The Tools That Make AR Possible

Anna Sharpes
5 min readNov 2, 2020

When we think of augmented reality, we think about it’s purpose and goal of being a system where a user cannot tell the difference between the physical world and the virtual objects that are added to the real world. Currently, there are many platforms that allow many people to create their own augmented realities. Although there may be some slight differences between the platforms, the one thing they do have in common is that they need specific tools to make augmented reality work overall.

Camera Space vs. World Space

One given thing that augmented reality needs for it to be useable is a virtual object that’s placed in the real world. There are two ways this can be done, either with camera space or world space. Camera space involves with placing the object used in your AR app, or any working AR technology, as a “child” of the camera, and it will always be in your device’s camera view no matter where your camera is facing in the physical world. Now with world space, it’s a little different. When a virtual object is placed in the real world, it won’t be a “child” of the camera, it will actually be set in a fixed position/locations in the physical world. Meaning, when a user moves their device’s camera around, the virtual object won’t be in the camera’s view unless the user points directly at the object in its set position/location. So when creating an effect in augment reality, you have to make some choices. Like, for example, if you wanted to create an AR experience where you can see what furniture would look good in your home, you would use world space. If you wanted to create a mask effect that made you look like an animal, a skeleton, or something else then you would use camera space, along with a face-tracker of course to be able to track the user’s movements.

Trackers & Target Markers

Speaking of face-trackers, or more importantly trackers in general, they are another tool that help connect virtual objects onto the physical world. Whether it be using face-trackers that embed a “effect mask”, making your face look like whatever the effect was designed to look like, onto a person’s face. A plane-tracker where it detects and attaches a 3D object or multiple objects onto a horizontal/vertical flat surface like the floor or wall using only the back camera of a user’s mobile/handheld device. And lastly, the target tracker that is programmed to detect specific physical targets in the real world and overlays a virtual effect on the physical target for people to see and move around with. The specific physical targets that I am referring to are actually called target markers, and they are a very important aspect to how target trackers work. Like I said before, target markers are physical targets that are used to track and display virtual AR content using anybody’s mobile/handheld devices. Target markers can be anything from images, buttons, words, and more and it’s usually common curtesy for target markers to be seen on the user’s screen until the AR app can locate the physical target. This is because it helps people to see that the AR app being used is actually working, and it helps them find the physical target marker they need for the app to display its effect. Then when the target marker is found, it can disappear from the screen to allow the AR effect to “come to life”. Not all target markers would work well for a target tracking AR experience, there are some rules when it comes down finding the right kind of marker. To name a few, target markers need to have a high resolution to be seen well with no blurriness, no symmetry or repeated patterns, and have a high tonal contrast that avoids confusion for the AR app. Preventing any problems to locate the target marker and display its virtual effect for the user to enjoy.

Use With Digital Signage

My group has the idea of creating an AR mapped pathway experience that leads you to wherever you need to go in the Catalyst building. Hypothetically, when a person would use this AR app, they would see the virtual archway with instructors names on it and the ribbons that lead you to the right office embedded into the physical world using world space. Meaning, that when they would look away from the archway and ribbons, they would not see any of it at all, only the direct position and location(s) the AR effect was set. We would also use target tracking and a target marker for “starting up” the AR experience. The target marker would most likely be a poster of some kind, although I think something else should be used that could easily catch people’s attention. Mostly because from my experience, not a lot of people pay attention to the posters on campus unless they look very flashy or catch people’s attention another way. The plane tracker would be of good use when someone is following a virtual ribbon to an instructors office because it could keep the animated ribbon visible when the hallway’s floor is detected, and it would help keep the user on track to their destination. I also thought a good way to keep the ribbons different from each other, so nobody gets lost or confused, could be that they each have their own color. Or more specifically, each ribbon would be the instructors favorite color, just to make it a little more fun.