Have you ever used a Snapchat Lens or played Pokémon GO? If so, you’ve already experienced an Augmented Reality (AR) application—and you’re likely to experience many more in the near future.
AR describes technology designed to enhance or add to a user’s experience of reality. This rapidly developing technology has countless potential applications, and there’s never been a better time to delve into the field.
This article will explain what AR is and how it’s used. We’ll also introduce some of the key technologies and tools that aspiring AR developers need to know.
Let’s get started!
To “augment” something is to make it greater by adding to it, and that’s exactly what AR applications do. They enhance part of the user’s physical reality with computer-generated sensory input. The most common modalities for this input are visual, auditory, and haptic (relating to touch or proprioception), but other modalities are also possible.
AR is part of a broader field known as Extended Reality (XR). XR refers to all technologies that combine the real and digital worlds to create a new kind of experience. It’s an umbrella term that includes AR, Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR).
The lines between these subfields of XR aren’t always clear, but in general, here’s how they break down:
In recent years, technological advances have created explosive growth in the field of AR. AR may soon touch nearly every economic sector and become part of everyday life for many of us.
Here are just a few of the current and potential use cases for AR:
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AR relies on several advanced technologies, including specialized hardware and software. Exactly how an AR application works depends on the sensory modality used for the computer-generated input.
Visual input is the most common AR modality, so here’s a basic outline of how it works:
It’s an exciting time to enter the field of AR. Refinements in technology are constantly improving the quality of AR experiences, and new industries are beginning to seek out AR solutions.
So what should you learn to become an AR app developer? The specific answer depends on what kinds of projects you’d like to work on. That being said, here are some core skills that would benefit any AR developer.
AR developers require strong programming skills. Whether starting from scratch or transitioning from another field, focusing on languages commonly used in AR development makes sense.
The most common languages vary by platform and include:
As an AR app developer, you don’t necessarily need to know all the ins and outs of computer vision algorithms (unless you plan to get involved in R&D). An AR Software Development Kit (SDK) can handle this task and many others—no need to reinvent the wheel.
AR SDKs are full-featured toolkits for creating AR experiences. The job of the AR SDK is to fuse digital content with the real world. To that end, AR SDKs contain libraries that handle complex tasks like tracking, object recognition, light estimation, content rendering, etc.
Both Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) offer AR SDKs specific to their mobile platforms. Apple’s SDK is called ARKit, while Google’s is called ARCore. Other well-known AR SDKs include Wikitude and Vuforia.
At some point, you’ll need to create the actual digital content you’ll be placing in your AR apps (e.g., the Pokémon!). This requires 3D modeling skills.
3D modeling is a vast field in itself, and there are many tools to choose from. Most professional AR developers work with popular game engines such as Unity (which uses the C# programming language) and Unreal Engine (which uses C++).
AR apps succeed or fail based on their ability to engage users and deliver enjoyable experiences. You need to be able to put yourself in the user’s shoes for your app to have the intended effect. Therefore, a UX or UI design background is a valuable asset for any AR developer.
The potential of AR seems almost limitless, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’re excited about this growing field, we encourage you to start investing in the skills needed for success. The career opportunities presented by AR will only continue to grow.
Your learning path will depend on your current skill level and what kinds of projects you hope to do in the future. Looking for a place to get started? The courses and paths from Educative listed below would both make great jumping-off points.
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