Snapchat, Pokémon Go, Minority Report. These references explain how most of the general public perceives augmented reality (AR) at the moment. A silly photo filter, a new game, something uber futuristic that it belongs with the Jetsons in outer space. Perhaps you just lump it together with virtual reality (VR), recently popular from the likes of Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard. Well I am going to argue that the potential for AR, independent of VR, is massive.
We are already attached to our phones because they allow us to multitask at everything we do. We follow turn by turn directions while we drive, we tap in to-do’s during meetings, share video snippets of our life while we are experiencing them, and we do all of this while listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. It is only a natural progression to present the content from our phones directly onto our environment. This is also why I think AR is going to be bigger than VR. While VR may be great for vegging out when you get home after a long day, AR will be with you every part of your day as your personal assistant.
Let me set the stage for how AR can enhance a few different fields.
A single monitor not enough for you? how about dual monitor? how about a 360 degree flexible space to put any window. You can sit, stand, jog. Whatever ergonomic work position you choose, your work can be there.
Also, some work content is best appreciated in three dimensions, despite being forced into two dimensions by necessity thus far. You can interact with 3d objects instead of looking at flat pictures and diagrams: the part you are designing, that anatomy you are studying, the character you are animating.
Your health care providers can meet with their patients and actually look at them, not their charts, not computers, not phones. All the necessary information will be placed directly on the patient where it is relevant, such as vitals and medical history. CT/MRI reconstructions can be mapped onto the patient giving the illusion of real-time x-ray vision. Gait and movement analyses can be performed by simply observing the kinematic and kinetic data displays on the joints during movement tasks.
Real-time display of ultrasound in AR. Image from Medgadget
In team sports, the best team usually has some innate sense of where their teammates and opponents are in space. With AR glasses or helmet visor, this information can be fed to them visually, along with other relevant game-play information. You can see the play clock running down, the foul count going into bonus, or the midfielder whose average running velocity is on a steady decrease.
While team sports are huge spectator sports, the more popular leisure athletics tend to be more individual in nature: running, swimming, cycling, surfing, etc. With unobtrusive computing at your service, you can see all your stats, receive form cues, and see when the next big set of waves is coming in.
So who is working on this stuff?
The available products allowing anyone to jump into the market at the moment are somewhat limited, though the big players will surely be vying for territory in no-time. Microsoft is the biggest name at the moment with their Hololens
platform which is open for developers to create their software content on, DAQRI
is developing their own product focused on industrial applications, as is Atheer
has an android-based platform, and Magic Leap
is… well who knows what Magic Leap is going to release but they definitely provide the most excitement with their teaser videos
. I would certainly expect new products from Apple, Google, and maybe Facebook within the next year or two to enter the growing AR market.
In slightly less immersive fashions, but clearly AR nonetheless, there are a couple products which provide a small display in the corner of your vision rather than creating full augmented environments. These include the Google Glass, Solos cycling glasses
, Vuzix Smart Glasses
, Sony Smarteyeglass
, and athlete focused Recon Jet
Last but not least, the platform which will inevitably contain a ton of AR content will be your phones and tablets, particularly until smart glasses feel like a stylish necessity rather than expensive toy that turns you into a Glasshole. Ikea definitely sees the potential here.