7 Awesome Applications Of The Augmented Reality Revolution
What is Augmented Reality?
Virtual reality has been around for quite a while, and it’s been in the news a lot lately, as highly anticipated VR viewers like Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus (aka Playstation VR) are set to hit the market soon. Even casual tech consumers understand what VR is, but many haven’t heard of AR, or augmented reality.
AR has lots of similarities to VR, but whereas VR is intended to be a fully immersive experience, AR is merely an enhancement of your real surroundings. You still get reality with AR, but it’s supplemented (or augmented) with more visuals. Essentially, AR puts a layer of VR over your RR (or real reality). It may not sound like much, but the potential for AR is huge and even more ground-breaking than that of VR.
A Wider Audience – Science, Commerce and Entertainment
VR certainly has its hardcore fans: the gamers, the new media junkies, the tech heads who have been waiting since the 1990s for this entirely alternate reality experience to come to fruition. But VR isn’t for everyone, and it does come with its fair share of drawbacks, such as disorientation, which can lead to nausea, and, well, you know.
It’s anticipated that AR will garner a much wider audience than VR — a more casual and less technically inclined audience. This is because most users can use AR with nothing more than the smartphones that are already in their pockets. And it’s expected to be a big deal, too. According to AR and VR advisory firm Digi-Capital, AR and VR and expected to grow into a $150 billion a year industry by 2020. That’s billion, with a B. Plus, almost $120 billion of that is expected to come from AR, again, thanks to the minimal equipment investment needed on the part of the average consumer.
7 Awesome AR Applications
So what can you do with AR? A surprising number of things, many of which have a greater purpose beyond killing tie with a mindless game. (Though, yes, AR games like AR Invaders and Zombie run are fun and popular.)
Here are seven fields that are being transformed and redefined thanks to AR technology.
1. AR in Tourism
Let’s say you’re in a new city and need to get your bearings. What’s that building over there? How do you get to your next destination? What restaurants are nearby? And what historic events happened where you’re standing?
AR apps like Field Trip AR Travel Guide help you get around and learn about your surroundings, and they’re perfect for exploring new cities or getting better acquainted with your own.
2. AR in Translation
Jumping off of the tourism use, AR can be used for on the spot translation, thanks to apps like Word Lens (which is now part of Google Translate).
In a new country where you don’t speak the language, AR translation makes your life immensely easier. Just a few years ago, you’d be walking around consulting a pocket dictionary and looking like a total rube. Now, AR can be used to translate signs and other important postings on the spot. Plus you don’t have to haul around a book to gain some understanding — everything you need is already in your pocket.
3. Enhancing Print and Advertising
Flipping through magazines is not without its charms, and in big cities we’re surrounded by billboards, but the problem with these types of media is that they’re static. With AR technology, digital content can be added to or superimposed on top of these things. Esquire magazine did an AR issue for the first time back in 2009 — super early on in the AR game — and included tons of enhanced multimedia content.The potential for this AR use is probably just being unpacked with companies such as Augment working on solutions.
4. Museums and Art Exploration
Audio tours have long been popular at museums all over the world, but they’re not without their problems: equipment that needs to be tracked and recharged, people not entirely comfortable with using them, and all the rental money that needs to be collected and accounted for. Plus, when you’ve got an audio-only tour, your experience is limited to only that which you can hear.
AR tours, on the other hand, not only give you relevant information about certain artifacts or pieces of art, but they can point out specific parts for emphasis. They’re perfect for public and outdoor art too, since there’s no hardware to check out and return — just download the relevant app and start exploring. Already, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Laguna Beach Art Museum, and London’s Science Museum have incorporated AR content into their exhibits.
5. Improving Customer Service
It’s probably a given that most people would welcome any improvement in customer service experiences, and AR is poised to do just that. Imagine this scenario: you’re on the phone with tech support trying to fix something inside your computer. The service representative instructs you to adjust a red wire, but you see that there are two red wires. Which one do you adjust?
Using an AR-based customer service app that can access your smartphone’s camera (such as those being developed by Metaio), a customer service representative could take advantage of the AR capabilities to show you exactly which wire you need to work on, as well as where the new connections should go and the exact location for any other aspect of the repair.
6. Interior Design
How might a big plaid sofa look in your living room? What if you put orange shag carpeting in your bedroom? Or how about a giant abstract painting in your entryway?
Until now, we’ve had to either use our imaginations or find out firsthand when it’s come to questions like these, but with AR, we can see what our homes will look like with new decor before we even lift a finger or spend any money. The IKEA catalogue app has this functionality, as does Home Depot’s app and the iOS app Adornably.
7. Public Safety, Searches, and Rescues
Fires, natural disasters, and other incidents and accidents from which people need to be rescued can be fraught with hidden problems. What if there’s digging near a gas or water line? What if tapping into a power supply will blow a transformer? And how do you get to the scene of the rescue, anyway? AR applications can show first responders all of this information and more to both increase the safety of others and minimise incidental damages.
Google’s Role in AR
Google, or Alphabet as it’s currently known, was one of the first well known players in the AR arena with its ubiquitous Google Glass project. Glass was, at its most basic, an AR tool that could help wearers retrieve information, document their lives, and see their surroundings in new and exciting ways. It also owns Niantic Labs and Magic Leap, two companies working on AR software and hardware, respectively.
Google is also onboard with getting VR into the hands of the masses, as evidenced by its low cost Google Cardboard VR viewer and its support of Android apps that work with it. Google even partnered with The New York Times in November 2015 to create unique VR content and give Cardboard away to hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Where’s Apple AR?
Apple is presently not active in the AR game. Sure, there are lots of AR-based apps for iOS, but there’s nothing official in terms of AR from the tech giant. However, it’s likely that Apple will eventually jump in with both feet and reveal something exciting — that’s usually how they roll, right?
Apple has held several AR-related patents for at least a few years now and has continued filing for AR patents, so the company is clearly but quietly working on something. Plus, as of a few months ago, Apple is hiring engineers to work on both AR and VR, a sure indication that something is in the pipeline. They even managed to pull some of Microsoft’s top people away the Hololens project and through their doors. Finally, Apple owns Metaio, one of the world’s leading AR software companies.
So, trust us when we tell you that Apple is not going to sit this one out. Be patient, Apple fankids: Apple AR (ARpple?) is on the way.
Other AR Contributors
It’s hard to discuss AR without bringing up Microsoft’s Hololens, an AR viewer that will be available for developers in early 2016 and hopefully for consumers within a year after that. Lots of other companies are focusing on VR, but a standalone AR headset like Hololens could potentially catch on with more consumers.
As for software, platform companies like DAQRI, Metaio, Aurasma, LM3LABS, and others are developing the basis for this new technology. Lots of smaller companies are working on AR games, while others are creating custom and industry-specific applications using AR as a foundation.
Prepare for Augmentation
While AR is very much a reality for many smart tech users, with custom SDKs available, widespread use is still a few years away. Digi-Capital predicts that the AR and VR industries combined will barely break $5 billion in 2016. No, that’s not small change, but the money and the market is poised to get much, much bigger. Again, $150 billion by 2020, just four short years away, with almost $120 billion coming from AR.
For now, get started with AR by downloading one of the apps mentioned here, or seek out your own. We think you’ll be charmed by the possibilities and impressed by the usefulness that this technology affords. And in a few years, when everyone is augmenting and AR applications are as commonplace as iPhones, you’ll be able to say you’re an old pro.