9 Powerful Real-World Applications of Augmented Reality

From "Pokemon Go!" to training future surgeons, AR is becoming a useful tool.
Christopher McFadden
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Augmented reality has really come of age over the last few years. From interactive and immersive weather reports to helping fighter pilots find their targets day or night, AR has proven itself as a powerful aid for industry and the general public at large.

Considering its progress so far, future applications of AR are likely to be limited only by our collective imagination.


What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR for short) is defined as "the real-time use of information in the form of text, graphics, audio, or other virtual enhancements integrated with real-world objects." 

This generally means that digital imagery, or data, is rendered onto real-world objects like actual physical things or, at times, integrated into more traditional media like live video streams or heads-up displays, or special augmented reality glasses.

augmented reality headset
Source: shironosov/iStock

It can also include the use of computer-generated perceptual information including visual, auditory, haptic (touch), and olfactory (smell) enhancement of how a user experiences the real-world. 

In other words, as the name suggests, it augments your very reality!

How does augmented reality work?

AR works by "[adding] digital content onto a live camera feed, making that digital content look as if it is part of the physical world around you."

This is generally achieved by using computer vision, which is a trait that differentiates AR from VR, which transports users into completely digital worlds using headsets and sometimes haptic sensors.

What are some interesting real-world uses of augmented reality? 

And so, without further ado, here are some interesting augmented reality examples from real life. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Games like "Pokemon Go!" make good use of AR

Applications Of Augmented Reality https://images.interestingengineering.com/images/APRIL/Pok__mon_Go_App.jpg
Source: Eduardo Woo / Wikimedia Creative Commons

Although its popularity has waned since 2016, "Pokemon Go!" still has its die-hard fans. But the main part of this game's appeal was the way it combined the real world with favorite Pokemon characters.

This is the very definition of augmented reality and a fun one to boot. Many other games have copied the same concept since, like "Jurassic Park" (bet you can't guess how this one works) and the up and coming "Harry Potter" themed AR game from Niantic.

Although these examples are purely for recreation, they show the potential for this technology.

2. Medical training now makes use of AR

applications of AR surgery
Source: Pxfuel

Augmented reality is now used in medical training. Its applications range from MRI applications to performing highly delicate surgery.

At the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University, for example, students are taught the ins and outs of anatomy using AR headsets or augmented reality glasses. This technology lets them delve into the human body without the need for dissecting cadavers or watching live operations.

But it's not limited to just training. AR also has applications during operations where it can help reduce the need for more traditional invasive cameras and probes.

InnerOptic Technology's Magic Loupe, for example, integrates with Osterhout Design Group (ODG) and Microsoft's HoloLens to improve the doctor's view of the patient's insides.

This has the potential to make invasive surgeries more precise and safe.

3. Car mechanics are even getting in on the AR game

Applications Of Augmented Reality https://images.interestingengineering.com/images/porsche_dieselengine.jpg
Source: laap mx/Flickr

Porsche has been trying out AR as a new method to help mechanics during servicing and maintenance of its customers' 'pride and joy'.

Its "Tech Live Look" allows Porsche remote servicing engineers the ability to use ODG smart augmented reality glasses to connect with Porsche's Atlanta-based service HQ and get real-time assistance.

A Porsche mechanic can then guide remote staff through the process through live guides, video tutorials, documents, and other pertinent information as they work on the car.

The idea is to improve the efficacy of repairs and also help speed up services for customers.

4. Harley Davidson is using AR to help customers in the store

Applications Of Augmented Reality https://images.interestingengineering.com/images/FEBRUARY/livewire-harley-davidson.jpg
Source: big-ashb/Flickr

The retail sector is also starting to use AR to help its customers have a more enjoyable and interactive shopping experience.

Shoppers have long been using their smartphones to compare prices and get information on products in store for many years but by integrating AR, Harley Davidson is taking this to the next level.

It has developed a special app for its customers that lets them view a motorcycle in-store and customize it (changing paint jobs, adding accessories) on their phones.

This is an interesting application of AR and one that's bound to become more common with other large brands like Ikea too. A number of apps have also been developed that use AR to allow customers to "try on" clothing remotely before they buy online.

5. F-35 Helmets use AR

Applications Of Augmented Reality F-35
Source: US Air Force

Not only is the F-35 a very expensive fighter plane, a single pilot's helmet alone costs $400,000.

These helmets are specially designed to overlay AR features like real-time footage from the fighter's external cameras directly into the pilot's field of view.

This system allows the pilot to see a 360-degree view around their plane, thereby eliminating any blind spots. Pilots can also zoom in on any areas of interest and can be pinged by the plane if a potential threat is detected.

It also provides pilots with "digital night vision", a virtual HUD, weapon system information, targeting system functions, and has the capacity for adding new features in the future.

6. Television broadcasts are using AR more and more

AR VR weather forecasts
Source: NewscastStudio/YouTube

From weather broadcasts to sports events, AR is becoming ever more common on your TV. AR is perfectly suited for this kind of application and really brings some subjects to life for the general public.

AR could be used in educational documentaries, live sporting events, or other live news reporting to help you understand more esoteric subjects. A good example includes BBC General Election news coverage.

These kinds of applications of AR are both engaging and immersive. 

7. Gatwick Airport uses AR to help you find your gate

Applications Of Augmented Reality Gatwick
Source: itunes

Augmented Reality is being used by Gatwick Airport's app to help passengers get to their plane. Their app has been so successful that it has also recently won awards.

The app won the Mobile Innovation of the Year Award at the National Technology awards back in 2017. It provides passengers with personalized wayfinding around the airport and is planning to integrate intelligent chatbots to improve the service even more.

Their app utilizes over 2,000 beacons to show guide passengers through AR-augmented smartphone maps through their two busy terminals. It is hoped that as the app matures it will make enormous improvements to general traffic flow through the airport.

8. AR is great for interior design and modeling

Applications Of Augmented Reality https://images.interestingengineering.com/images/DECEMBER/threegraces.jpg

Given the capabilities of this technology, it is only natural that it has found applications in architectural design and construction. AR can help professionals visualize their final designs with ease during the planning phase.

They can even take virtual tours within their designs using headsets, and tinker with the design in a fully immersive environment. This can even be expanded to city planners who can model entire city layouts and go for a tour.

AR is simply perfect for any activity that has some element of spatial design.

9. AR is entering the classroom

Applications Of Augmented Reality classroom
Source: Ars Electronica/Flickr

Another interesting application for AR is in your child's classroom. Teachers and other educators are starting to introduce augmented reality to help engage children with the subject at hand.

From astrophysics to music lessons, AR can provide a fun and immersive learning experience for kids of all ages.

In short, the possibilities are endless.

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