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Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular, as computer graphics have progressed to a point where the images are often indistinguishable from the real world. However, the computer-generated images presented in games, movies, and other media are detached from our physical surroundings. This is both a virtue—everything becomes possible—and a limitation.The limitation comes from the main interest we have in our daily life, which is not directed toward some virtual world, but rather toward the real world surrounding us. Smartphones and other mobile devices provide access to a vast amount of information, anytime and anywhere.
However, this information is generally disconnected from the real world. Consumers with an interest in retrieving online information from and about the real world, or linking up online information with the real world, must do so individually and indirectly, which, in turn, requires constant cognitive effort.In many ways, enhancing mobile computing so that the association with the real world happens automatically seems an attractive proposition. A few examples readily illustrate this idea’s appeal.
Location-based services can provide personal navigation based on the Global Positioning System (GPS), while barcode scanners can help identify books in a library or products in a supermarket. These approaches require explicit actions by the user, however, and are rather coarse grained. Barcodes are useful for identifying books, but not for naming mountain peaks during a hiking trip; likewise, they cannot help in identifying tiny parts of a watch being repaired, let alone anatomic structures during surgery.Augmented reality holds the promise of creating direct, automatic, and actionable links between the physical world and electronic information. It provides a simple and immediate user interface to an electronically enhanced physical world.
The immense potential of augmented reality as a paradigm-shifting user interface metaphor becomes apparent when we review the most recent few milestones in human–computer interaction: the emergence of the World Wide Web, the social web, and the mobile device revolution.The trajectory of this series of milestones is clear: First, there was an immense increase in access to online information, leading to a massive audience of information consumers.
These consumers were subsequently enabled to also act as information producers and communicate with one another, and finally were given the means to manage their communications from anywhere, in any situation. Yet, the physical world, in which all this information retrieval, authoring, and communication takes place, was not readily linked to the users’ electronic activity. That is, the model was stuck in a world of abstract web pages and services without directly involving the physical world.
A lot of technological advancement has occurred in the field of location-based computing and services, which is sometimes referred to as situated computing. Even so, the user interfaces to location-based services remain predominantly rooted in desktop-, app-, and web-based usage paradigms.Augmented reality can change this situation, and, in doing so, redefine information browsing and authoring.
This user interface metaphor and its enabling technologies form one of today’s most fascinating and future-oriented areas of computer science and application development. Augmented reality can overlay computer-generated information on views of the real world, amplifying human perception and cognition in remarkable new ways.After providing a working definition of augmented reality, we will briefly review important developments in the history of the research field, and then present examples from various application areas, showcasing the power of this physical user interface metaphor.
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