Aug­mented re­al­ity is fi­nally start­ing to un­veil its po­ten­tial. It could one day rad­i­cally al­ter how we in­ter­face with com­put­ers.

With some big hits and misses in re­cent years, aug­mented re­al­ity is fi­nally start­ing to un­veil the po­ten­tial it wields and how it could one day rad­i­cally al­ter how we in­ter­face with com­put­ers.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

The term “aug­mented re­al­ity” (AR) was coined back in 1990, by Boe­ing com­pany re­searchers Thomas Caudell and David Mizell, who at the time were ex­plor­ing ex­per­i­men­tal tech­niques of pre­sent­ing in­for­ma­tion on al­ti­tude, di­rec­tion and speed of the plane to the heads-up dis­plays (HUDs) of fighter air­craft. Soon after proof of con­cepts by the mil­i­tary had com­menced, com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions fol­lowed. AR, al­beit rudi­men­tary, first made its way into tele­vi­sion in the early 90s. With the pace of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion that gave birth to the In­ter­net and smart­phones, AR has been grab­bing head­lines in re­cent years, with many of the largest tech com­pa­nies mak­ing mas­sive bets on the tech­nol­ogy.

The ba­sic idea be­hind AR is to su­per­im­pose graph­ics, au­dio and other sen­sory en­hance­ments over a re­al­world en­vi­ron­ment, with the 3D mod­els pro­jected di­rectly onto phys­i­cal things, all of it ren­dered in real-time.

Un­like vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) - which re­quires the user to fully im­merse in an en­tirely vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment - AR maps out and uses the sur­round­ing real-world en­vi­ron­ment to sim­ply over­lay dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion on top of it. As both vir­tual and real worlds in­habit the same space, users of aug­mented re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence a new and im­proved nat­u­ral world, where vir­tual in­for­ma­tion is used as a tool to pro­vide as­sis­tance in ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties – rang­ing from a sim­ple in­com­ing email no­ti­fi­ca­tion to po­ten­tially pro­vid­ing in­struc­tion on how to per­form in­tri­cate sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures.

From us­ing photo fil­ters on so­cial me­dia net­works like Face­book or Snapchat that ma­nip­u­late im­ages in real-time to im­prov­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, AR is rapidly grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity for its abil­ity to high­light cer­tain fea­tures, en­hance un­der­stand­ings and pro­vide con­tex­tual and timely data, all the while re­main­ing some­where in the mid­dle of the mixed re­al­ity spec­trum, be­tween the real and the vir­tual.

Most AR apps al­low the user to see both syn­thetic and nat­u­ral light - a feat achieved by over­lay­ing pro­jected im­ages onto a pair of gog­gles or glasses, al­low­ing the im­ages and in­ter­ac­tive vir­tual ob­jects to ap­pear as part of the en­vi­ron­ment.

Over the past decade, many labs and com­pa­nies have been per­fect­ing the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy and build­ing bet­ter gad­gets that al­low us to ex­pe­ri­ence AR in all its glory.

In 2009, the MIT Me­dia Lab’s Fluid In­ter­faces Group pre­sented Six­thSense, a de­vice com­bin­ing a mir­ror, smart­phone, cam­era and a small pro­jec­tor. Although clunky and un­prac­ti­cal, the de­vice hung from the user’s neck and the four sen­sor de­vices on the user’s fin­gers could be used to ma­nip­u­late the im­ages pro­jected from the de­vice. More im­por­tantly, it gen­er­ated more in­ter­est in the tech­nol­ogy, of­fer­ing a glimpse into ex­cit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties just be­yond the hori­zon.

In 2013, Google rolled out Google Glass, a sig­nif­i­cantly more ac­ces­si­ble it­er­a­tion of the tech­nol­ogy, com­pris­ing a pair of glasses that dis­played in­ter­ac­tive 3D mod­els on the user’s lens screen through a small pro­jec­tor and even re­spond­ing to voice com­mands. Although lam­basted by the me­dia thanks to the wonky-look­ing form fac­tor and lim­ited use cases, caus­ing Google to pull it from the mar­ket­place in late 2015, it served as yet an­other his­tor­i­cal mile­stone to­wards

tech­no­log­i­cal ma­tu­rity.

“The growth of aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) ap­pli­ca­tions in re­cent years can be at­trib­uted to so­lu­tions that al­low con­sumers to vi­su­alise prod­ucts and imag­ine what it might feel like to own the prod­uct or ex­pe­ri­ence the ser­vice be­fore ac­tu­ally pur­chas­ing it. As aug­mented tech­nol­ogy be­comes more so­phis­ti­cated and the cost-sav­ing and busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions ex­pand, the de­mand and in­vest­ment in AR will in­crease, “writes Bernard Marr in a re­cent Forbes ar­ti­cle.

By far, AR’s big­gest hit to date has been the 2016 game Poké­mon Go, which be­came a world­wide sen­sa­tion seem­ingly overnight, with over 100 mil­lion es­ti­mated users at its peak, ac­cord­ing to CNET. At its core, the game al­lowed users to seek out and col­lect Poké­mon char­ac­ters that had been scat­tered around the real world, and to use these mon­ster char­ac­ters to do bat­tle with other users lo­cally. Forbes es­ti­mates that it ended up rak­ing in over USD 2 bil­lion in rev­enue for the Ja­panese de­vel­oper, Niantic.

