Explained! What is Projected Augmented Reality? (with examples)

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At its core, Augmented Reality allows you to overlay digital content over the physical world to give an enhanced visual experience.

what is projected augmented reality? explained
Projected AR, by Lightform

Although the technology has been in the works for a long time, it got its mainstream recognition in the last few years from popular movies and games like Pokemon Go.

Since the success of AR-centric games like Pokemon Go, Augmented Reality has been implemented in a number of applications in the form of AR video filters, AR emojis, and digital utility tools such as AR measurement apps.

The use of AR is not just limited to entertainment and mobile apps, in fact, it has proved to be very effective in a number of fields such as healthcare, skill training, and teaching. It has also found success in commercial spaces such as retail and advertising.

Even with all these developments, the AR industry is still in its early stages and has a number of challenges and limitations to address.

One of the major limitations of AR is – it always needs some type of interface device, whether it is a smartphone or the head-mounted AR glass – to interact with AR content. This massively limits its usage.

This is where Projection Based Augmented Reality comes as a solution. It promises an organic AR experience where you don’t need any special device to view AR content.

What is Projected Augmented Reality?

Projected AR uses projectors to overlay AR content directly over real-life objects using projection mapping techniques.

This allows the uses to view AR content with their naked eyes without needing any external head-mounted AR glasses or handheld AR-enabled devices (smartphones).

Lightform Projected Shoe Configurator from Perficient Digital Labs.

Compared to Headset-based or smartphone-based AR, – Projected AR use similar principles ie. mapping and object tracking, but it takes a different approach when overlaying the content.

There are a number of advantages of projection-based AR compared to traditional methods.

First and foremost, you don’t experience any AR fatigue as there is no extra gear weighing you down.

A Shared AR experience is another big advantage of projection AR, as it allows a group of people to view AR content at once.

Here is an example of shared Projection AR experience in action…

What Equipment is used for Projected AR

  • Projector
  • Mapping Camera
  • Design and projection Software

How Projected AR works?

There are four steps involved in Projected Augmented Reality

  • Calibration
  • Depth and edge estimation
  • Design
  • Project

Calibration – The projector lens and the mapping camera are two different objects with different points of view. In the calibration stage, the Projector is calibrated to the camera to make sure the projected image and the camera are synced together.

Depth and edge estimation – The most common method of edge detection uses a sequence of horizontal and vertical structured light. This allows the camera to extract the depth and edge information of the projection surface.

In a dynamic AR Projection system (where the projection surface moves), a position tracking camera and projection system is used.

Design – In this phase, the animated design and patterns are prepared in design software such as after-effects.

There are also custom AR Projection software such as Lightform Creator, which comes with pre-built effects and a number of advanced tools that make designing stuff for the AR easier.

Projection – Once the camera is calibrated to the projector, the depth map and edge map are generated, next the Projection area is defined, and animated designs are selected – the only thing left is to project the AR content on the surface.

What are the types of AR projection?

  • Static AR Projection
  • Dynamic AR Projection

Static AR Projection – In static AR projection, the projection surface is static and so is the projected content.  You may see the use of animations and digital effects but there is no trigger based changes in either the digital content or the projection surface.

Dynamic AR Projection – Dynamic projection mapping AR is interactive in nature where the projection surface can move and the AR content itself is dynamic and interacts with physical triggers.

The dynamic projection may require real-time projection surface tracking or camera-based triggers.

Real-life usage of AR Projection (with Examples)

The projection-based AR tech is making its way into a number of real-life Products. Here are some of the examples of projection AR in real-life usage.

AR Billiards (Pool)

Music Wall

Classroom Learning

Advertising – AR Projection mapping on BMW car launch

Restaurant Menu

In a Showroom (Retail)

Limitations of Projected Reality

  • Requires a dark (dim) environment – In other words, cannot be used at bright places or outdoors at daytime.
  • Requires expensive setup
  • Limited use cases
  • As it is projection-based, it casts shadows when interacting with hands

Is there a cheap AR Projection device that you could buy for personal and creative usage?

Yes, there is.

Lightform’s AR Projection setup is a good solution for anyone who wants to fiddle with AR Projection technology.

As far as the pricing is concerned, it is not actually cheap but it is reasonably priced.

Lightform AR Projector

Generally, Projected AR is complicated to set up and requires a certain level of expertise to make it work. That is not ideal for everyday uses.

So people at Lightform decided to simplify the process and have made a Projection AR device that is easy to learn and easy to use.

With the help of Lightform devices, anyone can install a Projected AR setup in their homes and offices.

At present Lightform offers two types of AR Projection hardware.

One is an all-in-one solution with a mapping camera, projection plus computing device built into a single package. This is the most beginner-friendly solution and is very easy to use.

Other than that, – they also provide a Mapping camera and compute device as a separate units. This is for people who already have a projector at home or just want a more powerful projector for covering a larger projection area.


Projection-Mapping, Wikipedia
Simultaneous self-calibration of a projector and a camera using structured light
Lightform’s procedural effects for projected AR

Todd Davis

Contributor at Essentialpicks, Todd Davis likes all things tech. He has a master's degree in electronics and a deep understanding of underlying technologies used inside tech products. He likes to travel and fly his drone around. He can often be found on the trails of California.

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