The Community for Technology Leaders

What's Real About Augmented Reality?

Oliver Bimber, Johannes Kepler University Linz

Pages: pp. 24-25

Abstract—The evolution of augmented reality over the course of nearly 50 years has finally made it possible to use this technology in our daily lives.

Although augmented reality (AR) research dates back to the early 1960s, the technology seems to have come to fruition only recently—nearly 50 years after its invention.

Researchers have solved many technical challenges during that time, finally allowing practical access to this user interface. While early AR research focused on head-mounted displays and backpack computers, it now encompasses a variety of enabling technologies, including camera phones and other handhelds, advanced projector-camera systems, and AR-extended professional devices, such as x-ray scanners. It is this evolution that has finally made it possible to use AR in our daily lives.

Although AR's practical applications have not yet reached the level that many people involved in the field have dreamed of, the number of these applications is steadily increasing.

Beyond what has been published about AR in the scientific literature and the lay press, current research in the field poses some exciting questions: What's real about augmented reality? What role does it play for all of us today, and what impact will it potentially have on society in the future? Will there be a killer app for AR, or will the AR bubble finally burst?

Currently, the areas in which AR seems to do very well include entertainment, education, advertising/marketing, and medicine. Where will it go from here?

In This Issue

In the five cover features included in this issue, researchers from distinguished groups in Europe, New Zealand, and the US discuss AR's current status from different viewpoints and consider the potential future impact of this technology.

In "Anywhere Interfaces Using Handheld Augmented Reality," Michael Gervautz of Qualcomm Research, Vienna, and Dieter Schmalstieg of the Graz University of Technology, Austria, discuss current uses of AR apps on handheld devices such as camera-equipped mobile phones in marketing, sales, education, and gaming. They survey recent developments concerning the technological foundations of handheld AR, concentrating on localization, tracking, interaction, and visualization, and provide an overview of the most important current application areas as well as potential future developments.

In contrast to mobile augmented reality, spatial augmented reality uses nonmobile devices, such as projectors, for augmentation. In "Projection-Based Augmented Reality in Disney Theme Parks," Mark Mine and his colleagues from Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Research Zürich pre-sent several examples of the use of this technology in theme park attractions and describe the architecture and components of a toolbox that researchers are developing to support this work. They also outline some of the challenges and research opportunities presented by integrating projection-based AR techniques into a theme park environment.

"Augmented Reality in a Public Space: The Natural History Museum, London" by Ailsa Barry and her colleagues from the Natural History Museum, London, and BBC Research and Development describes the development of the interactive reality film Who Do You Think You Really Are?, which combines film narrative, augmented reality, personalization, and interactive activities to explore the complex theory of evolution for family and educational audiences. The authors discuss the challenges encountered in creating the appropriate tracking and hardware and reflect on the effectiveness of using AR in both the film and a museum environment.

Focusing on computer-assisted interventions, "First Deployments of Augmented Reality in Operating Rooms" by Nassir Navab and his colleagues from the Technical University of Munich presents an overview of the role of augmented reality in medical applications and describes two medical AR systems that are currently used in operating rooms for trauma surgery and sentinel lymph node excisions. The article also describes the deployment of a system that provides an accessible and user-friendly solution for everyday use and integration into medical education and patient information systems.

In "Augmented Reality in the Classroom," Mark Billinghurst and and Andreas Dünser from the HIT Lab NZ at New Zealand's University of Canterbury evaluate their experiences with using AR to enrich teaching and learning experiences in an educational setting. They also propose some areas for future work and suggest some obstacles that researchers must overcome to facilitate using AR in the classroom.

Additional multimedia material that complements these cover features is available at or by scanning the QR code on this page.

The Cover

The cover of this issue of Computer allows readers to directly experience AR. All you need is a camera-equipped mobile phone or tablet PC with a current version of Apple iOS or Android. You can download the self-explanatory ARComputer app at no cost from the Apple and Android app stores. Direct links are available at or by scanning the QR code on this page.

After starting the app, you can view the magazine cover through the phone's camera. It is live-tracked and augmented with teaser videos that complement the featured articles. To switch the teaser videos, touch or swipe the smartphone or tablet screen.

We thank Imagination Computer Services GmbH in Vienna for developing the app using Qualcomm's QCAR SDK, as well as the CAMPAR team at the Technical University of Munich and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University for producing the x-ray images used in creating the cover.

The cover features included in this issue shed light on the current possibilities and future potential of AR as a revolutionary human-computer interface. After almost 50 years of research and development, augmented reality has finally become more than a buzzword in information technology.

About the Authors

Oliver Bimber is the head of the Institute of Computer Graphics at Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. Contact him at
61 ms
(Ver 3.x)