01-25-2018, VR, AR, MR
by Mateusz Raczynski
Augmented Reality in 2018. 'Black Mirror' Is Not That Far from Real Life
We live in an era of information.
Almost any piece of information is widely accessible. But we need to seek for what we want through our smartphones and computers. Information doesn’t blend that well into reality, if you think about it.
That’s what people have dreamed of doing ever since our phones got high-performance processors, cameras, and a permanent, cheap Internet connection. That’s the need for which augmented reality (AR) was born. But what is it? What can it do and what will it be able to do in the near future?
Let’s take a glance at what this AR noise is all about. A lot of interesting applications are widely available right now and quite a few of them are leaving the prototype phase. But the future applications are the most exciting here. We know the capabilities, yet we don’t know the countless future use cases. So, in a quite Black Mirror manner, we’ll let ourselves wonder what the future could be, but unlike the Netflix series, we’ll look for all the good that can happen.
So, jump into our DeLorean and let’s see what’s to come.
Augmented Reality: What Is It?
Before we answer this, let’s take a look at the definition of augmented reality by Dr. Patrick Shoueffel in The Concise Fintech Compendium:
Augmented reality is an enhanced version of the physical, real-world reality of which elements are superimposed by computer-generated or extracted real-world sensor input such as sound, video, graphics or haptics.
Basically, it’s about enhancing the real world with an overlay served by a computing device. Although the easiest way to picture this is a visual image, the augmentation can be done using sound, touch, or any other sense. We just don’t have the technology yet to create any given taste or smell.
Augmented reality is not to be confused with virtual reality (VR). These are two completely separate things. VR refers to accessing a virtual reality through a VR device. The most notable examples here are Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Google Daydream View, and Samsung Gear VR.
VR technology immerses you in a complete virtual world. It’s used mostly for gaming and, to some extent, for watching videos. VR does not have much to do with the real world – but it can deliver on the promise of v-commerce.
AR, on the other hand, has a strong connection with the real world. It simply enhances it. Easy, right?
We’re on the Brink of Making It Huge
Apple is hesitant to join races that other companies are taking part in. Some say they’re slow to innovate. Others say that they are always late with new tech. Plenty would complain that there are other companies that do things better.
But the power of the highest-valued brand in the world cannot be underestimated. If they commit to something, they make this thing huge. Look at how biometric features—like touch ID—have grown. Some companies had included fingerprint recognition in mobile devices years before. Heck, the newly released facial recognition, which allows you to unlock your phone, was available years ago—but it’s new to Apple.
But when Apple made it work so smoothly and seamlessly, everybody started using it. Before Apple took that step, other companies acted as if they weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do—but it was right for them to try. Once Apple goes for something, then it becomes safer for others to invest and the market booms. It’s not all about being the first. It’s about being the one that did it right.
And what was the latest Apple release? AR! Well, not AR itself, but in the new set of iPhones—8, 8 Plus, and X—Apple included a new processor that is designed to handle AR apps. The App Store is being flooded with new apps that use this technology and it is promoting them. This trend is set to continue. Apple might want to support augmented reality as its growth in popularity would mean that they’ve chosen the right development path—and eventually make more profits out of it.
Of course, there’s a lot of Apple’s marketing in there, but for the AR industry, this may be highly beneficial. Although AR’s been available for a while, now might be the best time to join Apple in investing in AR.
It’s Right There, We Just Don’t Think It’s Special Anymore
We are quite ungrateful for all the modern technology. We are excited when it is launched, we play with it when we get our hands on it for the first time, and then we forget about it. Not that we don’t use it—completely the opposite. We use it every day. We just see it as another normal thing, just like a dishwasher, a car, or a light bulb.
Right now, we’re not amazed by what AR is. We are getting used to it, we know what it does in a general sense, and we use it. What might be impressive, however, is what it can do already.
- Entertainment: Snapchat Filters
The first example is known to almost everyone these days: Snapchat filters. Okay, not every AR app does something that is impressive, but yet, the technology behind this one is. For a teenager, it’s the screen-licking dog face instead of their own, or some special effects reacting to what they do with their face: blinking, raising their eyebrows, or opening their mouth.
Snapchat recognizes a face by comparing a statistical model to the image seen by a phone’s camera. The face map is predefined. It just needs to be adjusted to a real face. How do they do that? The algorithm looks for commonly contrasting parts of your face.
