Since Boeing researcher Thomas Kodell coined the term "augmented reality" (AR) back in 1990, the technology has made its way from sci-fi to practical application. Today, AR technology allows us to not only see a virtual offside during a soccer match being broadcast, but also embed all of the augmented reality advantages into a single smartphone. With this possibility, sky is the limit!

The growth of demand for AR solutions is attributed to the digital capabilities of modern cameras. Most of smartphones today are able to overlap any digital data on the image captured by built-in camera in the real time. This opened the door for emergence of mobile applications based on the AR technology. Most of these apps come in handy while traveling, playing games or studying.

The average user can have a glimpse at augmented reality in action after downloading one of several AR enabled browsers and engines available today. These browsers enable us to see digital content that augments our physical world.

One of the very first browser apps for 3G and 4G smartphones was Junaio developed by the German AR giant Metaio that has been working in the AR space since 2003.

Junaio was a free mobile-only browser based on traditional web technologies such as HTML5 and XML and offering nearly all tracking technologies of the Metaio SDK such as QR-code, barcode, ID market detection, location-based services, advanced 2D and 3D tracking, etc. Junaio was actually more than just a browser; it acted as a distributions platform offering users all over the world to find their own experience they could easily tune in to see. From application developer perspective, there were no license fees or any hidden costs of publishing own AR scenarios through the Junaio browser app, including commercial projects.

However, Metaio was acquired by Apple in spring 2015 and as a result of this deal the Junaio app was deactivated.

Today, one of the most popular AR browser apps available in the app stores is Wikitude. It uses location-based content from social media and groups data based on certain business niches and verticals. When connected to the Internet, we can use Wikitude on our smartphones to explore locations in the augmented reality mode (have them displayed on the map or as a list), view and create search queries (e.g. "sushi bars", "car repair"), receive updates and recommendations on similar places, find events, tweets, Wikipedia articles, ATMs and more. Also, Wikitude allows for scanning print journals, magazines, brochures, ads and labels for 3D entries and augment them for more exciting UX.

From developer perspective, Wikitude offers some very cool features and AR app development opportunities. Wikitude SDK includes image recognition and tracking, 3D model rendering, video overlay, geo-located AR and much more. It's compatible with most of development platforms and frameworks including iOS, Android, tablet, smart glasses, PhoneGap, Cordova, Tamarin, Titanium, Unity 3D and others.

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Another popular AR browser that was built in Ukraine is Layar. Unlike Wikitude, Layar aims to revive and augment static content pages (e.g., journals, magazines, booklets). Besides offering the Layar browser app and building bespoke AR solutions for clients, Layar offers own SDK and value-added services to application developers. Using them, developers can create AR layers in their proprietary brand apps, and easily integrate AR in their app development workflow with PhoneGap framework plugin. In addition, Layar offers a powerful API for creation of more complex AR content including geo layers. However, the Layar SDK isn't free of charge and publishing through it requires purchasing additional page credits.

mixare is one more free and open-source AR browser that's published under the GPLv3. There're 4 main use cases for mixare:

  1. As an autonomous app that displays Wikipedia POIs of the surroundings;
  2. It can be accessed with a link on an HTML website whereby the data source is transferred to the app;
  3. It can be accessed by an own launcher app, whereby the data source is transferred to the app;
  4. mixare can be modified into a standalone AR application

Besides browsers, there's a growing number of AR engines and platforms that are tailored specifically to particular niches. For instance, Anatomy 4D is an AR engine that provides virtual tours on human bodies. To use the app, users have to download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play, print out any image and scan it with their smartphone camera. Anatomy 4D will demonstrate a 3D model of human body with all of its internal organs and systems. It provides a great opportunity for medical students and doctors to explore skeleton, hearth, lymphatic system and more.

AR technology attracts many investments today. For example, a $5 billion worth AR startup Magic Leap became popular, created buzz in the media and got external funding without even showing the prototype of their AR engine. The absence of product information and a clickable prototype didn't prevent Magic Leap from attracting investments: in 2014, the company got a $50 million funding from unknown investors. A year later, Google invested $542 million in the startup. And then the company also enjoyed funding from Alibaba.

Different tech brands and R&D centers keep experimenting with AR application development. Researchers from the Massachusetts Technology Institute (MIT) have recently presented the concept of a mobile app that allows users to manage their electronic gadgets and connect them in logical networks for collaboration without the need to use / build IoT networks. According to the MIT specialists, it's much safer for users to connect their smartphone with manageable devices instead of transferring data through the Internet. All connected devices become identifiable by special tags users have to put on each device. The app is already available in the App Store and its source code can be accessed here.

As AR is gaining momentum, we'll keep highlighting its developments, challenges and opportunities, so stay tuned with us in Twitter and LinkedIn!

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to Business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other IT portals. You can contact him directly on LinkedIn.

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