What Is Augmented Reality? (And How to Use It Effectively)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 29, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Augmented reality (AR) is an innovative technology that uses virtual objects to create immersive, interactive experiences based on the real world. Many industries, such as health care and retail, use it to educate or entertain consumers. Learning more about AR and knowing how to use it can help you embrace this technology and use it in your work or personal life. In this article, we explain what AR is and how it works, discuss its uses, and compare AR to virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) to help you understand each technology better.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a tool that people can use to create an amplified version of the world. Using technology, such as smartphones, televisions and cameras, companies and organizations can deliver unique experiences to individuals using visuals and sounds. This type of technology is a growing trend among technology companies and businesses, and it serves numerous functions. For example, companies can use this advanced technology in many areas of their business to entertain customers and help improve their satisfaction.

A company may use it to develop a fun app for games and entertainment or to enhance their current line of products and services. For example, a company that sells machines or tools might create a mobile AR app to help customers see how the machine functions. The app might assist them when repairing the machine or help them understand how to operate the machine and use it in different ways.

How does augmented reality work?

A device requires a screen and a working camera to support AR. Since most smartphones and tablets are AR-supported devices, companies typically use mobile-based AR experiences and mobile AR platforms. Some businesses and organizations create their own AR devices, such as special goggles that can function well with AR technology and software. Once paired, the camera scans a room or a certain object within its view and then places a 3D image in that space. If the user moves, the screen then adapts according to their movement and alters the perception of the image.

Using AR, digital objects appear as if they are in the physical world. For example, if a camera scans a table and places the image of a mug on it, when the user looks through the screen and walks around the room, the mug stays stationary. It can look like the digital, 3D mug is a part of the real world. With additional controls, companies can enable users to interact with the displayed objects. This can improve the AR experience for the users and help them feel like the digital model in front of them actually exists.

Uses for augmented reality

AR can be useful in a range of industries, including:

Education

Schools, institutions and educational resource companies often use AR to improve students' learning and understanding. For example, schools can use AR for certain classes to help students learn subjects such as astronomy and biology. Using AR, students can place images of animals inside the classroom, view their anatomical systems and visualize their functions. They can also display and explore images of solar systems to better understand the placement of stars and planets.

Companies that make textbooks and study guides can also use AR to make learning more interactive. Students can scan certain images in the textbook to make them move or display additional information.

Related: 20 Careers in Teaching and Education (With Salaries)

Health care

There are a lot of practical applications for AR in the health care industry, and with technological advancements, the use of AR technology in this field is growing rapidly. Like its application in education, AR can help medical students learn more about the human body using 3D image visualization. AR can also help doctors diagnose and treat patients accurately by enabling them to scan specific parts of a patient's body, review past operations or analyze 3D images of their veins and arteries.

Related: 16 High-Paying Health Care Jobs (With Duties and Salaries)

Entertainment

Entertainment is typically one of the main industries that use AR. Various companies use the technology to create immersive games that allow users to navigate the real world while accessing the features of the game. Other companies use AR to create special effects that users can add to videos or social media streams. For example, a social media app may allow users to visit a certain location in their city so they can access other users' pictures from the same place.

Related: How to Become a Video Game Designer (With Salary and Skills)

Navigation

It's increasingly common for companies and businesses to use applications with AR navigation features. People using their smartphones for navigation can see a display of the route to assist them to establish where they're going and how to get there. Other applications let users scan objects and their surrounding area to find out more information about specific businesses or to establish what amenities or services are nearby. Several manufacturers have introduced cars with AR windshields, which show drivers a head-up display (HUD) that can give them navigational information and information about their car.

Maintenance

AR can help individuals and businesses maintain and fix products and equipment. Using an AR-supported device, such as goggles or a smartphone, users can see the item they're trying to fix and the instructions to perform the specific type of maintenance. Some technology can even identify the problem, such as a missing piece needed for assembly. Using AR for maintenance can help consumers save time and money, as they may not require a maintenance technician to help unless the problem is complex.

Retail

Many retail companies are starting to use AR to market their products to consumers in a more effective way. For example, clothing stores may have an app where users can try on outfits virtually, and the articles of clothing appear when they stand in front of their camera phone.

Another popular use for AR in retail is for the purchase of furniture and other household items. Furniture stores may have an app where users can virtually place a piece of furniture in their home to visualize how it looks with their existing decor. These applications can display the size of the furniture accurately, so consumers can assess whether it fits in the intended space.

Related: Retail Skills: Definition, Examples, and How to Improve

What's the difference between AR and VR?

VR is a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in a digital world by wearing virtual reality goggles. Some virtual reality goggles let users explore the digital world through a controller or handheld device. Others can sense the user's motion and change their perspective as they look around and move. Numerous companies and businesses use VR to create games, and other companies use VR to create artistic tools and new forms of visual entertainment.

VR and AR can be equally immersive, and the biggest difference is in the actual experience. AR uses virtual images to enhance reality and provide a unique experience to its users. Virtual reality only uses digital images and graphics to create a different experience absent of reality. Examples of VR include:

  • Virtual reality exposure therapy that helps treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety

  • A VR headset providing surgical training to medical students

  • Clothing stores with a virtual fitting room that allows a customer to scan their body and visualize what clothing may look like

  • Virtual visits to museums, aquariums, or art galleries

  • Virtual reproductions of homes or apartments for sale that allow people interested in the property to take a tour

  • Virtual versions of common games, such as poker

  • Virtual environments for professionals to connect and conduct meetings or interviews

  • Virtual immersive events, such as award shows or concerts

What's the difference between AR and MR?

MR is aptly named, as it's a mix between AR and VR technology. It allows users to interact with the physical and virtual world simultaneously. For example, a doctor can use an MR headset to diagnose a patient more accurately. The headset can enable the doctor to see the patient that's physically in front of them while conferring through video with another doctor anywhere in the world who has expertise in the patient's illness.

Examples of MR include:

  • A headset that projects holograms so users can interact in the physical environment

  • Medical students learning and performing complicated surgeries using a holographic template

  • Teachers instructing remote students with simulations or 3D projections

  • Consumers wearing a headset that displays a physical environment, such as running or exercising in a particular park in real life

  • Manufacturers using 3D models or holograms to visualize each material used to design and build a product


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