Augmented reality (AR) – unlike virtual reality (VR) – is a complex technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite image. This innovation adds digital elements to a live view, often by using the camera on a smartphone. Examples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokemon Go.
Now an Israeli research team at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba have developed a prototype for what they call a “groundbreaking program” to introduce augmented reality into mathematics and science instruction.
The prototype, developed by Dr. Osama Swidan and Michael Fried of the Graduate Program for Science and Technology Education and Prof. Jihad el-Sana of the computer science department traces moving objects and augments them with virtual mathematical representations like graphs, symbols and tables of numerical values that describe the body’s movements. This is a different model for using AR in education, which has previously focused on turning static objects (like photographs) into dynamic ones, such as turning a photograph or drawing in a book into an animation.
A head-mounted display is worn on the forehead (but without shutting out reality as in VR), combining images of both the actual world and virtual objects over the user’s field of view. The helmet often uses sensors to align virtual information to the physical world and adjust accordingly with the user’s head movements.
Thus, AR changes one’s ongoing perception of a real-world environment, compared to VR, which replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one. The first functional AR systems were developed in the early 1990s, starting with a system developed at the US Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory in San Antonio, Texas.
The first commercial AR experiences were used mostly in the gaming and entertainment industries, but the technology has spread in recent years for knowledge sharing, educating, managing the world’s flood of information and teleconferencing. Such helmets are also worn by construction workers to view display information about building sites and by archaeologists to suggest possible site configurations from existing structures.
Architects may use AR to visualize building projects, superimposing the designs they made into a real-life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there.
AR technology helped in the development of eye-tracking technology to translate the eye movements of paralyzed people into drawings on a screen.
There are also numerous military uses for AR including the use of robots that search for underground mines. Shoppers who want to try on clothes virtually without disrobing can use AR, and those in the market for a piece of furniture could visualize it in their own homes. Tourists can visit sites and receive information without being led around by a guide.
The university researchers say the development has the potential to bring fundamental change to classrooms, for both pupils and teachers. This is because the BGU prototype is not limited to specific dynamic phenomena but has the ability to capture any dynamic-real phenomena at a low cost.
Augmented reality can be a useful tool for teachers to introduce principles and ideas into a student’s reality,” noted Swidan, the research project coordinator. “Our prototype can significantly improve a pupil’s chance of success in math and science by helping him or her bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and the real world. The impact could be as great as the introduction of computer-based learning was during the 1990s,” he concluded.