"Augmented reality" involves mixing the real world with computer-generated images. The result is a kind of visual Walkman. Jurjen Caarls developed a prototype, which is the subject of a doctoral dissertation that he recently defended at Delft Univesity of Technology (The Netherlands).
One example of augmented reality is a special helmet, in which images are projected into the wearer’s eyes, thereby creating the illusion that these images are part of reality. It is as if extra elements are being added to reality.
A simpler form of real-time augmented reality is already being used during televised football matches. This technology is used to create virtual billboards on either side of the goals, as an additional option for advertisers. Whatever the camera angle, these virtual billboards seem to be perfectly aligned with real on-screen objects. This is made possible by adjusting the projection of these images using information on the current ‘state’ of the live camera.
However, things get considerably more complicated when people start moving around within an augmented reality environment. In these situations, of course, the only way to achieve acceptable results is to have accurate, moment-by-moment information on the position and orientation of the individual in question (and especially that of their eyes) relative to the real space around them. This information is fed into the system by various sensors. The equipment built into the augmented reality helmet includes a camera, angular velocity sensors, and accelerometers.
Jurjen Caarls’ main focus was on achieving accurate, real-time measurements of position and orientation. To this end, he has developed specific image processing techniques, as well as methods for mixing and filtering the information from various sensors. In partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, he has successfully created a working prototype. Those using the system can simply observe the real world, or they can supplement reality with virtual objects. This effect is achieved using two small screens and two semi-transparent mirrors, which are built into the helmet.
Caarls feels that the further development of augmented reality could lead to an entirely novel interaction between man and computer. "I can imagine a future in which people experience augmented reality by wearing glasses with integrated displays that project images on their retinas. These images will seem to be just another part of reality. Think of it as a visual Walkman," he said.
In the future, augmented reality applications could have a wide range of uses, in museums and games for example. They could also be a valuable tool for architects and industrial maintenance workers.
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