Imagine you’re walking around Tokyo, looking for a local hidden-gem restaurant you read about in your Lonely Planet guide — except the streets of the Japanese capital are like a maze, and you’re a little lost. So, you put on a headset, enter your destination, and suddenly a blue line appearing in front of your eyes guides you to your destination, with the help of arrows that pop up and tell you when to turn left and right. Eventually you’re on the street you want, and a translator in your headset reads all the signs and, in milliseconds, translates them into your field of vision so you find the restaurant.
Welcome to the Future of AR
This is just one of the many ways Amitt Mahajan, managing partner of venture fund Presence Capital, believes AR will change the way we live – even more than VR, because of what AR does better. “Virtual reality is about transporting you to places that don’t exist in the real world. Augmented reality is about bringing computing into the real world,” he says. “It’s taking what you’re seeing around you, and adding computer information on top of it.”
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s how it will do that. You’ll be wearing a headset with a visor display — like the Microsoft HoloLens or mysterious Magic Leap — that has outward facing cameras that will continually scan and map your immediate environment. That information gets processed and interpreted, and in an instant adapts the info and relays it to your display. “It will essentially change what your eyes see in real time,” says Mahajan.
What the AR World Will Look Like
What you see will vary based on what you’re using augmented reality for. There are the navigation and translation possibilities mentioned above. With gaming, AR will make it possible to seamlessly blend elements into your living room. Education can also be boosted with hands-on tutorials for a variety of professions, or little creatures who can actively teach your child their multiplication tables. Businesses will especially benefit from AR. Mechanics could be guided with AR visuals on how to fix a car, or construction workers could see an AR representation of the blueprint they need to make a reality. The possibilities are endless, says Norbi Kovacs, the Chief Technology Officer at INDE, an augmented-reality company. “Eventually, it will be presenting almost all industries that need to somehow enhance reality with data with visualization, with visual feedback.”
None of that is to undersell the social possibilities of the technology and what Kovacs believes to be the real potential of augmented reality. He’s seen it firsthand with his work at INDE with mobile AR and broadcast AR. “AR can enhance your life without closing everyone out of your reality,” he says. “In VR, you are in your virtual world. That’s why I’m betting on AR — because it can create those social experiences. It will bring people together, while VR is drifting people apart.”
All those applications mean augmented reality could very well change the fabric of our lives. “Once the technology becomes good enough, and it’s getting there pretty quickly, it’s going to have as dramatic of an effect on our society, and our lives, as the computer and the smartphone,” he says.
So Where’s All the Buzz?
If that sounds so amazing that you’re wondering why you haven’t been hearing more about AR, it’s because technology hasn’t yet caught up with the potential. Think of how VR has only now edged its way into the mainstream consciousness in 2016. That’s because hardware and content is catching up with ambition, and VR is becoming more accessible to everyday consumers. But AR isn’t there yet.
“The problem is the ideas, the fiction, and promise of AR are so far ahead of the reality right now,” says Mahajan. That’s partly because of the need to wear a headset. “There’s a lot of visual and style and cultural issues around that,” says Mahajan.
It’s also a matter of hardware development and affordability. “I think we still need a few more years before AR headsets on the Oculus Rift level will start to surface, and will be available for consumers around the world,” says Kovacs. But in those years, AR will have a lot of help. A graphic from a Vision Summit 2016 keynote predicts that by 2019, the market value of AR ($48 billion) will be double that of VR ($24 billion). It will be triple in 2020.
In the meantime, mobile AR (think: Pokémon Go) and others like Kovacs are paving the way with a crucial aspiration that will ensure the medium’s future success: make it essential. “The key is to have an AR experience that’s not just a gimmick,” says Kovacs. “It comes with a certain responsibility, because we have to create experiences and we have to create applications and content that make people want to use AR. And not just want to use it, but have every day of their life enhanced by it.”
What do you think? Are you looking forward to an AR revolution, or do you see the future playing out differently? Tell us in the comments!