In the last five years the use of Augmented Reality (AR) has grown exponentially in multiple fields, progressively transforming the way we are able to interact with our environment and demonstrating the profound implications it will have in almost all modern disciplines.
In this article we explore how in the recent decades Augmented Reality ceased to be a matter of science fiction, which are the industries that are the forefront in its adoption and why it is considered the technology that will replace the mobile devices that we know today.
Although it is often overshadowed by Virtual Reality (VR), it is expected that in the near future it will be the AR that will take the lead in the market. According to an estimate from Research and Markets, it is projected that by 2023 the AR item will be valued between $70 to $75 billion dollars, with an annual growth rate of 40.29% between 2018 and 2023, while the value of RV it is projected between $10 to $15BN for that year.
Increased investment in AR and growing demand in various sectors are the main drivers of this trend. If we add to this the needs caused by the global pandemic and the confinement that we have experienced since the appearance of COVID-19, it is not difficult to imagine the near future where this new form of communication will become increasingly common.
When we talk about Augmented Reality, for many what first comes to mind is Pokemon Go, the successful game that in 2016 had millions of people roaming the streets to catch, train and duel virtual creatures scattered throughout the city, they can only be detected through the screen of their mobile phones. This is just the tip of the iceberg possibilities that AR offers.
Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), which allows sensory immersion in worlds other than ours, AR is technology that complements our reality without replacing or isolating ourselves from it, perfecting it with information that enriches our experience in real time.
Currently we can experience AR in two ways: one immersive, through special glasses such as Oculus Quest 2, that map a layer of information about the objects we are looking at, and another non-immersive, where the screen of a phone or Tablet transforms into a window to a more deeply populated world, with additional content and tools to broaden our perception, understanding and interaction with our environment.
In both cases, equipment is required that has channels to receive and deliver information. Input channels can include microphones, cameras, gyroscopes, GPS sensors, thermometers, and more. They also need the computational ability to analyze and process this information and deliver a response to the user through human-perceptible output channels, such as video, audio movement, temperature, etc.
The concept of Augmented Reality was conceived for the first time 1901 by the author Frank L. Baum, who in his novel “The Master Key” imagined a set of glasses that provided information about the character of the people one was looking at. Today his vision is a reality driven not by supernatural forces, but by the rapid technological advances of the last century.
Illustration from Morton Heilig's Sensorama patent
The Interaction Design Foundation points out some fundamental milestones 120 years after the first conceptualization of AR:
Today we are seeing a global community of developers and creators who are pioneers in new experiences, generating links between different sights, sounds, spaces, textures and emotions.
From education to entertainment, the new possibilities that use of Augmented Reality opens up bring a new spectrum of perception and meaning to the processes of different industries and sectors, with tools and experiences that a few decades ago were relegated to science fiction.
Areas such as aeronautics, military or health have been applying AR for years in the training and practice of their students and operators, reducing the high material and human cost associated with education in these areas and taking advantage of AR qualities that enhance learning and understanding, of new experienced users.
These are some of the industries that will benefit the most from the use of Augmented Reality:
One of the areas that have been most affected by AR is the area of education and personnel training. And it is that modern educational models distinguish different learning styles: verba, visual, musica/auditory, kinesic, logic/mathematical, social, solitary and a combination of the above. As each person is different and may show preference for one style over another at different stages of their life, it easy to project how AR will deliver new tools for new ways of teaching, facilitating, and bringing users closer to interactive that blur the line between real or virtual, also reducing the risks and costs of traditional methods.
In a decade marked by near-global confinement, many are already realizing the benefits of AR for remote learning. Today there are various Augmented Reality applications for free and paid education that, through a phone or tablet, enrich the educational experience of students at all levels.
In general, three main axes are identified in which Augmented Reality will change the future of health and medical sciences. AR can help doctors obtain real-time information on patient characteristics and diagnosis, or create true simulations of how a procedure should be performed, reducing the risks of traditional learning and providing an intuitive representation of caring of a real person.
On the patient side, AR can help understand the risks of certains medications and procedures through visual demonstrations that go beyond traditional methods such as sheets of paper with contradictions. Companies like Pfizer are already using the advantages of Augmented Reality to inform users and doctors with interactive experiences about the characteristics of products like ThermaCare.
How many times have you passed through a store window and you see a product that you love but don’t know how it would look on you? Many brands and stores will include functionalities for both mobile devices and and in-store interfaces that will not only provide information about available products, but will even make their traditional showcase unnecessary.
A company that has advanced quickly in this field is L’Oreal which in 2018 acquired ModiFace, a company specialized in Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence, and currently helps users to experiment and test different styles and products from any smartphone.
From interior design to ship building, Augmented Reality will help professionals visualize their products in development in a highly iterative way. Using AR glasses, designers and architects will be able to directly enter virtual buildings or interact with models in 1:1 size, which will facilitate the evaluation of models and prototypes at a very low cost.
Augmented Reality will offer travel agencies or tourist destination managers the opportunity to offer their clients a truly immersive experience before and during the trip. Not only will we be able to plan our routes or select between different destinations: once there we will be able to receive historical and tourist information, or recommendations in real time on where to eat, what to buy or places to go.
