It’s possible to put on a digital mask while chatting on Facebook Messenger, you can summon dinosaurs to walk in your living room and you can draw in mid-air using your own smartphone. These are all examples of augmented reality applications, and you don’t need expensive AR glasses to use them. However, actual AR glasses provide the user with a more immersive experience that is far superior to augmented reality on smartphones and tablets. AR glasses are not yet commonplace, the products that are available are geared towards a professional market. AR Cardboard is a clever substitute for true AR glasses that uses smartphones technology for an affordable augmented reality experience. What makes this piece of cardboard interesting for both professional and consumer applications? And how can you create a true AR experience without expensive hardware?

How does augmented reality work?

Augmented reality places a digital layer over the reality surrounding you. This can be a flat plane like a text message, but also a 3D object in the room. Using physical markers or image recognition it is possible to place and scale virtual objects in a real-life space. With regular augmented reality it is not possible to place virtual objects behind a real object. With mixed reality solutions this is also possible, but there are very few products that are able to provide this feature using portable hardware.

Difference between mobile devices and wearables

Although all augmented reality applications are often grouped together, a distinction can be made between mobile devices and wearables. Let’s take a moment and look at both categories of AR hardware:

AR on mobile devices

Most smartphones, both Android and Apple iOS, are able to show AR images on the screen of the device. The camera functions as the “eye”, the software is able to place digital projections on the live video feed. This works fine for games and other presentations, but there are limitations. For instance the images are always flat because only one camera is used, and the smartphone display is unable to show images with a sense of depth.

AR on wearables

Wearables are devices that can be worn on the body, in the case of augmented reality high tech glasses are used. Usually a small projection unit will display a virtual screen in front of the user, most hardware is build into the frame. This technology is still limited and can be quite expensive. In professional and controlled settings these glasses can assist in hands free operation and such tasks, for general consumers these devices are not yet a viable solution.

What is AR Cardboard?

There is still a wide gap between mobile AR and wearables, this provides a challenge to bring high quality augmented reality experiences to a wider audience. The Dutch company Aryzon developed a simple yet effective solution in the shape of a smartphone holder made out of cardboard. With the addition of a reflective lens it’s possible to display true “holographic” 3D images in front of the users’ eyes. This effectively combines the features of smartphones with the technology found in much more expensive AR glasses. Of course there are limitations to this “device”. The complete system can feel a bit heavy to wear. The user can either hold the device or use the included straps. The experiences are limited to the applications that are made for this system. Aryzon has created a couple of apps already, the 3D object viewer might be the most interesting standard application at the moment.

Applications of AR Cardboards

Because the AR Cardboard works with almost any smartphone, there are many options to use this simple construction kit. However, for the most effective results a custom app will have to be developed first. Here are some examples of what you can do with AR Cardboard:

  1. Show you presentation to attendees at a congress. The people can use their own smartphone, install the required app and view the presentation. This allows you to service many people at the same time.
  2. With AR Cardboard you’re carrying a holographic display in you pocket. If you want to show 3D designs in three dimensions you can pop-in a smartphone in the holder and let the customer or prospect view the design in full color 3D.
  3. It is possible to create games that can be played in augmented reality mode. Unfortunately you can’t play every AR game from the app store, it is possible to create custom interactive experiences for AR Cardboard.
  4. Transform a business card, a restaurant menu or a manual into a pop-up experience. With the combination of image recognition and augmented reality display you can create an immersive experience from any print on paper.
  5. The AR Cardboard is ideal for rapid prototyping. Load the 3D object into the Aryzon app and view it in 3D for maximum effect.

As you can see there are many possible applications for this low cost device. Ask your supplier about the options and prices for AR Cardboard.