Do you remember the first Pong arcades with unsophisticated graphics launched nearly 30 years ago? Since then video games have become an instant hit among youngsters. However the technology is improving at a rapid space and computer graphics are pushing the limits of photorealism. Today scientists and engineers are integrating the graphics from your television and computer screens into real-world environments. This advanced technology is called Augmented Reality or AR for short, which is about overlaying pieces of a virtual world over the real world (in contrast to Virtual Reality (VR) that is about replacing the real world with a virtual one). AR is a beautiful blend of digital and real images enhancing what we see, feel and smell or hear, e.g. you can point your camera at a movie poster and watch its trailer, or you look at the sky and ask for the weather and it gives you that information. So, basically AR comes down to the following three vital questions: where to display, what and how. Let’s find out.
Let me start with the last question: “How?” Below I’m going to itemize five of the numerous AR tools that exist at the moment and that can be used to develop apps for smart-phones, tablets or even smart-glasses.
- DroidAR is a free and commercial framework that gives location-based AR functionality to Android apps. For instance, gesture detection or support for static and animated 3-D objects that the user can interact with like clicking on them. Another vivid appliance is marker detection. It’s a part of the functionality offered by DroidAR, however the documentation that exists for the project is under fulfilled. Nevertheless there is a section on the project README file on GitHub that gives an overview of a closed-source version of DroidAR, DroidAR 2. Compared to its open-source fetch it has impressive improvements.
- Vuforia is available for Android, iOS and Unity. It has become the industry leading AR platform – with 10s of thousands of apps, and 100s of millions of app installs. The main Vuforia SDK features are multi-target detection and tracking (e.g. images, English text, objects), virtual buttons. There is also a version of the SDK for smart glasses (namely Epson Moverio BT-200, Samsung GearVR, and ODG R-6 and R-7). That is currently open for early access applications from experienced developers.
- Wikitude AR SDK is available for Android, iOS, Smartphone, Tablet, Smart Glasses, Cordova, Titanium, Xamarin. Wikitude’s all-in-one AR solution includes image recognition and tracking, 3D model rendering, video overlay, location based AR and so much more.
- With the help of AR Browser SDK you can add and remove POIs without refreshing the view, interact with them by touching them or pointing the camera to them and perform activity on them, for instance send SMS or share on Facebook. AR browser SDK is available for Android as well as for iOS. The mail features include 2D POIs, custom callback on clicked POI or on centered POI, video support, great performance and memory management, customized elements: pop up label, radar and radar dots, very simple interface API for developers, start and stop functions to prevent memory or battery starvation and finally check sample code.
Hope I gave a full answer to the question “How?” and now let’s move to the questions “Where? and What?”. The yesteryear AR usage was limited mostly to military applications, which were designed to give helicopter pilots and ship captains more definite methods of acquiring targets and tracking enemy movement. Nowadays, tech companies have an entirely new vision for the opportunities that augmented reality provides, hoping that with advances in computing power and miniaturization, soon the number of people wearing an AR-capable device will compete the same stats we see with smartphone ownership in 2015.
According to the prognosis by 2017 more than 3.5 billion AR applications will be downloaded, 600 billion dollars will be spent in AR technology revenues by 2016 and Compound Annual Growth Rate of global AR market will make up 132%. But if you still can’t figure out where you will be able to use this bleeding-edge technology, I will point out some real ways where people all over the world from different spheres such as medicine, public service and finances will benefit from AR adoption.
- Digital Marketing. AR use in digital marketing is notably appealing. It’s recognized as an enhanced marketing application, as not only can additional content be put within 2D advertisement, but also can result as interactive, awesome and high viral potential eye-catching tool. Key digital aspects: advergaming, Augmented packaging, interactive consumer products, street marketing and geolocalized apps. As a rule consumers react very positively to amusing and ingenious marketing. Thus the brands become memorable.
