Touching hands
4.4Augmented Reality (AR)

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The concept of "(Computer) Augmented Reality" is a concept which is very similar to Ubiquitous Computing and Calm Technology, but it is also the one which of these three concepts will most likely be introduced last into the area of "Supply and demand on the online market place". Although it is strongly focused on interfacing with, and the visualisation of, information, it seems to have enough potential application areas to justify its inclusion in this chapter.

The world environment around us provides a wealth of information that is difficult to duplicate in a computer. The aim of Augmented Reality is to circumvent these difficulties by enhancing the capabilities of the human visual system through the combination of computer generated graphics, computer vision and advanced user interaction technology (e.g. by projecting information on physical objects). Information stored in a database or potentially derived from a computer vision system in this way can be used to provide the human viewer with additional knowledge about the scene that would not be otherwise apparent.
Although the main application areas will most likely lie in the areas of construction, design and manufacturing industries, there are a number of sensible applications in the context of the information processing (and the like) as well.
An example of such an applications is the DigitalDesk as it is mentioned in [MCMU96]:

"[The DigitalDesk] has three important characteristics: it projects electronic images onto the desk and onto paper documents, it responds to interaction with pens and with bare fingers, and it can read paper documents placed on the desk. The main aim of the DigitalDesk project is to make the desk more like the workstation instead of making the workstation more like the desk. Unlike Ubiquitous Computing which scatters electronic devices throughout our reality, Augmented Reality provides a computer augmented environment giving electronic capabilities to objects, and in this case, to paper."

Augmented environments offer the user a merging of computers and common physical objects. By using projection and overlay techniques, an artificial layer is laid over the real world. The user has to permeate this digital envelope to interact with real world objects. Just like Virtual Reality (VR), a concept very similar to Augmented Reality, this can be intimidating for the user. The main difference between AR and VR, however, is the immersiveness of the system:

"Virtual reality strives for a totally immersive environment. The visual, and in some systems aural and proprioceptive, senses are under control of the system. In contrast, an augmented reality system is augmenting the real world scene necessitating that the user maintains a sense of presence in that world. The virtual images are merged with the real view to create the augmented display."

It is tempting to conclude that Virtual Reality is an almost total embodiment of the main aims of Ubiquitous Computing, as the computer 'virtually' disappears in such an environment. However, Virtual Reality is rather the opposite of UC.

"The basic flaw with Virtual Reality as a means of allowing the user to leave the workstation is [that] VR leaves the physical world behind by creating a simulated world inside the computer. It cuts the user off from the world in which they normally exist, introducing them to an artificial world which is much simpler than the real world; it has lower resolution, leaves out details, and is limited in behaviour and extent. This is at odds with the goal of better integrating the computer into human activities. [...] Ubiquitous computing is based on enhancing reality. VR does not deal with this because the user leaves the real world to be surrounded by the computer. As well as this separation from reality, the other major drawback with VR is the encumbering equipment. It is fundamental that people will resist any technology that is physically uncomfortable."
from [MCMU96]

The ultimate goal of Augmented Reality is to create a system such that the user can not tell the difference between the real world and the virtual augmentation of it. To the user of this ultimate system it would appear that he is looking at a single real scene. An important prerequisite to reach this goal is that the natural qualities of objects are preserved while augmenting its capabilities.

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Chapter 4 - An Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing, Calm Technology and Augmented Realities "Desperately Seeking: Helping Hands and Human Touch" -
by Björn Hermans