As I'm sure you are all aware, we're pretty excited about what the future holds for 3D printers and how they will change the way we design, manufacture and distribute products. But along with 3D printing, there is another technology that promises to bring even more opportunities to an already exciting future. That technology has become known as augmented reality.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is the positioning of computer generated elements in real world 3D space. Early examples of this have been games and novelty apps for positioning a model airplane, etc. But augmented reality's potential uses are limitless. Imagine overlaying ‘how to' videos over a piece of self assembly furniture or seeing your Google maps route tracked to the sidewalk, guiding you to your destination. The promise of AR is to take people away from their computer desks and to stop people from looking at their cell phone screens instead of where they are walking, and to place or overlay all the information these devices provide into the real world.
How does it work?
Using a device such as an iPad with a camera, software analyzes and ‘tracks' the environment you are looking at. Sometimes a special graphic or ‘marker' is required to enable the software to position elements accurately, but new developments and techniques of ‘marker-less tracking' are appearing all over the internet. As with 3D printing, augmented reality is powered by a passionate community of developers and it was only a matter of time before the two would meet.
3D printing, meet augmented reality.
One of the cool things about AR is the ability to see in real time just what something could potentially look like. What I mean by this is to see an object complete and in context without having to build anything. Now for those of us in the ‘maker' community that love to build things, we can still make use of AR's technology.
Joris van Tubergen & Sander Veenhof have developed a great way to use AR and 3D printing with their Ultimarker application. The idea is this – add the Ultimarker graphic to your 3D printer and install the app. When you send your model to be 3D printed, Ultimarker places a complete ‘preview' of your model on your printer, giving you an idea of what the final model will look like. We think this awesome little app is just great and shows again how the ideas of a passionate few are changing our world.