In­ter­est­ingly, be­fore Poké­mon Go, no­body had con­sid­ered us­ing AR ap­pli­ca­tions on a smart­phone or a tablet. Nowa­days, the tech is em­bed­ded in nearly ev­ery smart­phone and tablet, mak­ing the tech­nol­ogy much more ac­ces­si­ble to the masses.

The de­mand for AR apps spiked in 2017, when Ap­ple and Google re­leased ARKit and ARCore soft­ware de­vel­oper kits for iOS and An­droid re­spec­tively, al­low­ing any­one with the nec­es­sary tech­ni­cal acu­men to cre­ate their own AR apps.

The same year, Ikea in­tro­duced Ikea Place app, built us­ing Ap­ple’s ARKit tech­nol­ogy, which al­lows the user to scan the room and de­sign it by plac­ing Ikea ob­jects di­rectly in the room.

Cos­metic com­pany Sephora lev­er­aged AR tech to al­low cus­tomers to try dif­fer­ent beauty prod­ucts on the dig­i­tal scan of their face. Even lux­ury brands like Rolex have jumped on the AR band­wagon, by cre­at­ing an app where prospec­tive buy­ers can try on var­i­ous styles and mod­els on their wrists.

As such, AR has quickly risen to be­come a pow­er­ful and novel way of boost­ing sales and pro­vide cus­tomers a unique, mem­o­rable branded ex­pe­ri­ence. Ac­cord­ing to Statista, the fore­cast mar­ket size for AR and VR tech­nol­ogy will be over USD 200 bil­lion by 2022.

Although the AR ecosys­tem is ma­tur­ing quickly, there are still sev­eral ob­sta­cles to over­come, such as tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, lack of stan­dard­iza­tion and high price tags.

“To­day, we’re in a state of com­pro­mise with aug­mented and vir­tual re­al­ity de­vices. None of the ex­ist­ing sys­tems give users a com­plete, bond­less and im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. Most of the sys­tems lack a nat­u­ral, wide field of view (FOV), have lim­ited dis­play res­o­lu­tion, low bright­ness, a short bat­tery life and lack­ing 3D sens­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It will be an­other three to five years be­fore we will ex­pe­ri­ence true, un­con­strained AR/ VR ap­pli­ca­tions,” Alex Aharonov writes in Ja­bil.

One of the com­pa­nies try­ing to solve some of these tech­no­log­i­cal is­sues is Magic Leap, a se­cre­tive startup based in Flor­ida, that after years of test­ing the tech and rais­ing over USD 2 bil­lion from in­vestors such as Google, JP Morgan, Alibaba, and Warner Bros,. to name a few, fi­nally an­nounced that Magic Leap One Cre­ator Edi­tion - com­pris­ing a small, wear­able com­puter and a pair of gog­gles –was fi­nally hit­ting the shelves in Au­gust 2018, set­ting the en­tire tech in­dus­try in an uproar.

Alas, the vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited re­sources and years of lofty prom­ises to rev­o­lu­tionise per­sonal com­put­ing didn’t help Magic Leap es­cape the luke­warm me­dia re­cep­tion. The Verge’s Adi Robert­son wrote a lengthy hands-on re­view of the de­vice, which she de­scribed as a ‘ flawed glimpse’ at the po­ten­tial of the tech­nol­ogy.

“Based on an af­ter­noon with Magic Leap, the Magic Leap One Cre­ator Edi­tion — which ships in the US to­day for USD 2,295 — is a func­tional, thought­fully de­signed head­set with some very real ad­van­tages over com­peti­tors like the Mi­cro­soft HoloLens.

But it doesn’t seem like a sat­is­fy­ing com­put­ing de­vice or a rad­i­cal step for­ward for mixed re­al­ity. Magic Leap’s vi­sion is a com­pelling al­ter­na­tive to that of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s tech gi­ants. But there’s a baf­fling dis­con­nect be­tween its vast re­sources and parts of its ac­tual prod­uct. I gen­uinely be­lieve Magic Leap has given me a glimpse of the fu­ture of com­put­ing, but it might take a long time to reach that fu­ture, and I’m not sure Magic Leap will be the com­pany that gets there first.”

Un­veiled at Ap­ple’s yearly me­dia spec­ta­cle in mid-Septem­ber, this year’s up­dated range of iPhones, too, have a strong fo­cus on new ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gencedriven chipsets, which prom­ise to de­liver strong aug­mented re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences – Ap­ple even brought out for­mer NBA star point guard Steve Nash to show­case HomeCourt, a new iPhone app that can de­tect a hoop and bas­ket­ball to mea­sure kine­mat­ics, tra­jec­tory, re­lease times, and num­ber of shots made. It cer­tainly seems that Ap­ple is dou­bling down on AR, to the ex­tent that in­dus­try mur­mur­ings of an im­pend­ing launch of an AR in­ter­face of some sorts are get­ting stronger and stronger.

Ad­mit­tedly, while some of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion AR de­vices have not lived up to the hype, all of them have done their part in pro­pel­ling the tech­nol­ogy for­ward in one shape or an­other. And with many tech gi­ants clearly carv­ing out the ecosys­tem for their fu­ture de­vices, it seems to be only a mat­ter of time un­til they fi­nally de­liver on their fu­tur­is­tic prom­ises.

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Above Left: Aug­mented Re­al­ity al­lows mo­bile de­vices to dis­play use­ful in­for­ma­tion against real time im­ages. Above: The Vir­tual Show­room app al­lows prospec­tive buy­ers to try on var­i­ous time­pieces on their wrists from the com­fort of their own homes. PHOTO: CHRONO24

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