Remember when VR came onto the scene? Probably. And how about AR? Well, maybe you were so preoccupied watching people don the questionably-fashionable headgear and gape, gasp, and giggle at visions only they could see that you didn’t notice the quiet entrance of AR onto the scene.
Oh Great, Another Acronym to Learn
‘AR’ stands for augmented reality. In a sense, it’s VR lite: it’s virtual reality tempered by the real world. That means 3D graphics are incorporated in a viewer’s real-world field of vision. It’s overlayed onto the viewer’s environment in real time. Instead of an immersive headset (read: those super-cute goggles) it is used through your mobile phone or through glasses like Google Glass. AR allows for engagement in the “real world” while providing augmented graphics. And it’s the underdog of immersive 3D graphics.
AR: An Underdog (and a Hotdog)
Although it’s new, AR already provides a plethora of applications: in the medical industry (x-rays and MRI scans), the military (virtual head-mounted displays), marketing (augmented shopping) and entertainment (enhanced sightseeing, exhibitions, and museums). There’s also plenty of buzz about using it in education— check out these artists’ renditions of an AR-enabled classroom. And how could we forget the world’s first AR superstar, the Dancing Hotdog of Snapchat?
Let’s Zoom In
If you’re still having trouble imagining what any non-ultra-futuristic or frivolous application of AR might be, consider this: AR as a platform that takes out several middlemen. Nowadays, our cameras are smart enough to pick up on what is passing through them and classify it. If that’s so, why not hook up what our cameras detect straight to the internet? It would mean that products or places could trigger things digitally. If your phone camera recognizes a box of cereal and you have internet service— boom! That box of cereal is now interactive digitally instead of just physically. Your AR-enabled phone would be a lense that hooks up the digital world with the physical world and its objects. It makes it clickable.
Why That’s Important
That means everything network-ified. Networks are clearly the main disruptor of our times—not only social network giants (Facebook and Instagram) but also things like AirBnB and Uber. All of these things have totally changed our culture. Now imagine we have an even more seamless way to access networks. Your cereal box might sell itself off the shelf in a grocery store aisle, help you order milk from your kitchen, and provide you with some sort of fun virtual promotion over breakfast. In a healthier world, it might even provide you with statistics on sugar consumption and glycemic load…
Who’s ahead of the game?
Snapchat filters aside, there’s a small army of innovators trying to reach an AR-enabled future as described above. Magic Leap continues to release demos, AR kits are a thing (check out these cool demos on their Twitter page!) IKEA has an AR app that projects theoretical furniture purchases into your home, and Facebook has launched Camera Effects. You can even follow a small army of ultra-realistic 3D penguins to guide you to the Tokyo Zoo using AR technology. Augmented reality is provocative and fresh; it embodies everything that is great about the creative spirit that forges ahead into the twenty-first century.