There is some confusion over the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality. Both have emerged as major players in the tech world in the last few years. However, they revolve around very different experiences. If you put a headset on an immerse fully into a virtual world of make-believe or simulation, that is VR. If you use a regular smart device to enhance what you can see in the real world, that is AR. At its core, the basic concept here is to use technology to add extra layers of information to the scene in front of you. A tablet or phone with a camera acts as a clear, AR-enabled screen – a transparent barrier between perceptions of a real environment.
Augmented reality also has closer ties to AI – artificial intelligence. The technology used to create the information on our screens can work in harmony with AI to create a more custom experience. For example, AI is responsible for personalized, targeted advertising that we see so often online. The film adaptation of Minority report in 2002 showed us a world where these targeted adds were prevalent in society. Billboards would advertise the things we needed and call us by name. The combination of AI, Google data, and AR tech could make this a reality in the future with the right wearable.
AR is a simple, progressive step forward from other applications, such as the ability to scan QR codes at information points to download additional information. Two recent phenomena have made clever use of augmented reality in the past decade, with different results. They are Google Glass and Pokémon Go.
The concept of Google Glass was great and something sought after for decades. The idea of an enhanced, informative view of the world through wearable tech has been a staple of sci-fi for a long time. These glasses should have made this a reality, providing a helpful screen in front of your eyes with information on what lies ahead. It should have been a great way to look up information about businesses, directions, and other bits of data. It wasn’t quite the same as the scanning system of the Terminator, but it was a step in that direction.
However, the Google Glasses idea didn’t quite pay off. 2 years on, in 2015, it was discontinued. The upside is that you can still enjoy many of the same features through Layar, which uses GPS and camera information to add layers to your surroundings. You can stand in a street you have never visited before and receive a wealth of knowledge on local amenities and places to eat.
Then there was the Pokémon Go game where kids – big and small – spend hours roaming their towns and countryside for Pokémon characters. This was much more successful with a revenue of $2billion and 1000 million users. Obviously, there was no visible character or model to find out there, that would have been prone to vandalism and pretty costly. Instead, the characters became visible when viewed through the screen of the game. It was a novel way to find and collect characters and also promoted outdoor play and exercise for kids.
Wearable tech is a little trickier to establish because of the varying desires of consumers and safety concerns about wearing smart glasses. However, there is still that desire to have a hands-free way to get all of this information conveniently. One interesting side venture is the development of smart glasses for the blind. Here the safety concerns over disrupted sight and distractions aren’t as big an issue. Instead, blind users can get helpful information about the world around them, which could, in turn, promote independence and enhance their quality of life.
Gaming, on the other hand, can only take augmented reality further. There are already plenty of fun applications that take advantage of AR in some way. One popular option is Star Walk, which is an astronomy app that educates users on the stars and planets above them.
While there are high hopes for improved AR tech for personal, social, and entertainment reasons, we can’t overlook the potential benefits of this technology in other sectors. With the right devices and applications, augmented reality could prove to be of use in the medical, retail, and tourism sectors.
AR is already in place in some stores, such as IKEA, which provides a tool for imagining furniture and new decor ideas within your home. It is a sort of try before you by approach.
AR is also a great tool for museums, galleries, and historical sights that want to enhance the experience for visitors and kids. An extra layer of interactive information can turn static artifacts and old paintings into stories and games. This is already working well in Pompeii where you can see projections of what the city was like over the current ruins. AR will also help many sightseeing tours. Audio guides with those uncomfortable headphones only offer s much and can get ahead of the journey. AR guides and screens could offer all kinds of information and images over the landscape as you ride past.
Interior navigation is another big trend for AR applications right now. This is a logical next step from using Google maps and GPS notifications on our phones. Superimposed routes and directions can help visitors make their way through complex places like campuses and airports. This is already in place at Gatwick airport, so that passengers have a better chance of getting to the right gate on time. It could also prove popular with new students at universities.
Finally, there are the more serious applications in the world of medical science. AR screens and projectors can offer diagrams and information overlaid over the patient. This can help with surgical procedures for a more precise and efficient operation. It could also provide patient notes to help personalize the situation and avoid and medical emergencies.
Data from Lumus Vision projects revenue from AR tech by sector for 2020. unsurprisingly, videogames are way out in front, with an estimated $11.6 billion. There is so much room for expansion here is developers play with different applications and worlds. Behind that is the healthcare sector, with $5.1 billion. This shows that desire to bring more of these applications in operating theaters, clinics, and other settings for a better patient experience and outcome. Retail is much further down the list than expected with $1.6 billion. Perhaps there is the assumption that all the AR experiences available today showcase a peak in the technology. Where can it go from here? Education is at the bottom with $7 million. This suggests that there is either less desire to bring AR into the classroom or limited scope to make it profitable.
It is difficult to say for sure what the future of AR is. Augmented reality can only grow and integrate itself into our lives in more diverse and seamless ways. After a while, we may end up taking it for granted as we use tech in stores to virtually test out new looks, follow augmented directions as we catch our next flight, get restaurant recommendations in the middle of town, or chase down more Pokémon in random locations. But it could also change lives in significant ways with the right applications and wearables. The rise and fall of Google Glass with just the start. There is so much more to come.
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