Depending on who you ask, Augmented Reality conjures up vastly different pictures. For some, it’s a revolution in the making. For others, hype that’s doomed to flop. A life-transforming technology. A silly format with accompanying ridiculous gadgets.
But whether you’re an AR enthusiast or sceptic, one thing is for certain: AR isn’t disappearing anytime soon. According to research by Lumus, the AR video game market is estimated to reach $11.6 B by 2025. AR healthcare will be worth $5.1 Billion. AR Engineering, live events, video entertainment and real estate markets will all reach the $2+ Billion mark. Futhermore, Experts predict the augmented reality industry to reach $50 billion in revenue by 2021.
How is that even possible? And what will be the consequences of living in an AR future? This is what we’ll try to predict today. But first, let’s go over the basics:
What exactly is AR?
AR or Augmented Reality is not to be mistaken with VR, which stands for Virtual Reality. The latter is all about creating an immersive experience where everything is, well… virtual. You wear your goggles, (Oculus, HTC Vive or Playstation VR), and enter a 3D world someone designed from scratch, or previously recorded.
AR, on the other hand, uses real life and real time as a basis for interactivity. AR glasses -which we believe everyone will be wearing by 2020, let you see through your surroundings through lenses. But they also add -or augment- it with virtual elements. The breadth of what these elements can be is what makes the technology exciting, and usable in a wide range of applications.
What are some applications of AR?
Right now, you’re probably familiar with at least two of them. The first allows millions of people to catch Pokemon on their smartphones. The second adds funny and cute filters to Snapchat selfies – which incidentally, are also used to great success for business branding purposes. So yes, video games, entertainment and marketing are the obvious ones.
But there are other current uses;
AR for engineering: Google Glass, for instance, is increasingly used in factories and warehouses around the world. From updating real-time safety messages to labelling products, there are hundreds of examples of how AR can benefit the engineering industry.
AR for healthcare: The company AcuVein makes full use of AR technology by scanning patients and allowing healthcare practitioners to locate veins with increased precision for intravenous treatment.
AR for real estate – realtors can now save time and effort by letting clients visit new places from the comfort of their living room. Admittedly more of a VR feature, but AR can also use your current location and let you superimpose various rooms to visualise the differences, or to select and play around with various pieces of furniture.
And there’s more, but the long and the short of it: it doesn’t take much to imagine a future where every industry can use Augmented Reality – in the same way every industry, in one way or another, relies on something as pervasive and ubiquitous as electricity.
Now here comes the fun, speculative part. Will it create an AR future heaven or hell? Let’s try to imagine the best – and worst – of both scenarios.
Future Benefits of Augmented Reality
Frictionless Information Access
In theory, we already have access to most of the information in the world through the Internet. The problem? We still rely on fairly cumbersome tools. Sure, smartphones are offering better and better user experience, but by beaming information directly into your field of vision, AR glasses remove all complicated steps and enables information access to be instant, and frictionless. WebAR, which is only around the corner, will remove a barrier of data access by letting it flow to you seamlessly – instead of calling it via a search field.
GPS technology will be revolutionised by AR integrations. Instead of checking your device every two seconds when driving or walking, why not get directions directly superimposed on your street or road view? How about an AR version of Wikitravel or Tripadvisor that highlights the best-reviewed restaurants and hotels in your location? According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, the company is currently investigating how AR, rather than VR, can improve the experience of their amusement park visitors. Just one of the numerous ways in which local landmarks, museums, tourist attractions, and even whole cities could harness the power of AR for improved navigation.
Better Healthcare & Learning
Something we can all agree is a positive: better healthcare treatment for all. AR will continue to improve the efficiency and precision of healthcare practitioners. This means a higher success rate for formerly dangerous surgical operations, and, ultimately, an increased lifespan for everyone (we hope). And while AR tools designed to help physicians are already in development, let’s not forget about the potential for healthcare education through visual stimulation. You know those health warning on cigarette packets? Wouldn’t they be 10 times more powerful if you could visualise your own tar-infested lungs through AR glasses?
