by Constantine Stephanidis and Eija Kaasinen
Augmented Reality (AR) is a real-time direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment that is enhanced or augmented by adding virtual computer-generated information to it. Accordingly, an AR system: (i) combines real and virtual objects in a real environment, (ii) aligns real and virtual objects with each other so that as the view to a real object changes, the augmented object connected to it changes accordingly, and (iii) runs interactively, in three dimensions, and in real time. AR technologies enhance human perception and help seeing, hearing, and feeling the surrounding environment in new and enriched ways. This is achieved by making people sense virtual objects, which appear to coexist in the real world. AR can also be used to hide visual elements of the real world to allow people to focus on specific aspects (Diminished Reality).
AR has been a very active research topic during the last decade, and its importance will increase in the future as the research focus is extending from enabling technologies to real-life applications. Long perceived as the technology for the future, AR is currently making its way in the market place. In consumer applications AR is spreading in domains such as advertising, entertainment, education, games, health, culture, tourism and design. In work applications AR is applied in maintenance, training, and in supporting different work tasks with contextual guidance. Today’s smart devices, and especially products such as smart phones, tablets, and wearable devices, are rapidly bringing this new and exciting kind of human-computer interaction in everyday life. However, before AR becomes accepted as part of everyday life, besides technical limitations of existing technologies, HCI issues regarding intuitive and natural interaction, ergonomics and human factors, appearance and compatibility with social practices, as well as other issues such as cost, weight and power usage, must be systematically addressed.
This Special Theme of ERCIM News provides an overview of current research efforts in Europe in AR enabling technologies and applications, with focus in particular on the domains of cultural heritage as well as construction and industry. There is still a lot of research needed to develop enabling technologies that facilitate easy and natural access to augmented reality. This special issue includes an introduction and overview of AR browsers and an article about an “Interactive document” system that facilitates AR on printed documents. It also includes an article where the effects of rubber hand illusion are studied, i.e., how people perceive an augmented hand that they can control.
This special issue includes five articles that describe different cultural heritage applications of AR: a new and exciting multi venue scene for audio and visual experience in art centers, a new way to look at illustrations and sketchbooks in graphical design exhibitions, reconstruction of cultural heritage artifacts as well as an interactive system that facilitates versatile ways to explore augmented artifacts with multi-touch interaction.
In the domains of construction and industry, addressed applications include an AR system for city planners to experience virtual building models on site, as well as mobile AR systems for building maintenance. An article describes the potential of AR in industrial maintenance in gathering and sharing tacit knowledge. Finally, another article describes how AR can support learning complex physical phenomena, such as airstreams around objects and the resulting forces.
The results reported in these articles demonstrate that AR technologies are rapidly maturing and expanding, and cover application domains of high industrial but also public interest in Europe.