Although most Snapchat filters are for pure entertainment, the big brands have already seen the marketing potential. A good example here is Taco Bell. They created their own filter for the Cinco de Mayo holiday. It changes your face into a giant taco shell and—guess what?—it was a massive success. It received over 224 million views in one day. The engagement here was also impressive: the average user spent about 24 seconds playing with the filter before sending the snap. That’s 24 seconds of the user being influenced by a brand while having fun!
- Marketing: Inception, the App
It’s not a new example. This app accompanied the release of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster, Inception. It shows how we can use AR to change the way we hear.
If in the unlikely case you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about lucid dreaming. It challenged us to contest what’s real and what’s not. To let the fans get into the movie world, the producers released an app with so-called dreams. You could unlock a new one if you completed a real-world action, like going to the airport, being idle, and so on.
The augmentation here was based on sound only. You had to put your earphones on and let the microphone record your surroundings. Then, depending on the dream, the sounds were processed and served to you in a dreamy form, in real time.
It sounds too simple and not that much fun, but the app gained a lot of recognition, even Pharrell Williams used it. It’s awesome how it could create a surreal vision of the world by changing only what you hear. You should definitely try it!
- Gaming: Pokémon Go
I think everything has been said and written about Pokémon Go already, but an app that gathered so many active users is definitely worth mentioning. It also presented a non-standard approach to AR.
Everyone who watched Pokémon as a kid dreamed of having one in the real world and becoming a Pokémon trainer. Nintendo gave us this opportunity, although years after the golden era of this franchise.
Pokémon Go merged the world of Pokémon with the real one. Now, you can walk along an alley, encounter a wild Pokémon, and catch it by throwing a Poké Ball. You can find gyms on the map and you can go to PokéStops. They don’t exist in the real world, but they do exist with the slight help of AR.
Although the popularity of Pokémon Go is decreasing and is a lot lower than at the time of its initial release, it’s still played by millions of players around the world.
- Transportation: Volkswagen
Ok, here goes one of the most recent examples. At CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Volkswagen showed—among other features—its AR head-up display (HUD). If this makes it into production fast, Volkswagen could be the first to implement such innovation on a wider scale.
HUDs are getting more and more advanced in terms of how much information they can display. They let the driver focus more on the road but the display is still quite low. Not in the natural driver’s field of view. This means it can be done better. Volkswagen’s AR HUD is different in that it can blend all the data into the surroundings seen through the windshield. For example, instead of showing an icon saying that you should turn right, it just draws a virtual path on the road. It can also highlight pedestrians or animals walking near the road. This will be a great help for drivers!
Where Will It Take Us?
Right now, we see the augmented reality through our smartphones. But what advantages would it bring if we just could blend it into our world seamlessly? With high-tech glasses or eye lenses, AR could permanently change the way we see the world.
What Applications Could It Have in the near Future?
- Architecture and Interior Design
The first example might be architecture. If an architect could see their design overlaid on the real world, they would be able to decide if this project fitted into the city landscape well. They would be able to present the design to clients like never before. The clients would see the project in real life and could tell whether they like it or whether it looks worse than they expected.
Following this, the construction crews would get a tool that would minimize the risk of the construction errors that occur due to miscalculations. They could see all the project details while building. All they would have to do would be to assemble all the bricks and materials in the places highlighted. This way, buildings could be made more quickly and in some cases, more cheaply.
Spatial planners could also benefit from AR technology. All the key metrics of a project could be calculated just by looking at a building.
What’s one of the biggest problems while shopping online? You don’t really know what a product looks like in the real world unless you order it. Of course, the return policies work quite well for most things and it’s not that big a deal, but both the client and shop owner waste time and money unnecessarily.
I know we’re years away from such advanced technology, but if our mirrors could connect with the stores, we would be able to see how the clothes fit and what they look like. We could see ourselves like this through glasses or even through our smartphones.
This could work if we like someone’s clothes, too. With machine learning platforms, we would be able to check the price and get the store to copy the style.
You Just Can’t Ignore It
With so much innovation around augmented reality, you simply can’t ignore its potential. Once it has been more fully developed and the devices we use blend it seamlessly into the real world, there will be no way back. We will change the way we see the world—and it’s going to be a much wider picture. It won’t be perfect, but it can enhance our lives, businesses, and services in a way that we can’t even imagine right now.
Even in its current state, AR is worth investing your time in. It brings attention, engagement, and lots of other opportunities to your company. So, hop on that bus before it’s too late!