Increased Accessibility For All
With the right software, AR could do wonders to help those with disabilities, visual or otherwise. Suffering from dementia? How about AR glasses that create clear step by step guides around you. Colour blindness? AR glasses could label colours to eliminate guesswork. Inclusive design is currently a huge topic in the gaming world, and there is ga ood reason to believe the industry will set new standards for Augmented Reality. In fact, AR could truly be a technology that empowers users with disabilities in order to offer them more independence at home, work or in the streets of smart cities.
Safer, More Efficient Daily Activities
Unsure about how much water a plant needs? Let AR glasses automatically bring up that info for you. Not sure if the stove is hot or cold? AR glasses can detect dangerous heat levels before you approach them. Struggling to assemble an IKEA shelf? AR can label every piece so you know exactly where they go.
Less trivial perhaps: how about monitoring medicine intake through AR glasses – something that could not be done as precisely in the past when solely relying on human observation. And last but not least: could we finally CTRL+F our lost keys around the room? One can only dream.
A New Creative Golden Age
From computer games to YouTube videos, most of the media and entertainment we consume today is made possible thanks to digital technology. Now imagine what creative possibilities AR will bring to the table? Immersive experiences are the next frontier in entertainment, and they’ll possibly create whole new genres of media – and maybe creative industries. VR is already proving to be an inspirational technology for 3D creation. While the AR equivalent has yet to exist it’s surely something we will see a lot more of in the next few years.
Future Negatives of Augmented Reality
In the doom and gloom camp, the first obvious issue we can foresee is the abuse of AR for attention-grabbing purposes. Imagine a 3D version of popup ads, where marketers try and catch your attention through any means necessary, and it’s easy to feel at least a bit daunted / cynical. Let’s not forget that AR will not be an isolated technology. Combined with facial recognition – another can of worms in and of itself – one can only speculate about how personal, and sometimes invasive advertising technology will become. Let’s not forget that, in spite of all of Silicon valley’s claims, adverts are not there to help us live better lives. They’re here to make money, which means increasing the notification count if it can make us spend more.
Ever got frustrated talking to a friend who was texting at the same time? Yup, probably it’s about to get worse when you won’t even be sure whether they’re looking at you or reading their emails. Similarly, the workplace is bound to become another battleground for employee distractions. Cell phones already cost employers five hours of productivity per week, and adding another channel to consume entertainment anywhere and anytime isn’t bound to reduce these numbers.
Finally, let’s not even get started on the dangers of distracted driving, road-crossing or even parenting. Cell phones are the cause of 25% of road accident fatalities. And as a recent Guardian headline put it: “I was on Instragram, the baby fell down the stairs.” Augmented Reality is likely going to challenge our focus on everyday tasks – some of which are literal matters of life and death.
Oppressive Monitoring / Cybercrime
One of the often cited reasons for the flop of Google Glass was that it was creepy. People couldn’t tell if they were being filmed at all times. Having a camera pointed at you can be unsettling, even when it’s off. But what about wearing the camera yourself? Does that mean someone, somewhere will have access to your feed? And let’s not even think about what cybercriminals could do by hacking into your AR glasses and capturing all kinds of personal data, from card numbers to private meetings. At the very least, it is bound to be a headache for government agencies, who are already struggling to answer complaints about personal data collection made available through the regulations such as the GDPR.
This is already happening. Microsoft just signed a $480 million deal with the US army to bring AR headsets to soldiers. Now, of course, it could help with better training and safer interactions on the battlefield. But it’s also easy to see the darker side of the story: could AR create super soldiers, mercenaries, or terrorists who use the technology to hurt as many civilians as possible.
An AR Future – Should you Rejoice or Panic?
We tend to lean toward the former. Augmented reality, like any other tool, isn’t inherently good or bad. The moral compass belongs to us, not the technology. But in terms of the worst future doomsday scenarios, those brought on by AR are pretty far down the list.
Sure, we’ll have to readjust to an AR world. There will be minor inconveniences. But as we see it, it’s such an exciting technology for so many industries that we cannot help but be excited about the kind of floodgates AR will open.