Augmented Reality and the Larger Metaverse
If you've heard of augmented reality, chances are it's in the context of the larger metaverse. And to understand one, you must understand the other. You can explore the general metaverse meaning by viewing it as a separate digital universe alongside the physical realm or offline. If you "enter" the metaverse, it is considered virtual reality (VR). This is done by wearing a VR headset or similar device. If you're taking everything from the metaverse into the offline world, you're using augmented reality. But the variety of technologies involved in the metaverse give their permutations to the concept, including helmets and even masks or full suits. But they also include smartphones, game consoles, and computers.
Metaverse is also very social and you can bring your friends and family. And whether you're alone or with a company, your actions in the metaverse will remain as real as in the real world. Metaverse is still in development, but you can explore it right now. You can read more about the fundamentals of Metaverse in the article “Metaverse Tutorial; Understanding the basics opens up a whole new world.”
What Is Extended Reality?
Now that you know about the metaverse, it's time to see how people can use it. The various technologies that provide access to the metaverse are often referred to under the general term Augmented Reality (XR). XR includes any technology that combines or connects the real and virtual worlds. New forms of XR may appear in the future. But for now, the XR contains augmented, mixed, and virtual reality. In the article “Augmented Reality; What is XR and how is it changing the digital world”, you can dive into the full scope and future of augmented reality.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality differs from other forms of augmented reality by balancing the physical and digital worlds. Virtual reality fundamentally changes human perception from the physical world to the digital world. But augmented reality moves elements of the digital world to the user's physical location. It usually works by combining the two methods through mobile devices such as smartphones or smart glasses.
AR data usually takes the form of 3D entities. But it is also quite common for AR systems to present analytical, biometric or engineering information. The wide range of data is part of the reason why so many industries use AR. The same general technologies apply to related business environments, movie services, and games. AR even offers a variety of presentations. It can add small elements like real-time visual translation or cover an area around the user with a virtual landscape.
What Is the Difference Between Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality?
The difference between different forms of augmented reality is not always noticeable. This is largely because they exist in a larger continuum. Each type of augmented reality technology is essentially sampling from the larger metaverse and will have certain things in common. The difference often comes from the way technology approaches the digital realm. Virtual reality immerses users in digitally created 3D landscapes. Augmented reality enhances users' perception of the physical world by adding digital overlays. This is usually, but by no means, done only through the flat screen. Smartphones are often used to access augmented reality in this way. AR can incorporate 3D entities that are aware of their surroundings. But it is often found in mixed reality. MR sits between AR and VR by providing rich projections.
Components of Augmented Reality
Now that you’ve seen what augmented reality is, it’s time to see how the technology is actually implemented. AR is produced through the union of a wide range of different techniques and technologies. The following technologies are separated into hardware and software-based options, but they’re all among the most important components of augmented reality.
Augmented Reality Hardware Technology
Each element of the physical world needs a corresponding AR sensor for the two to integrate properly. The visual component of AR requires at least one camera. AR needs an accelerometer to track the user's location within that physical area. The system will need GPS to detect the user's location on earth. Even an ambient light sensor that tells you how bright an area is can be an important part of AR. But all this information requires powerful hardware to act as a primary workhorse for this endeavour. This is where the system's processor comes into play. The AR processor works the same way as it does in your phone or computer. They are synonymous if you use your phone for AR. Finally, the video processing is pushed directly to the digital display by the processor.
Augmented Reality Software Development Kits
The software side of augmented reality is typically handled by an engine and software development kit (SDK). These packages consist of extensive collections of source code and techniques to work with augmented reality. SDK packages let developers start work with some of the foundational elements of AR already set out for them. If developers have a solid SDK to work with, they’re not stuck reinventing the wheel
Many people don't know that Apple has been a big proponent of augmented reality for quite some time. ARkit is Apple's first foray into the metaverse. This is a complete augmented reality SDK for iOS devices. The SDK was originally released for iOS 11 in 2017. The SDK has evolved significantly over the years and is now in its sixth iteration. ARkit 6 is notable for including 4k video support. This makes the already popular SDK even more sought after by those working in professional film production or media editing. ARkit has made Apple one of the biggest AR companies.
Apple's biggest competitor in the mobile space also has a powerful AR SDK. However, ARCore allows developers to build Android (7.0+) and iOS augmented reality apps using the same underlying code. ARCore is designed around three different key capabilities. It's motion tracking, environment insights, and light estimation. Google has even made it easier to use these AR capabilities through ARCore Elements development and user testing. These AR UI components have been thoroughly tested to ensure developers know exactly which techniques will enhance users' immersion in the AR experience. Similarly, ARCore Elements highlights potential pitfalls to avoid.
Vuforia is an augmented reality SDK with a wide range of potential target platforms. This high level of compatibility is partly thanks to the SDK’s use of the Unity engine. This doesn’t mean that developers can quickly deploy AR apps for iOS, Android, and UWP. The ties with Unity also enable compatibility with many different programming languages. This includes C++, Java, Objective-C, and .NET. The SDK also makes heavy use of computer vision for its AR implementation. This makes it easy for developers to work with 3D objects, planer images, and addressable Fiducial Markers (VuMark) in real time.
Easy AR is another augmented reality SDK that developers can download and use for free. The SDK has many powerful features such as multi-target tracking, power management and various optimizations. But perhaps the most important feature of Easy AR is in the name - it is very easy to use. The generic SDK syntax is designed for ease of use. And EasyAR also comes with easy-to-follow examples for best learners by actively tinkering with existing source code. Code samples highlight how to easily implement video playback and even AR-based transparency for the resulting media stream.
AR Toolkit is particularly notable for being an open-source SDK hosted on GitHub. Developers can use this powerful augmented reality SDK for free. But the truly revolutionary advantage of the open source SDK is that anyone can add functionality to it. If there's a feature someone has always wanted in the AR SDK, they can add that feature and make the changes available to others. The SDK is written in C++ and has a class-based API that provides both power and ease of use. One of the SDK's biggest claims is its native feature tracking system.
As a game engine, Unity can provide many of the most important built-in features that make games work. That means things like physics, 3D rendering, and collision detection. From a developer's perspective, that means there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of starting a new project by creating a new physics tool from scratch, calculate every final movement of every material or how light will bounce off different surfaces.