Although virtual reality and augmented reality certainly have a significant overlap in technology and applications, there are also some important differences. For instance the method of projecting a digital layer on top of the surroundings has proven to be a challenge. Over the course of the last year developers have made great advances in augmented reality technology, and with AR Cardboard it is now more affordable than ever. How does AR Cardboard work and how does this relate to other technologies like VR and MR?

Basics of augmented reality

Augmentation is the enhancement of an existing entity. This could be a valuable addition to a machine, or even an upgrade to a human being. Augmented reality adds a new layer to the surroundings without removing the existing view. There are different methods of projecting this additional layer, for instance an overlay on top of a live video feed, or actual projection on a transparent surface. AR Cardboard combines two technologies to create a holographic illusion in front of the users’ eyes. But more on that later.

VR, AR and MR

In order to understand AR wearables we first have to split the three dominant “extended realities”:

  1. Virtual Reality: This is a fully immersive environment created with a VR headset. The user can look around in 360 degrees. Interaction and motion in the virtual space is possible but not required. Once in virtual reality it is not possible to see the surroundings.
  2. Augmented Reality: Like stated before AR places an additional layer on top of the surroundings. This can be in the form of a persistent overlay that seems static for the viewer, or an anchored overlay that seems to be part of the surroundings. Both 2D and 3D images can be displayed. It is possible to view augmented reality with AR glasses or with mobile devices although the experience will be different.
  3. Mixed Reality: Microsoft uses this term for their Windows 10 VR headsets with depth of field technology. But it usually refers to a more advanced form of augmented reality. Although AR is capable of placing objects in a fixed position, the layer is always on top of the reality. With MR it is possible to place virtual objects in a true 3D space where real life objects can be placed in front of the digital plane using depth perception. At this moment the most famous examples are the Microsoft Hololens and the Magic Leap One.

Mobile AR or wearables?

AR Cardboard is a wearable solution that uses mobile technology. In theory these are two different technologies with different applications. Mobile AR is currently the most recognized implementation of augmented reality because it works on standard mobile devices such as Apple iPhone and Android devices. The camera in the device is used as a monoscopic (flat) viewer, the augmented layer is subsequently displayed on the screen. It’s not meant as a “persistent” solution, the user will look at the screen in short bursts. For a more permanent solution wearables like AR glasses and headsets are used. The most common method works with a small projector that projects augmented data onto a transparent surface such as a glass panel. The device can be worn at all times for a hands free experience.

Where does AR Cardboard fit in?

Until the mass adoption of AR glasses there is a need for augmented reality that goes beyond the screen of a mobile device but is less intrusive compared to the AR glasses. AR Cardboard fills this gap quite nicely. Just like the Cardboard VR solution a couple of years ago, the AR Cardboard by Aryzon allows an entry level augmented reality experience at a low price point. It works by placing a smartphone just below the eyes of the viewer. Everything that is not completely opaque (black) is reflected by a transparent pane that is placed at an angle. The images seem to hover in front of the users’ eyes. By projecting slightly shifted images an illusion of depth is realized. The device requires a smartphone to function, and works without additional power. Batteries are not required!

Low cost, high quality

Mobile AR solutions like ARKit and ARCore for mobile devices are a great entry point, AR Cardboard by Aryzon uses this technology and builds on it by adding a persistent 3D overlay. Because it relies on the hardware and software in mobile devices the cardboard holder can be manufactured with little cost. This makes it a great promotional tool for businesses. The quality of the experience far exceeds regular mobile AR, the viewing angle is even larger than the Hololens which costs 3000 dollars.

Evolution of augmented reality

AR is not a brand new technology, but it is an emerging industry. Just like the Cardboard VR has proven itself to be the most widely used VR headset with over 10 million units sold, Cardboard AR is the next step in affordable augmented reality. Until products like Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap are ready for the consumer market the Aryzon AR Cardboard provides a fun and cheap stepping stone.