Augmented reality (AR) is an experience where designers enhance parts of users’ physical world with computer-generated input. Designers create inputs—ranging from sound to video, to graphics to GPS overlays and more—in digital content which responds in real time to changes in the user’s environment, typically movement.
Augmented reality has science-fiction roots dating to 1901. However, Thomas Caudell described the term as a technology only in 1990 while designing to help Boeing workers visualize intricate aircraft systems. A major advance came in 1992 with Louis Rosenberg’s complex Virtual Fixtures AR system for the US Air Force. AR releases followed in the consumer world, most notably the ARQuake game (2000) and the design tool ARToolkit (2009). The 2010s witnessed a technological explosion—for example, with Microsoft’s HoloLens in 2015—that stretched beyond AR in the classical sense, while AR software itself became increasingly sophisticated, popular and affordable.
With advances in AR technology, these examples are not that different from what might already be available for your smartphone. Augmented reality is, in fact, readily available and being used in a myriad of ways including as Snapchat lenses, in apps that help you find your car in a crowded parking lot, and in variety of shopping apps that let you try on clothes without even leaving home.
Perhaps the most famous example of AR technology is the mobile app Pokemon Go, which was released in 2016 and quickly became an inescapable sensation. In the game, players locate and capture Pokemon characters that pop up in the real world—on your sidewalk, in a fountain, even in your own bathroom.
Games aside, there are as many uses for AR in our everyday lives as there are Pikachu on the loose in Pokemon GO. Here are just a few examples: