The central idea of augmented reality is to add virtual objects into a real scene, for example by superimposing them on an image of the scene captured by a camera. This is the case in the augmented reality demonstration available on this website where a 3D object appears on your computer screen when you hold a marker to a webcam.
Augmented reality is used in an increasing number of applications. Added objects might be virtual characters in a film production or video game, simulation of a construction project, instructions for repairing a car engine, or a reconstruction of an archaeological site.
Given the potential of this technology, the European Union has been supporting several research projects on augmented reality, in different fields such as these:
Augmented reality can help the work of technicians thanks to computer-generated information appearing overlaid to the real scene and demonstrating step by step complex reparation tasks. For instance, the ULTRA project aims to develop an "ultra portable" system applying this application to Pocket-PCs. The STARMATE project is developing a product dedicated to computer-guided maintenance of complex mechanical elements (for example in aeronautics construction)
ARISE is a project developing an augmented-reality-teaching platform for school classes. Existing augmented reality technology for museums will be adapted to the everyday learning environment of teachers and students. The platform will provide 3D visual augmentation of real objects and sound and will be integrated with a multi-media database and an e-learning tool.
The ARCHEOGUIDE project has developed an Augmented Reality system for visitors of cultural heritage sites. Such sites are very sensitive and any kind of interference must be kept to an absolute minimum. ARCHEOGUIDE allows the user/visitor to experience a Virtual Reality world featuring computer-generated 3D reconstructions of ruined sites. The system also automatically launches audiovisual presentations about the site depending on the user’s position.
The European Union also funds research on virtual reality which goes beyond augmented reality since it creates immersive, computer-generated environments.
For example, the research project PRESENCCIA is working on a technology that can change the body perception of a person. This could help amputees learn how to use a prosthetic limb or allow people confined to a wheelchair to experience walking in virtual reality. This technology will also allow you to move and control objects in virtual reality solely by the power of thought. In the future, it could become common at home to turn on the lights or change radio channel just by thinking about it! (See Innovation made in EU for more on this project including a video.
Other research projects on virtual reality include:
MindWalker which uses virtual reality to help restore the walking ability of people having lost the use of their legs due to spinal cord injury. This will be made possible thanks to a robotic exoskeleton (an outer shell) worn by the disabled person, powered by actuators and controlled by his/her brain.
BrainAble, which will provide a virtual reality environment for independent living and social interaction
Veritas, which has developed virtual reality tools for modelling accessible design