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What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented reality (AR) is an immersive technology that integrates digital information into the real world. Through a camera-enabled device, users can interact with their physical space and computer-generated content at the same time. AR presents images, text, and audio in context of the user’s environment, and is widely used to enhance engagement in a variety of applications such as gaming, education, consumer retail, home design, and manufacturing.

How does Augmented Reality Work?

To see into an environment, determine relevant placement for digital information, and present a coordinated experience to the user in real time, augmented reality relies on three main components—an input device, processing software, and a display.

Input: Cameras and sensors collect a live feed of data from the user’s physical surroundings. Examples of sensor types include infra-red camera, accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS.

Software: Environmental data is processed and interpreted to determine the right digital elements to deploy and where to place them within the user’s view.

Display: Digital information is presented to the user in their field of view, completely integrated into their surroundings. Examples of displays include glasses and headsets, heads-up displays, smartphones, tablets, and projectors.

Types of Augmented Reality

There are two main types of augmented reality—marker-based and marker-less AR.  In marker-based AR, a physical marker is used as a simple way to attach a virtual experience to a real object, such as a QR code, without the need for object recognition and tracking. In marker-less AR, a marker is not required. Instead, multiple sensors coordinate information to recognize items in the environment, based on cues such as color, pattern, and location.

Marker-based AR

  • Relies on predefined images such as QR codes or logos
  • Cheaper and less complex to develop than marker-less AR
  • Must be used on a smartphone or tablet
  • May require downloading a dedicated app
  • Ex: SnapChat filters use faces as markers

Marker-less AR

  • Does not require a specific marker to activate
  • Uses a recognition algorithm to interpret the environment
  • Often used for outdoor navigation and location-specific integrations
  • Includes projection-based and location-based AR, outlining AR, and superimposition AR
  • Ex: Catching characters in Pokemon Go

Project-based AR

  • Ex: an interactive keyboard projected on a desk

Superimposition AR

  • Ex: superimposing an x-ray over a patient’s body

Location-based AR

  • Ex: finding a store by scanning nearby buildings

Outlining AR

  • Ex: measuring the dimensions of an area or object

Benefits of Augmented Reality

AR gives users the experience of being fully aware of their environment, while also receiving supplementary digital information and direction. This integration gives AR many benefits across different industries and tasks.

Enhanced experience: The seamless integration of digital and real-world can make experiences more visually interesting and enjoyable.

Customization: AR can tailor content to the user’s location, environment, and behavior, so no two experiences are exactly the same.

Cognitive load: AR gives users the right information at the right place and time, so they don’t have to memorize complex data or navigate additional resources.

Hands-on training: AR helps learners across fields safely attempt new skills with step-by-step guidance in an interactive simulation.

Cost savings: By bringing the environment and tools to the user, AR reduces the expense of travel and equipment.

Confidence: From seeing how furniture will look in your home, to revealing underground utilities to avoid during excavation, AR improves decision making by visualizing potential outcomes.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality: Key Differences

While AR and VR are both types of digital realities, they are different in several ways. The key difference being that virtual reality takes you somewhere, while augmented reality brings the somewhere to you. Just remember that “augmented” means “added to.”  So augmented reality is digital added to real, while virtual reality is completely virtual.

Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality

Partially digital experience that complements the real word

Totally digital experience that isolates users from the real world

Virtual graphics, texts and audio are presented in context of the user’s environment

Fully fictional environment, complete virtual immersion

Requires an AR-compatible smart device, activated through apps

Requires a VR headset, more expensive to use

AR lets you see how new shoes will look on your feet

VR lets you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon

Top Use Cases of Augmented Reality

From battling fictional space aliens in video games, to exploring the universe in aerospace engineering, augmented reality is a very versatile technology with uses across industries, including tourism, healthcare, retail, real estate and more. Just about anywhere users want to supplement their immediate field of view with more content, AR technology can help.

Examples of AR Applications

Education and Training

AR can be used in classrooms, museums, and training programs to immerse learners in rich and detailed experiences. Not only does AR make training on high-risk and complex topics (like surgery) safer and more accessible, it also makes the lessons more engaging, thereby improving student retention.


AR allows shoppers to interact with products and services before buying. Virtual try-ons and previews show them how wearables will look on their body, or how home décor, like furniture, rugs, and art, will look in their home. This pre-purchase engagement has shown to increase conversion and reduce return rates, as AR drives consumer confidence in their purchase. AR can also be used in warehouses to improve the inventory and picking process.

  • Wayfair View in Room
  • Gucci Sneaker Garage
  • Sephora Virtual Assistant


AR makes it possible for doctors to perform procedures and exams while simultaneously viewing patient data. It’s also instrumental in healthcare training, where AR simulations provide medical professionals with realistic scenarios and conditions where they can learn new skills without the presence of an actual patient.

  • Microsoft HoloLens
  • Xvision Spine System
  • AccuVein Vein Visualization System

Gaming and Entertainment

Augmented reality brings the action right to our couches through gaming and entertainment platforms that make even the most imaginative experiences more realistic. With AR, users can see their room fill with digital characters and elements, as fiction and reality mingle in the same space.

  • Apple Vision Pro
  • Meta Quest 3
  • XREAL AR Glasses


AR helps pedestrians, tourists, and drivers navigate new places by providing real-time guidance to confidently more through their surroundings. In cars, head’s-up displays use AR to provide drivers with information about speed and other vehicle performance, directly in their line of sight.

  • Google Live View
  • Mercedes-Benz MBUX Navigation
  • Aryve Airport Mapping


Future of Augmented Reality

With continued advances in AI leading the evolution of AR technology, the possibilities are vast. In the future, wearable AR will facilitate the portable and fashionable integration of navigation, entertainment, and health tracking into our everyday lives.  Education will continue to be transformed as students explore topics like history, science, and design in 3D spaces where immersive content accelerates learning. Language barriers will be disrupted as AR facilitates real-time translation for travelers and colleagues. And AR will continue to improve automotive safety, healthcare procedures, and urban planning. Wherever digital content can enhance real-world experiences, augmented reality will play an even greater role in enhancing our lives.

Related Resources

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