To experience AUGMENTED REALITY, you look through a device screen or put on a headset and a virtual image is laid over the room you’re in. You can see what’s around you, but part of it is blocked out by whatever video projection is playing on your headset
Augmented vs virtual reality
THE BASIC SET-UP
▶ A camera and screen equipped with computer vision, a technology that identifies objects and surfaces. Adding depth and motion sensors lets a device map the room around you and track your motion through it. Your app can then overlay anything from a first-person-shooter zombie attack to the steps to replace a fanbelt.
▶ Motion sickness sets in when your perceived motion – what you see – doesn’t match what your inner ear feels. That’s not the case with augmented reality, says Robert Scoble, co-author of The Fourth Transformation: how augmented reality and artificial intelligence will change everything. You’re still looking out on the real world and the same horizon.
▶ For now it’s pretty simple: catching Pokémon (Pokémon GO), mapping constellations (Sky Map), inking a tattoo (Inkhunter), turning you into a half-dog (Snapchat).
AR can’t scan a room and identify every object. But you can teach its computer vision to identify individual objects, such as a motorcycle, when prompted, says Mike Campbell, executive vice president of the Thingworx AR platform. “There’s not enough computing power to analyse everything it sees.”
▶ AR on mobile devices really is mobile. Unlike high-end VR, which can’t leave a room, AR can enhance a city tour or museum. Last winter, the Detroit Institute of Arts lent visitors Android phones to view the skeleton inside a 2 000-year-old sarcophagus and to see the original colours on a now-beige Assyrian sculpture.
However, AR is difficult to wear on your face. Everybody thinks we’ll be walking around with the next Google Glass. but social constraints prevent that, says Case, adding, “Sunshine makes headset AR difficult to see, voice and hand controls are still unreliable.”
▶ Hands-on skill training, interior design, wearable computing.
AR can lead a factory worker on a tutorial, but right now the technology won’t change your life unless you own a factory, says Amber Case, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society. A Microsoft Hololens can overlay hidden parts such as a tucked-away air filter and demonstrate its removal. Similar programs are in development for phones and tablets and could soon offer lifechanging relief for tasks such as Ikea furniture assembly.
HOW APPLE WILL OWN IT
▶ AR will explode in the next year. Today, relatively few devices offer a rich AR experience, leading to a lack of demand for new AR apps – phones with Google’s Tango AR number less than a million. Expect that to change after Apple’s June release of IOS 11 ARKIT for developers, says Scoble. ARKIT is a bundled suite of AR tools that can reach a quarter billion Apple devices. Additionally, the upcoming new iphone adds 3D sensors and room mapping that can play hologramlike counter-op games or virtually measure and then furnish a room without draining battery.