What is Augmented Reality and How Does it Work

AR is a relatively new thing, but it’s already very popular around the globe. As the name suggests, AR enhances the real world with virtual “augmentations”, delivering an “upgraded” experience. It all started with fun games for the kids. Right now, this technology has a strong presence in business, education, entertainment, retail, social media, and even the military.

In this guide, we’ll talk about it all in more detail and figure out how augmented reality works on various devices. There are different types of augmented reality, by the way – five in total – and they all work a little bit differently. We’ll also check out some AR trends, look at the statistics, and compare AR to VR. Let’s get to it!

AR: History, Origins, and Statistics

AR History, Origins, and Statistics

The very first working AR device was introduced back in 1994. That’s right: it was created by Julie Martin and was, essentially, an AR theater. As for the first open-source augmented reality library, it was developed in 2000. Google, one of the biggest innovators of our time, launched the now-famous Google Glasses in 2013. Three years later, in 2016, the Pokemon Go phenomenon happened.

In 2017, scientists and engineers created a complex eye-tracking technology based on AR. Today, there are literally thousands of AR-friendly apps on Google Play and the Apple Store. Now, according to the experts, by 2023, the international AR market will reach (or even surpass) the 18-billion-dollar mark. By around that same time, there will be 3.5 billion augmented reality users globally.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Wait, isn’t AR the same as VR? No, it’s not. The biggest difference between these two concepts: AR augments, or supplements the real world, while VR immerses you into a completely different, virtual world. AR enhances the reality around us; VR replaces it with something entirely different. Besides, to fully embrace and enjoy virtual reality, you’ll need a specific device (which usually costs a lot). AR, in contrast, can be experienced through a regular phone.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Here are some examples of augmented reality:

  • With the right app, you can instantly see how new furniture (like a set of drawers, or a bed) will look in your room without actually visiting the local store. Ikea has an application for mobile devices that makes this possible.
  • AR-friendly changing rooms are another great invention. They allow “trying on” pretty much any piece of clothing. You won’t have to carry it all around and put it on physically.
  • Next, art exhibits, AR avatars, and social media filters are the biggest trends of 2021 and are slowly taking over the planet.

The Most Common Types of Augmented Reality

What devices does augmented reality work on, exactly? We’ll get to that pretty soon, but for now, let’s take a quick look at the different types of AR. Yes, this technology is available in several forms. At the core, they are very similar to each other. Still, it’s important to categorize them, as they all suit specific purposes in different industries.



This is the most common type of AR. As the name suggests, it creates digital text, images, or video and projects them onto objects in the real world. It is highly interactive and can put a virtual phone in your hand, or a keyboard + mouse on the desktop. In-depth 3D models are one of the strongest suits of augmented reality. With them, you can put a virtual fridge, or, say, table into your room and see whether it will fit or not.


Have you ever scanned QR codes with your phone? Well, this is marker-based AR at work. The application on your device recognizes the marker on, say, an image, and brings it to life, so to speak. On top of that, recognition-based AR can read and translate the words that you’re “looking” at through the camera.

Location-Marker-less AR

Location/Marker-less AR

This one’s widely used by tourists and travelers. The augmented reality app gets access to your mobile device’s GPS and helps find the best restaurants, cheapest hotels, and provides other useful information.


The next kind of AR on the list is mostly developed for construction work. Engineers and architects use it to calculate the right outlines, get a “bird’s eye view” of the site, and more.


Armies around the globe use this type of augmented reality to make sure soldiers have advantages on the field. Night vision, infrared vision, and the location of the closest friendlies – these are just some of the examples. Doctors, in turn, use it for an X-ray view, among other things.

How Does AR Actually Work?

Augmented reality: how does it work? This is the most popular question online. Here’s a quick look at the techniques, methods, tools, and equipment that are used in delivering an AR experience:

  • AR Sensor - WiFi signal strenght around a routerSensors + cameras. Without a camera, the app won’t be able to interact with the real world. As for the sensors, AR implements four different types. The mechanical sensors determine the object’s shape, position, and even acceleration. The biological sensors are great at measuring the temperature, heart rate, and other parameters.

Acoustic sensors work with the audio, while optical sensors handle brightness, refraction, and luminance, among other things. The most advanced AR devices have a built-in depth-sensing camera that records (or, rather, captures) everything in 3D, but it’s not particularly cheap.

  • Projection. This feature allows the app/software to, well, project augmented items onto physical objects in the real world.
  • Processing. Without a strong processing core, your AR experience won’t be very exciting. To create believable and enjoyable augmented realities, image processing is absolutely necessary.
  • Reflection. Last, but not least, we’ve got reflection. It helps the application to simulate object behavior similar to that of the physical world.

Phones, Glasses, and Lenses: AR-Compatible Devices

Phones, Glasses, and Lenses AR-Compatible DevicesVirtual Retina Display

Alright, now it’s finally time to talk about the devices/gadgets that augmented reality is available on. The average users wonder: how does augmented reality work on mobile phones? Well, thanks to the technological process, it’s super easy. If you have an iOS or Android device, just download an AR-friendly app, fire it up, and that’s it! Back in the day, you had to walk into a specially designed and equipped room to get access to augmented reality.

And while that’s in the past, to experience AR to the fullest, you’ll still need to buy a specific device. I’m talking about head-mounted gadgets, smart glasses, and gyroscopes. Thanks to Google Glasses, these devices are pretty popular today. And then you have the AR lenses. They’re a developing technology and are only being tested in universities and laboratories.

Finally, the VRD (Virtual Retina Display) was introduced in the 90s and is different from all the other methods. With VRD, the image is being reproduced directly into the eye retina.


And there you have it – my guide into the world of augmented reality. It’s one of the most amazing digital technologies of our time. With the most powerful corporations and governments embracing this interactive experience, we’ll certainly see a lot more AR in the future. As we learned today, augmented reality is available in different forms.

Plus, it is compatible with a long list of devices like a phone or tablet and doesn’t take a science degree to make sense of. We only talked about the “tip of the iceberg”, though. So, check back with us more often, and stay tuned for the latest on augmented reality!

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