How Does Augmented Reality Work? A Primer

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

If you’ve heard about augmented reality and are eager to learn more about it, you’ve come to the right place. From augmented reality apps to high-tech wearables, AR is an incredible, fun, and valuable technology you can use in many ways.

Stick with us, and we’ll walk you through the following:

  • What augmented reality (AR) is
  • How AR works
  • Types of AR
  • Pros and cons of AR
  • How you can incorporate AR into your business

What Is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) bridges the physical and digital worlds. If you break it down into the simplest terms, AR is just what it sounds like: an enhanced reality.

It is an interactive technology that allows the physical world to take on digital elements that enhance what’s in front of it by superimposing 3D sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli.

AR has endless possibilities, but common uses include:

How Does Augmented Reality Work?

Augmented reality seems like magic. But like any technology, there’s a science to it. Each AR system has specific algorithms that make it tick.

Read on for a step-by-step process breakdown of how AR works.

  1. Computer Vision
  2. Software Connection
  3. Sensor and Stream
  4. Image Creation
  5. Image Interaction
  6. User Control

Let’s get into it.

1. Computer Vision

For the AR experience to work, an AR-enabled device must be present. Standard devices used are AR glasses or a camera lens. (Full-on headsets tend to fall more in the virtual reality realm.)

The AR device will examine and identify the image or object in front of it. Once it recognizes the visual, it will move into the next step.

2. Software Connection

Step two is where the process gets very techy. After the AR device identifies the digital information, it will create an exact, 3D digital copy of that object. This copy is known as a “digital twin.”

A digital twin is an exact virtual 3D model of a physical thing. AR technology uses simulation and real-time data to mimic and predict the movements of the physical object.

3. Sensor and Stream

Data from the physical object and the digital twin stream and connect. Then, they are combined with external sources to ensure the data is compatible before the image is created.

4. Image Creation

The AR software calculates the information it has received from the digital twin. Once the data is gathered and calculated, the AR device superimposes the image intended for the user to see. This step is where the digital world fully combines itself with the real world.

5. Image Interaction

The user can now interact with the technology. The user can move the camera around to see different images and environments, speak into the device if the AR technology is voice-activated, or carry out commands via touchscreen.

6. User Control

This is the final step. The user and the technology work together. The technology receives the commands of the user and follows them accordingly.

Types of Augmented Reality

When it comes to the terminology of the metaverse, many terms like augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, and extended reality all exist in the same realm but are not the same.

Looking closer at terminology, different types of augmented reality have significant differences.

Marker-Based AR

This augmented reality technology uses image recognition to identify markers in its location-based environment. Marker-based AR requires a marker or a user-defined image to function.

Markers are specific patterns that the AR device can identify and process. Once the marker is scanned, the AR device can superimpose the desired virtual images onto the real-life environment.

Next time you need a furniture upgrade, try the IKEA mobile app (iOS). It offers a marker-based AR function that allows you to see how a piece of furniture would look in any room of your home. All you have to do is point, aim, and shoot.

The AR technology will use markers around the physical environment of the room to create a new digital visual.

Markerless AR

You guessed it. This type of augmented reality does not require a marker to function. This is a highly complex form of AR because markerless AR devices can recognize images as they appear in real-time.

It uses the colors and patterns of its environment to orient itself and create the image overlay.

If you remember the Pokémon GO craze, you’ve seen markerless AR. No matter what the physical world looks like, this AR app allows you to see the AR game happen in real-time through the lens of your device. It does not need a controlled environment, like a living room, to function.

The AR application uses an accelerometer to ensure the virtual objects on your mobile device are always oriented to your real-world environment. You can play this mobile game anywhere, as it does not need markers to function.

Pros and Cons of Augmented Reality

Because technology is an ever-evolving world, every device has pros and cons. Some AR devices, like Google Glass and its head-mounted display, met mixed reviews upon its first release.

Other mobile apps like IKEA Place make redecorating a streamlined process by enabling an augmented reality experience in the comfort of your own home.

Augmented reality is not the only type of alternate reality available in the metaverse. Another popular type is virtual reality. So what are the pros and cons of augmented reality? Is it better than virtual reality? Let’s find out.

Pros of AR

Pros of augmented reality include:

  • Cost-effective in a training setting
  • Incredibly customizable
  • Extremely accessible (all you need is a smart device)
  • Adapts to the physical world
  • Makes visualization easy

Cons of AR

Cons of augmented reality include:

  • Not a fully immersive experience
  • Errors and image lag are common
  • Restricted dexterity (usually need at least one hand to operate the smart device)

Pros of VR

Pros of virtual reality include:

  • Fully immersive
  • Endless scenario opportunities
  • Extremely accessible (all you need is a smart device)
  • Accurate movement tracking

Cons of VR

  • Often entails expensive equipment (headsets, smart glasses, other wearables)
  • Can be disorienting

So, Which Is Better?

When it comes to AR and VR, there is no clear-cut winner. Both technologies are fantastic in their own right. They are both extremely customizable and can be used in countless ways. Regarding AR versus VR, choose which technology is best for you based on your needs and enjoy your new virtual world.

How You Can Incorporate AR Into Your Business?

Businesses, large and small, are turning to AR to help streamline many processes. Many industries make use of augmented reality, including:

  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Healthcare
  • Automobile
  • Military

If you work in any of these industries and are fascinated by AR technology, incorporating it into your business could be a great option.

Onboarding and Training

No matter the industry, onboarding, and training are a necessity. Uses for AR include training opportunities like:

  • Learning how to communicate with employees and coworkers
  • Using gamified training to complete learning courses
  • Realistic simulations for using equipment and machinery
  • Learning how to respond to an emergency situation

Regarding training, AR can boost user engagement because AR content is interactive.

For decades, training has included a presenter standing in front of an audience, showing slides, or giving demonstrations. In a setting like that, it is easy for employees to zone out or forget everything they learned.

With important onboarding information, you should give your employees the best opportunity to deepen their learning. Instead of simply being a passive listener, AR opens the door to active participation.

Set your employees up for success by creating interactive digital content they can learn through AR technology.


Augmented reality is a combination of the digital and physical worlds. It is an enhanced reality that allows users to link with 3D sights, sounds, and other sensory stimuli right from their iPhone, Android, or any other smart device.

AR’s image recognition software brings its physical environment to life by creating a digital twin that allows audience interaction.

Whether it’s your phone’s camera, the Microsoft HoloLens, or Apple Glasses, augmented reality is here to stay. Find the AR that’s best for you and enjoy your new reality.

If you’re interested in learning more about the metaverse and AR technologies, check out the rest of our site.

Here at Illumix, we specialize in building dynamic AR experiences that can enhance your brand. We’ve done the heavy lifting already. Contact us to learn how we can help.


How Does Augmented Reality Really Work? ⎸ Harvard Business Review

What Is Augmented Reality or AR? ⎸ Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides

Cheat Sheet: What is Digital Twin? ⎸ IBM

AR Vs. VR: Pros And Cons For Corporate Training ⎸ Forbes

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