Technology is progressing by leaps and bounds today, surpassing all limits. What was once possible only in science fiction stories, is now a reality. Technology has vindicated Napoleon Hill's famous quote, 'What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.' Now, technology aims to go even beyond what is possible, to modify sense perception, in the form of 'Augmented Reality'. It is all about 'augmenting' the reality perceived by our senses, through the use of technological aids. It is merging of virtual and real environment, in such a way, that the virtual part adds and enhances the sensory knowledge of the observer. It is 'mixed reality', with added information provided by technology aids in 'real time'.
It is different from virtual reality (which is mostly 3D animation). Virtual reality immerses a user in a completely computer generated, virtual environment, but augmented reality is perceived reality, modified through virtual inputs.
One could also call it a form of mediated reality that harnesses the processing power of a computer in analyzing sensory perceptions. Virtual computer generated imagery is made part of perceived reality through use of handheld devices or head gears. In short, it is technology-enabled enhancement in perception of surrounding environment, through an added layer of information provided in real time.
Technology that can make it possible is still in its infancy or too costly to be brought into mainstream use. As a term, it was coined by a Boeing employee, Thomas Caudell, in 1990. Its history can be traced to the first introduction of virtual reality environment in 1950s. Today, it is perceived to be the next big thing in technology, bringing computing devices to help people with their day-to-day activities.
One of the simplest examples is the usage of computer-generated imagery by television commentators, to draw virtual lines on real world video displays, to explain tactics. Here the video displayed, is overlapped with a layer of computer graphics, which augments the perceived reality of the user.
Three forms of these devices, that are in development, include head-mounted displays, handheld gadgets, and spatially-augmented reality displays. Head-mounted displays will give the user an interactive view of physical reality, overlapped with a layer of information about objects seen in the field of view. Handheld views rely on video processing of actual real world sights and add a layer of information above it. Spatial augmented reality is projecting a layer of information over objects through projection.
An example is a projected virtual keyboard on a hand, that can actually be used to type in information to physical devices. This has actually been made possible by a team of MIT researchers and they call it sixth sense.
The ideal augmented reality device will be a pair of goggles that a user wears, which provides additional information about objects around him, as he perceives them in real time. It has many applications in medicine, business, military, and entertainment fields.
Such gadgets can function as navigation devices and assist in complex tasks like maintenance, assembly, and even medical surgery. It will be especially useful, wherever complex tasks need to be performed, that require multilevel parallel processing. It may be used by astronauts landing on alien worlds in the future to understand terrain and move around. It can be used by the military to scan enemy terrain and warn ground troops about dangers around.
This technology can also help visually-impaired people through text-to-speech assistance devices. When these technologies combine with holographic techniques, a revolution will be triggered, with endless possibilities.