Augmented reality (AR) is one of the most exciting tech innovations in recent years.
Except, of course, it isn’t that recent.
The first head-mounted virtual display was created in 1968 by a Harvard associate professor and the computer scientist Ivan Sutherland. It was called The Sword of Damocles and it was so heavy it was attached to a mechanical arm so as not to hurt the user’s neck.
Things are a little different today.
By 2020 there will be approximately one billion users of augmented reality around the globe.
By 2025 the healthcare revenue alone from virtual and augmented reality will be in the ballpark of five billion dollars. The gaming market will be closer to twelve billion.
Not bad for a technology that hasn’t really – apart from a few exceptions (Pokemon Go, anyone?) – made its mark on the cultural zeitgeist.
After what feels like a slump in AR innovations, the market is growing at an extraordinary pace. Thanks to its cousins virtual reality and artificial intelligence, as well as a general market movement towards everything being “smart”, life as we know it is on the verge of becoming unrecognisable.
AR is likely to be the first to really penetrate the mass market (in some cases, it already has). Mostly because a lot of the tech is already there and there are HUGE opportunities and billion-dollar markets that as of yet have not been exploited.
Think travel, education, healthcare, retail, media. You name it.
Augmented reality is the future of many industries and it is lining up to be (in fact, it might already be) the next big opportunity for those who are fast enough to grasp it.
Here are a few of the big AR developments we will see in the near future.
AR Glasses and Wearables
One of the differentiating values of AR from its more “artificial” cousins is its ability to present data and information in the context of the real world. With AR glasses or smart glasses, we get the added value of extra information without stepping out of our present experience.
Of course, our first intro to this tech was not exactly a success.
Google Glass – perhaps the first attempt to bring AR-ready wearables to the mass market – was discontinued in 2017 amidst privacy concerns and general criticism, only to resurface later in the year as an ‘Enterprise Edition’, targeted squarely at business use.
Was the Glass just too early to the party? Were we not ready?
Fast forward a few years and there has been steady upward growth in the AR-enabled wearables market.
Apple, if the reports are true, are set to launch AR glasses sometime in 2020.
As support for new tech and automation initiatives gather speed we can be confident new and exciting players will enter the market. “The key,” as KIJO Creative and Technical Director Jordan Thompson, says, “will be found in avoiding gimmicky experiences and providing an experience that users can’t live without.”
One place that AR wearables have undoubtedly found a home is in the corporate sector. As businesses strive to improve efficiency in their workforce there is a big push to combine augmented tech with big data to provide workers with an enhanced skillset that would otherwise take years of experience to achieve. Also, by leveraging AR, workers can receive instructions without breaking the flow of their current activity, thereby reducing downtime and increasing output.
Hiding And Changing Elements From The Real World
In a moment taken from a science fiction movie, in 2015 Apple acquired the German AR specialist Metaio.
This was after Metaoi had been granted a patent for techniques relating to the superimposition of digital objects onto a real environment – specifically the merging of virtual objects with images of the real world.
This has been a significant stumbling block to ultra-immersive AR experiences – in order to superimpose objects well the hardware of an application has to be incredibly complex – and if Metaio were on the path to cracking the puzzle, this could mean that Apple are once again at the forefront of the ‘next big thing’.
The solution proposed by Metaoi (now Apple) for the AR problem utilises powerful image processors, high-definition cameras, advanced positioning and location hardware – tools that are now widely available thanks to the latest versions of the iPhone (genius).
The patented invention requires a camera to capture a 2D image of a real environment, in order to ascertain its position relative to an in-image component. After that, the device collects 3D image information, as well as spatial information, including relative positioning of floor to wall, depth mapping and radar.
In the next step the system takes segments of a given 2D area and merges the virtual object onto the displayed image, whilst simultaneously removing selected portions of the real environment. This allows for more realistic presentations between virtual and real images and has a ton of applications for businesses, primarily for sales, service and maintenance industries where real-world feedback is crucial.
Talented developers are now beginning to use this tech, in the form of ARKit, to build engrossing applications that add significant value to the customer experience. By manipulating virtual and real images you can provide consumers with a snapshot of what a product would look like in their home (or any location), reducing the time between searching and sale.
Want to see what this would look like in the real world? Check our the augmented reality app we created for Crucial Trading here.
Persistent Location-Based AR Objects
The term persistence became part of the AR lexicon upon the release of iOS 12 and ARKit 2.0, Apple’s software tool for AR development.
Unlike before, developers now have the ability to persist virtual objects in the same location in which they were previously positioned in the real world. You can essentially ‘freeze’ an AR experience in place by saving the world mapping data.
This ability to have persistency in AR is potentially world-changing.
This isn’t pie in the sky stuff, either. It has real, practical benefits for both consumers and businesses. For instance, persistency in AR would allow:
- Virtual art galleries and other virtual entertainment to be created as ‘shared experiences’ for AR users
- Games to be created where specific locations map to places in the real world, thereby mapping a new ‘reality’ onto the existing one (anybody else sense a Harry Potter game in there somewhere? Update: It’s in the works.)
- Virtual notes to be placed around your house, just for you, enabling you to remember or do specific things
- Business owners and local councils to use real-time virtual signs to showcase offers or highlight news/risks (i.e. traffic alerts, speed limits)
- Virtual tours of hotels and AirBnB properties
The ability to redecorate your house without actually doing the work (see our AR work with Crucial Trading for an idea of what this could look like)
To be honest, these are just a few of the things that could be done with persistence in AR. The potential is mind-boggling.
With the future of ARKit indefinitely heading in that direction expect to see exciting developments in this area in the next few years.
AR advertising is already changing the game and is primed to blow, with recent forecasts suggesting a 428 million dollar spend in 2018 is set to become 2.6 billion by 2022.
A huge 67% of media buyers and planners have AR in their sights and want to start using it more regularly to increase user experience.
Now, this isn’t all down to the capability of the tech. Some of it is down to the fact that AR is not yet as regulated with regards to ad blocking as other mediums. It is a fresh field, so to speak, and advertisers will be hungry to attract as many eyeballs as they can, while they can.
Their enthusiasm is well-founded. In 2018 L’Oreal released the YouCam Makeup app, which allows you to virtually try on makeup. This first-of-its-kind AR release received 3.5 million downloads in its first year.
There is also the IKEA Place app, which allows you to virtually place approximately 3,200 IKEA products around your home. As of this writing, it has over 2000 reviews of four stars and above in the App Store.
As the user base of AR grows it has the potential to revolutionize advertising as we know it. Gone will be the pop-up ads and spammy banners of yesteryear. Brands will have to provide real value, in the form of immersive experiences, and in making the lives of their customers easier, in order to get their valuable attention.
It goes without saying – the future of AR is going to blow our minds.
As more big brands adopt it, the tech develops and more data is collected, it is going to fundamentally change the way we consume media, buy products and interact with the world we live in.
Soon we are likely to be walking down the street in our smart glasses, swiping thin air and talking to someone only we can see.
It is undoubtedly the operating system of the future.
What are your thoughts on AR? How will you use it?