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In lieu of Augment’s forthcoming eBook on augmented reality (AR), we wanted to share certain snippets to show you the quality of information you should expect.

This book by Augment is written to help the world understand what AR truly is, how it works, and the way it will revolutionize innovation in business.

Enjoy an excerpt from our chapter “How Augmented Reality Works” – the technical process behind AR.


Creating an Augmented Reality experience is a multi-stage process, from the development of the 3D models to the technology that powers the image tracking and depth sensing.

Each step is an intuitive process, and there are different methods and practices for distinct uses. Whether you are looking to develop in Augmented Reality or you are creating content for AR headsets, understanding the technical process will help you broaden your perspective. At this point, we will walk you through the concept of 3D models and their deployment in AR.

3D Models and Processing

Augmented Reality allows you to visualize 3D models in real-time and in a real environment. Before AR, 3D graphics were limited to gaming environments, architecture visualization, engineering, and Hollywood entertainment. Although 3D computer graphics continued to evolve in quality, 3D models were still used solely in immersive environments–until augmented reality.  AR developed to be the only way to see 3D models as an overlay to the world in front of you. There are two ways to approach creating your first AR experience: create your own 3D content or start with already built models from a 3D library.

While AR works with 2D images, AR cannot reach its full potential without a 3D model that can be rendered from any angle, thus creating a digital interface on top of your real world.

3D artists use one of several software programs to create 3D models; the most popular of these include SketchUp, Revit, Cinema 4D, Maya, 3DS Max, and Blender. Starting with a rough sketch of what the final model will look like, the image will typically go through an approval process that refines the idea. Because only a rough concept is needed, this is usually done with 2D sketches and drawings. Once they have been approved, the modeling begins.

The more complex the model, the longer this stage will take. A simple box shape with only a few surfaces takes very little time to complete, while a 3D character that moves and talks requires additional stages of work, as the bones and facial muscles of the character must be rigged for realistic animation. Their details are also more intricate, so texturing these models requires more time. This ensures that the final character moves smoothly and naturally so it appears as it would if it actually existed.

Next, a texture map, which is the model’s ‘skin’, is applied. The texture map can be styled to fit the needs of the project, and it is where much of the realism of the model is conveyed. Because it is an image being placed on the model, its level of detail will determine how realistic the finished model will look.

When the 3D model is completed, it must be rendered in order to be compatible with an augmented reality experience. The top AR software solutions can accept a variety of file types, including Collada, Wavefront, and STL, as well as 2D image formats and other 3D software integrations. But the bigger the file (determined by the polygon count), the more rendering is necessary before deploying in AR. Polygons are the virtual straight lines that collectively comprise a 3D model. Many times, for mobile AR apps, the 3D model’s polygon count must be below a certain threshold. If it is not, the model may be too big to deploy in AR through today’s mobile devices. If it is too low, it may mean less detail and realism. AR headsets aren’t expected to have this ceiling; as the hardware continues to improve, so will the capabilities of the software.

As AR and VR grow, the demand for 3D content for the medium will grow as well.

3D content libraries which developers can use to populate their AR and VR applications will expand. Already, virtual libraries like Sketchfab contain an endless variety of 3D objects from which to choose. Early acquisitions from Trimble show the value in the space for virtual content, as they nabbed two of Google’s early 3D modeling platforms: SketchUp and 3D Warehouse.

As the enterprise use cases broaden for augmented reality, there will be an inherent need to mass produce 3D models. The future of 3D modeling is wide open for innovation. Think about the potential for automated production, inventory management for 3D files, and other areas within this section of the AR process.

This is a snippet from our eBookAugment’s Essential Guide to Augmented Reality“. Grab it now on Amazon!