Many museums already have AR experiences that are compatible with Google ArCore or Apple ARKit, offering their visitors complementary data about their exhibits in video, audio or interactive model formats.
Augmented Reality will add new and unimaginable layers to today’s entertainment and video game industry. Interactive movies like Netflix’s visionary Black Mirror: Bandersnatch can take advantage of Ar to create stories that are even more immersive and emotionally connected to the viewer.
Interesting Engineering also predicts that even board games or paper books can benefit from this technology, adding new levels of complexity and integrating multimedia content into traditional narratives. Even physical activities such as tennis or outdoor activities such as hiking will benefit from new tools, providing contextual data, statistics on players, real-time analysis or even simulating virtual opponents that would help in practice.
In just over a century, AR went from being a wild fantasy to an increasingly everyday reality, and remains in the sight of experts who have seen in this technology the potential to deepen and broaden the way we express ourselves and we learn, driving important advances in areas such as marketing, industrial design, construction, sports, health and of course the education and training of professionals and technicians.
What we choose to express and communicate can take many forms, but the underlying desire to share and connect with other people is the same for everyone, and in that sense AR has shown the potential to completely revolutionize our way of learning and connect.
It is the technological giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google that have been paving the way for this long-awaited technological leap for years in a kind of battle to be the pioneers in the inevitable transition from mobile phone to the next massive communication platform.
The company that has made the most noise lately has been Facebook, a company that has already delivered different iterations of its AR and VR platform through Oculus, and that has not spared in public discussion over the years it’s vision on how these technologies will change people’s lives.
Mark Zuckerberg recently noted that by 2030 people will be able to use smart glasses to “teleport” to school or workplaces, and interact with others as if they were physically present. In Zuckerberg’s vision, AR devices will not be very different from a pair of optical glasses, a concept that they are already working with Ray-Ban and whose first prototype will be available at the end of 2021.
“Instead of calling someone or making a video call, you can probably snap your fingers and teleport, and you’re sitting there, and they’re on their couch and it’ll feel like they’re together”, said the Facebook CEO.
His words are relevant because they represent a cohesive vision of a leading company in the AR industry, pointing out the hook that will be key for users, universities and companies to massively adopt this technology: virtual communication in person.
Forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire world has been subjected to the largest telecommuting experiment in history, preliminarily demonstrating that telecommuting is Microsoft has also given clear signals that it also wants to lead us to that future where AR will the daily way of communicating and working collaboratively.
With the recent announcement of Microsoft Mesh, the computer giant, seeks to expand the scope of its mixed reality ecosystem, which until now is restricted to the field of video games.
An example of this is the Trimble XR10 helmet, a product that incorporates the popular HoloLens 2 in a work helmet adapted to the specific needs of each company and job, providing the advantages of AR training in easily recognizable equipment for the user. With this, it is expected to promote the incorporation of data visualization technologies in real work environments, where worker protection is a priority.
In a first introduction video for Mesh, Microsoft demonstrates its vision for the future of this early-development platform, outlining its use for academic learning, collaborative work, and component, and part visualization in engineering jobs. Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice-President of Communications at Microsoft has noted that “for now, it's fun to daydream about what's next”.
When it comes to predicting future, few expert are as respected as Ming Chi-Kuo, a technology analyst who on more than one occasion has been able to predict the path that Apple would take in the medium term, correcting when he predicted the launch of the Iphone SE, elimination of fast charging ports or trends in devices sales in 2018.
According to the Taiwanese analyst, Apple will launch its own mixed reality set in mid-2022, followed by AR lenses in 2025. In a research document published with TF International Securities, he mentions that “Apple’s roadmap for its products MRI/AR include three phases: helmet format for 2022, glasses format 2025 and contact lenses for 2030-2040 (...). We can predict that the helmet product will provide AR and VR experiences, while glasses and contacts will focus on AR applications.”
Kuo points out that these devices will be portable, with their own computational and storage capacity, but not 100% mobile like an Iphone. “When technology improves,we believe that the new helmet will also improve its portability.”
For its way, Apple maintains its traditional secrecy, although without ruling out that AR is in the new focus of its new developments. Its CEO Tim Cook has previously indicated that the future of communications lies in this technology, nothing that “there are many great areas for AR in education and games”, something that Apple would already be working on behind closed doors, with its sight set in preparing software developers to build an ecosystem of applications that makes this product attractive to mass consumers.
Hand in hand with Augmented Reality, we predict a bright future for both e-learning and face-to-face learning. The training and instruction processes that until now have only been possible with specialized facilities and machinery are now available to anyone with the necessary equipment for an AR experience, turning the learning process into an experience that will eventually not be far from the traditional model of education, enhancing it with layers of content and information that enrich the educational process.
There are still some access barriers given by limitations in hardware costs, ease and comfort of use. The good news is that there seems to be general agreement on AR’s transformative potential, and no one wants to be left behind by this next technological revolution.