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Augmented Reality 101: What is AR and How Does it Work?


With excitement comes the instinct to dismiss new technologies as all hype or impractical. But when it comes to AR, it’s all a matter of how it’s used.

What is augmented reality, in simple words?

In the literal sense, “augmented reality” is a reality that has been made greater by some addition. In reference to technology, that reality—their experience of the world—is enhanced primarily through the user’s faculty of sight (and sometimes hearing) by the addition of digital content like text, images, or video.

Augmented reality is distinct from virtual reality. VR is the total occlusion of one reality for a digital alternative.

In the context of enterprise AR, a professional’s reality is enhanced by the addition of useful, usable digital content within their environment, thereby enhancing their work or their ability to work.

How does augmented reality work?

Augmented reality works by analyzing the environment and using triggers around you to display relevant information in the applicable place in your field of view. So, for example, an AR function for a map application might be programmed to detect the logos of specific stores and display details such as store hours when you look at them.

Augmented reality devices use a combination of cameras and sensors to “understand” their user’s environment in order to integrate behaviorally aware, contextually relevant content within their field of view. Magic Leap 2 , for instance, has three World Cameras and a depth sensor (also called a Time of Flight or ToF sensor) to accomplish this.

Face filters are a prevalent rudimentary form of AR, and while there are some phone and tablet apps that feature AR capabilities for work, their form factor and computing power severely limit their capability and usability for meaningful tasks.

Purpose-built enterprise AR in a headset form factor doesn’t leave users with only one free hand and affords them a larger field of vision, deeper immersion, and greater computing power devoted entirely to running AR solutions.

Designed for long-term daily use

Enterprise-class, head-mounted displays must be designed in a way that lets the user wear them for longer periods of time without causing fatigue or strain. Because the device must fit securely and perform well, Magic Leap did the work to measure performance and comfort on a diverse range of users.

In order to ensure Magic Leap 2 would be suitable for extended use, our industrial design team conducted over 1,500 3D face scans to inform the design and considered every factor of ergonomics that would impact user experience.

Since higher computing power corresponds to an increase in size and weight, the more significant computing components were shifted from the head to the hip to reduce torsion and weight. Eye-tracking cameras were integrated into each lens to persistently adjust content rendering to reduce eye strain. For users wearing glasses, swappable Prescription Inserts were developed to integrate into the headset in order to accommodate their prescription without compromising ergonomics.

Augmented reality in healthcare

AR allows doctors to plan for complex surgical cases

Augmented reality is already being used in cutting-edge medical scenarios. In October 2020, surgeons at UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, CA, used Magic Leap technology to prepare for the separation of twin babies who were joined at the head.

Because the case was so rare and intricate, the team wanted to innovate their approach. By porting MRI and CT scans of the twins over to Brainlab’s Elements Viewer solution on Magic Leap, the surgeons and their team were able to plan and practice the operation for ten months, collaboratively scaling, annotating, and viewing immersive three-dimensional models without before making a single incision.

SentiAR’s software, for example, connects operating physicians to 3D patient cardiac data in real time, helping guide them during the procedure. It also helps patients visualize and understand the procedures they are about to undergo. SyncThink, Inc. is another company working with Magic Leap on clinical trials to explore AR for vestibular disorders like concussions. Heru, Inc., on the other hand, is using AR to innovate diagnostic solutions in optometry. The company’s solution on Magic Leap 2 is designed to replace several legacy diagnostic devices and includes planned applications related to personalized vision correction that would allow clinicians to diagnose and manage patients with increased efficiency.

There are everyday applications as well, enabling immersive, 3D, co-present collaboration and consultation between doctors and specialists across the world.

Augmented reality in manufacturing

AR can help manufacturers share expertise and train new employees

Linear motion company PBC Linear is one of the many organizations using AR to capture and leverage machine instructions from seasoned employees to help train new machine operators effectively, resulting in an 80% reduction in training time and 20% in annual savings due to less scrap and fewer mistakes — ensuring quality parts get to customers on time. By running Taqtil’s solution, Manifest, on the Magic Leap platform, PBC Linear frontline workers have instant access to step-by-step video, text, and PDF instructions as well as remote-expert guidance from their most experienced technicians and trainers—anytime and anywhere. AR is helping train and upskill the PBC Linear workforce, regardless of geographic location.

Augmented reality in architecture and construction

AR lets architects share immersive designs and avoid costly construction reorders

Geopogo AR+ is a solution that allows architects to quickly and easily convert 3D design files into augmented reality models for use throughout the design and construction process.

Architects and construction companies are already benefiting from Geopogo AR+ on Magic Leap, eliminating costly construction change orders by presenting clients with immersive designs and reviewing plans on-site and at scale. Using Baran Studio Architects cut their design time down by a third using Geopogo AR+, and XL Construction avoided $250,000 in construction change orders on a single build alone.

What is the future of augmented reality?

A March 2021 study by Statista estimated ownership of dedicated AR devices such as Magic Leap 2 is expected to reach 30 million units by 2023, an increase of over 380% from 2020. Spending on “extended reality” technology forU.S. construction and manufacturing sectors alone is projected to hit $35 billion in the next two years.

Unlike virtual reality, AR’s hybrid nature means that it is far more suitable for real-world applications—and that is only going to become more apparent as platforms evolve and developers discover new ways to integrate and use actionable digital information within the real world.

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