Where Virtual and Physical Worlds Converge
Augmented Reality (AR) dwelled quietly in the shadow of VR until earlier this year, when a certain app propelled it into the mainstream. Now, AR is a household term and can hold its own with advanced virtual technologies. The AR industry is predicted to hit global revenues of $90 billion by 2020, not just matching VR but overtaking it by a large margin. Of course, a lot of this turnover will be generated by applications in the entertainment industry. VR was primarily created by gamers for gamers, but AR began as a visionary idea that would change the way that humanity interacted with the world around them. The first applications of augmented reality were actually geared towards improving human performance in the workplace… But there’s far, far more to be explored.
AR has an obvious place in the world of gaming, but unlike VR it wasn’t necessarily created with entertainment in mind. However, since the success of Niantic’s Pokemon GO, there’s been a whole lot more interest in augmented games. There’s even rumours that there might be Harry Potter themed app in the making, which could let players cast spells on real life items.
There are a number of AR apps designed to enhance healthcare, including Viipar, a video support platform for surgeons that functions via Google Glass. When performing surgery, a less experienced surgeon can use the app as a guide. Through Viipar, a more experienced surgeon in a different location is able to show the wearer how to complete the surgery via augmented hands projected onto the patient. Another app is AccuVein, which helps doctors and nurses to find patients’ veins quickly and without causing them any pain.
3. Retail and Marketing
AR is any marketer’s dream, allowing for the creation an environment in which a brand is positively enforced by the user’s own experience. To name just a few, Coca Cola, Spotify and Argos have all used augmented technology to advertise their brands. Argos capitalised on one-click buying by releasing an app to go along with their 2013 Christmas catalogue, which let customers buy items instantly. Coca Cola and Spotify teamed up to let users listen to the most popular songs by holding their phone up to AR-enabled Coca Cola cans. More recently, engineering company Siemens used AR to showcase their new range of magnetic valves.
Since 2009, the British Museum has been using AR to help children understand the Parthenon gallery. Using Samsung tablets, young gallery-goers can play an AR game called ‘A Gift for Athena’, which uses statues from the museum’s collection to tell a story. Augmented tech has also been adopted in the classroom – a recent MOOC (massive open online course) has been released to help students and teachers explore the water cycle using AR. The technology is useful as a learning aid for practical subjects, and seems best suited to science, technology and maths. It’s not all for kids, either… Blippar has mind-boggling plans to create an AR directory of the whole world…
Back in 1992, Louis Rosenberg developed the first fully functioning AR system at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. It was called Virtual Fixtures, and aimed to help enhance human performance when undertaking manual tasks. The U.S. Air Force have been testing augmented reality applications ever since. Whereas VR has been mainly confined to training exercises, AR has been used in the field for years. For example, military personnel can access information about a certain territory in real time via a pair of goggles.
6. Travel and Tourism
AR also has applications within travel and tourism. Local business guide Yelp has a built-in AR feature called Yelp Monocle, which gives the user info on local establishments when their smartphone is pointed at a particular location. Another useful app is Word Lens, which was developed by Google and is now incorporated as part of Google Translate. When aimed at a foreign sign, the app translates the text into the user’s native language.
In October 2015, a two-day conference was held in Cologne, Germany, that discussed the potential of AR in the automotive industry. Topics included using Augmented Reality wearables to enhance the driving experience, ‘see-through displays’ and also automotive design and production. AR is used to visualize the body structure and general design of cars, and to display information to drivers via their windscreens. This could be a key design feature of driverless vehicles in the future, as journey information could be shown via augmented screens.
A number of business have begun to see the utility of AR in industrial environments. Evolar, for example, has created SmartPick, which is an application that helps warehouse workers to locate objects and sort packages. Canadian company NGRAIN also endeavours to apply AR solutions to manufacturing and production. As smart glasses become cheaper and more widely available, augmented technology will become an attractive and efficient way to organise assembly lines and warehouses.
Earlier this month, online retailer Lyst gave fashion fans the chance to attend an AR exhibit which let viewers dress up ‘humannequins’ in four different sets of clothing. The outfits were chosen through in depth analysis of the most popular fashion trends in London. AR has massive potential to bridge the gap between online retail and in-store experiences, letting customers see what clothing actually looks like on a human body without having to be physically present in the shop.
In 2014, Kasabian fans got the chance to see the band in virtual reality. VR might be able to take you to the gig, but AR can bring the gig to you… Irish startup Firstage have been recording artists in front of a green screen, so that after printing out a small card that acts as a stage, viewers can use their smartphones to watch their favourites bands live (sort of) on their kitchen table.
In short, Augmented Reality is capable of so much more than catching Pokémon. Despite its recent success in the entertainment sector, AR was created to improve human completion of tasks, and from the above examples it’s clear that in many ways it has. Many of these sectors have been experimenting with AR for years, and only now is the technology really getting the attention it deserves. As far as the future goes, all eyes remain solidly on the mysterious Magic Leap, the secretive AR company with $1.4b in funding…