D model either. Augmented reality makes it possible to have digitally constructed objects of actual size placed in a natural environment.

So it’s now much easier to plan and visualise layouts with only a smartphone or tablet with a relevant AR application.

VIRTUAL CONSTRUCT Assembling furniture, gadgets or even toys can be complicated. There could be many components and detailed manuals to be read as regards instructions.

Augmented reality takes away the complexity by making it possible to watch a virtual construct of the item being assembled in a real world backdrop. This makes it easy for an individual to observe the demonstration and construct the actual item simultaneously.

NAVIGATION Ever wondered what it would be like to walk the streets of a city and see what shops are in each building, know room rates of hotels and peruse the menus of restaurants without walking in?

Well, this is possible with AR – simply focussing a smartphone camera on the street in question could show digital constructs of all these items. The individual can then decide if he or she wants to step into the building or not.

CITY PLANNING Forget sketch plans – augmented reality makes it easy for city planners to see how a vast environment would look with varied infrastructure, buildings and environmental objects such as trees put in place.

The AR construct of the look and feel makes the experience very real, and helps planners consider aspects such as views that aren’t easily mapped in conventional planning.

GAMING OPTIONS Hundreds of augmented reality games are available today; they range from action to adventure and even educational gaming that make use of AR to enrich the gaming experience.

A hunt for treasure in your own living room is one example of limitless possibilities. However, if you’re playing a combat game in augmented reality, you might want to be careful – protect yourself and your surroundings.

FITNESS ROUTINES AR is a great way to enhance a fitness routine by bringing a digital construct of an experienced personal trainer into your living room. One can have a digital trainer guide you through a morning exercise routine or have many digitally constructed fitness enthusiasts join alongside during the workout.

Augmented reality can even change the surroundings through digital elements and sound effects to enhance the fitness experience.

FASHION CHOICES Gone are the days when one needs to try on clothing to find that perfect colour and fit. Simply scan the bar or QR code to have a lifesize screen display a visual of yourself wearing the item of clothing.

So the customer can try various colours of the item of clothing in this augmented reality setting before making a purchase decision. And that would make things a lot easier for customers and store staff who would no longer be burdened with having to replace returned items on the shelves.

HEALTHCARE TRAINING With AR glasses, medical professionals in training or those studying biology can focus on a digital construct of the human body and carry out trial procedures without the presence of an actual human or model.

Augmented reality makes it easier for medical students to learn relevant procedures with more precision and accuracy before they’re deployed in a real life environment.

RETAIL SHOPPING Imagine walking down the aisles of a supermarket with your smartphone screen facing the shelves where items on your shopping list will automatically be highlighted along with the price and other details. The preferred items could be picked up physically or digitally with the latter being kept ready and packed before you reach the counter.

This overlap of the physical retail environment and a virtual setting is yet another example of augmented reality put into practice.

MANUFACTURING AR helps support advanced manufacturing processes. For instance, machine calibration settings and steps could be displayed digitally over the backdrop of the actual machine.

This makes it easy for engineers to take the necessary steps rather than having to manually locate specific components, thereby saving both time and effort.

The future will see far greater use of augmented reality as the separation between the real and virtual worlds continues to blur further.