Augmented Reality: Definition and How It Works

Updated June 29, 2023

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A woman looks at a model of the Earth on a tablet next to a globe and a list with the title "Uses for Augmented Reality" that contains these items:

• Education
• Retail business
• Maintenance
• Navigation
• Entertainment
• Health care

Augmented reality is an advanced technology that companies can use in many areas of their business. Though the technology is still improving and advancing, it has a lot of current functions that can entertain customers and help improve their satisfaction. If you're looking for new ways to deliver information or understand more about the technology industry, it's important to know how augmented reality operates. In this article, we discuss what augmented reality is, how it works and its major uses for companies and businesses.

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What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is a tool that people can use to create an amplified version of the world. Through the use of technology, like smartphones, televisions and cameras, companies and organizations can deliver unique experiences to individuals using visuals and sounds. This type of technology is a growing popular trend among technology companies and businesses and it serves many functions.

Some companies might use it to develop a fun application for games and entertainment, while another company might use it to enhance their current line of products and services. For example, a company that sells machines or tools might create an AR mobile app to help people see how the machine functions. The app could then help them in machine repairs, or help them understand how to use the machine in different ways.

Related: What Is an App? Types of Apps and Examples

How does augmented reality work?

For any device to work with augmented reality, it needs a screen and a working camera. Since most smartphones and tablets use those devices, many companies focus their AR applications on mobile platforms. However, some businesses and organizations create their own AR devices, such as special goggles, that can function well with AR technology and software. Once paired together, the camera scans a room or a certain object in its view and then places a 3D image in that space. If the user moves, the screen then adapts to their movement and alters the perception of the image.

For example, if the camera were to scan a table and place the image of a mug on it, when the user looks through the screen and walks around the room, the mug should stay stationary. It should look like the digital, 3D mug is a part of the real world. With additional controls, some companies even allow users to interact with the displayed objects. This can improve the experience of augmented reality for individuals and help them feel like the digital model in front of them actually exists.

Uses for augmented reality

There are several uses for augmented reality, including:


Many schools, institutions and education resource companies use AR to improve students' learning and understanding. Schools can use AR for some of their classes to help students learn subjects such as astronomy and biology. Using AR, students can put images of animals inside the classroom and view their anatomy and functions. They can also display and explore images of solar systems to better understand the placement of stars and planets.

Companies that make textbooks and study guides can also use AR to make learning more interactive. Students can scan certain images in the textbook to make them move or display additional information.

Retail business

Some retail businesses, specifically those that sell furniture, provide customers with AR features to see how certain products will look in their homes before they buy them. This can help customers get a better understanding of how certain furniture pieces fit into their homes. When adjusting the furniture piece through AR, they can see how the product looks with the existing color and atmosphere of the room. Some applications even give an accurate size to the piece of furniture to show customers if their room is big enough to fit it.

Related: Retail Marketing: Everything You Need To Know


As mentioned in an earlier example, AR has great potential for repairing and assembling machines. Using devices such as smartphones or goggles, AR can display an image on top of machines and assist users in repairing them or putting them together. Depending on the technology, AR can even point out if there are pieces missing from the machine or if something is in the wrong spot. This technology can help improve the efficiency and speed of machine repairs and save companies time and money.

Related: FAQ: Efficiently Working and Making the Most of Your Time


Many companies and businesses use AR with various navigation functions. Some people, while using their smartphones for navigation, can see a route appear over the road to help them figure out where they're going. Other applications let people scan objects and their surrounding area to find out more information about certain businesses and find out what's close to them. Most recently, cars have introduced AR on their windshields, showing drivers a head-up display (HUD) that can give them navigational information as well as information about their car.


AR has many possibilities for entertainment. Some companies have developed games that people can experience through AR, while other businesses have developed AR effects individuals can add to videos or social media streams. Some companies even combine the use of navigation and entertainment as they create games users can play while exploring and walking around in the real world.

Health care

Though there hasn't been a lot created for healthcare yet, there are a lot of practical applications for AR in the field. Similar to their uses for education, AR could help medical students learn more about the human body by examining 3D images of its anatomy and systems. AR could also help doctors perform their duties more effectively by scanning certain parts of a patient's body and reviewing past operations or a 3D image of their veins and arteries.

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AR vs. VR

VR stands for virtual reality. It's a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in a digital world by wearing virtual reality goggles. Some virtual reality goggles let users explore the digital world through a controller or handheld device. Others can sense the user's motion and change their perspective as they look around and move. Though most companies and businesses use VR to create games, other companies use VR to create artistic tools and new forms of visual entertainment.

Though VR can be just as immersive as AR, the biggest difference is between reality and virtual experiences. AR uses virtual images to enhance reality and provide a unique experience to its users. Virtual reality only uses digital images and graphics to create a different experience, absent of reality.

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