- Customer service. Nobody likes to call to a customer support and listen to the endless scripts recited by a rep. However in the future if you have any problems with setting up TV or the cables cut off, the customer support can come to you. Imagine having a service technician come to your house to fix your washing machine. He’ll point his head-up display at the washer. A camera will capture the model number and then upload it to the corporate cloud. That will prompt a download of schematics and instructions, along with an overlaid virtual-reality view of the machine’s components on his display. So instead of hearing generic instructions, like “Press the red button” and “recheck the port,” someone could walk you through the process and see the things you’re seeing, enabling the customer service rep to point things out in more detailed, visual way and helping problems get solved in a more efficient way.
- E-commerce and M-commerce. AR can offer a virtual fitting room where clothes can be tried on live. It gives you a chance to browse a virtual catalog of clothes, shop directly within your favorite magazine, or go to a virtual store and avoid the queues. Rosenthal of Goldrun, the creator of an AR pop-up shop for Airwalk in a New York City park says:” Augmented reality is going to radically change the shape of commerce.” AR can turn such public places as parks and airports into shopping centers. It’s a perfect way to kill time and a clever way for business owners to economize money on commercial real estate.) However even real shops could benefit from integrating AR into their design. They could display their items that will be on shelves soon, or items that aren’t sold at that location – and soon you’ll even be able to feel these items with the help of your phone. It’s obvious for everyone that augmented reality could juice up window displays and cut costs.
- Urban Exploration. Are you in a new neighborhood or in an unknown city? You can throw away your guidebook and turn on AR-application with real time display of enhanced maps. Acting as a GPS, Augmented Reality provides classified and suggestive information that you are looking for whether it’s a restaurant, bar, grocery store or museum and library, etc. And another awesome way to explore your city – or any city -is to overlay 3D maps that show what the city looked like at any point in history. If you’re walking down Broadway, you would be able to “see” horse-drawn carriages parked on the street in front of old parlors. It’d be as if you were walking in a history book.
- Educational resources. Seeing the potential for AG in educational sphere isn’t hard. Education will be emphasized by Augmented Reality systems and can be used to re-create historical events, activate regular books into 3D images, or even present structures of the galaxy; all superimposed in real-time. So when viewed through the lens of smartphones one can see the picture of an engine animated in an engineering textbook or a working 3D model of a beating heart that you can walk around of rotate by hand.
- Rescue and Safety operations. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid emergencies in our life. Rescuers, firefighters and policemen very often find themselves in a chaotic situation where they need to make sense of the environment and navigate a place they’ve never been. Wouldn’t it be great if they could see a virtual map of the site or have “X-ray vision” to see sewage or power lines?
While some years ago there was a vast debate about its foreseen impact on society, today AR applications are becoming mainstream. There are apps that allow a museum exhibit to tell its own story, that help you decide which furniture looks better in your bedroom, that bring a tiger you just drew on a piece of paper into life, or that warn you about all the signs you ignored while you were driving. These are examples of already available apps that provide some sort of AR functionality. The one thing is for sure is that smartphone population is rising, thus the level of processing power as well. As long as the resulting augmented content remains engaging and innovative, consumers will certainly adopt augmented reality as a new and fun twist to conventional marketing and services.
Besides I would like to notice that the new era of true digital immersion is waiting just over the next horizon and now is a perfect time to implement AR technologies into your business. It is now up to you – developers, designers, entrepreneurs, scientists, educators, investors, artists, marketers, hackers, journalists, and more – to bring the augmented reality experience to consumers in a fun, productive – and lucrative way. If you have already tried it, you are welcome to share your experience in comments. If not, it will be interesting to know what predictions you have re AR. What is your opinion? Please, feel free to share your thought below.
Thank you for your attention 🙂
P.S. By the way, did u know that in 1901 author L.Frank Baum first mentioned electronic display spectacles overlaying data onto real life, in 1975 television weather reports were the 1st application of AR on TV, in 1989 the term “virtual reality” was coined by Jaron Laanier, today AR is already used by Boeing, BMW and Volkswagen on assembly lines and in the nearest future AR contact lenses will be implemented to the United States Military.