Different Types of Augmented Reality

December 3, 2020

Augmented Reality (AR) enhances the perception of a user’s world, and there are many ways to go about augmenting the world around us. For example, AR technology input can be audio or visual.

Given that AR is such a sensory experience, AR experiences are inherently intuitive to most users. But have you ever given a thought to how different AR experiences compare? How does the Augmented Reality in “Pokemon Go” differ from that exhibited in your everyday Snapchat Filters?

In our business, classifying different types of AR makes it much easier to consider appropriate problem areas and tailor appropriate solutions that fit with certain AR types. And given the rising prevalence of AR, we thought it’d be useful for people to understand what exactly they’re experiencing, and to understand the capabilities and limits of AR technology.

Marker-based AR

Most AR experiences usually involve a marker, which doubles as a trigger that starts the experience. An Augmented Reality Marker is a visual cue that triggers the display of virtual information.

Markers exist as images or objects which are trained beforehand so that they can be recognized later in the camera stream. After a marker is recognized, its position, scale, and rotation are derived from visual cues and transferred to virtual information.

In order to be easily recognized, markers should be distinct and visually unique from the environment around them. Let’s take a look at the different kinds of markers used in the industry right now.

Frame Marker

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Frame marker examples

A border marker is usually a 2D image that is printed on a piece of paper or another smooth surface. These markers are square and often have a significant black (or white) border.

During the scanning phase, the system searches for a black rectangle. Once it finds one, it inspects the interior to determine the real marker. Depending on how the border is skewed or rotated, the system can extract the position and rotation of the marker in relation to the camera.

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Each box orientates itself differently depending on the position of the marker


Image-based AR

Although Frame Markers are very visually distinct and hence easy to recognize, they often stand out glaringly. Thankfully, improvements in image recognition technology have meant most images can also be used as markers. Once an image is recognized by the application, the content can be placed on top of it.

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An animated photo? Child’s play — simply use an image marker and place a video on top

Object-based AR

In fact, a marker can be anything, really, as long as it has enough unique visual points. Any object with noticeable edges and corners and enough contrast from its surroundings can be used as a marker for which Augmented Reality experiences can be overlaid on top.

In the McDonald’s campaign above, the fries packet with its distinctive edges and high contrast colors serve as an effective marker to trigger the experience.

Markerless AR

Marker-based AR experiences are all well and good when you know exactly what the user will have their camera lens pointed at.

But what if you don’t?

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Say you’re a furniture retailer who’s looking to promote your latest line of fashionable footstools with AR. You’re shooting for a standardized experience, but you can’t expect your consumers to have the same image target or marker located in their houses.

This is where Markerless AR comes in. It denotes a type of experience that does not need prior knowledge of a user’s environment in order to overlay 3D content and hold it to a fixed point in space.

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Markerless AR uses a combination of camera systems, sensors, and complex math to accurately detect and map the real-world environment — such as locations of walls and flat planes such as tables. With the recent emergence of more advanced camera systems and more precise sensors in mainstream smartphones, Markerless AR has become a mainstay among current retailers.

Location-based AR

Location-based AR tie AR content to a specific location. You’re probably familiar with an example of location-based AR already. *Hint* What widely known video game franchise has you running around chucking balls at fictional creatures in an effort to capture them?

Localizing AR experiences to a specific area is highly useful for a wide variety of applications, from navigation to providing local information. You can see a stylistic depiction in the short film “Hyper-Reality” below as the protagonist gets off the bus. Without localization, the AR world could not exist.

Ensuring the digital AR content triggers in exactly the right place requires a combination of GPS, the compass sensor, and a vision system of either LIDAR sensors or a computer vision system.

In Conclusion…

Augmented Reality experiences can largely be separated into three overarching categories — Marker-based, Markerless and Location-based. Each category differs in the way it pertains to triggering an AR experience.

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