Augmented Reality: The Past, The Present, The Future

Updated: Feb 13



Augmented Reality


Augmented Reality (AR) has come a long way from a science fiction concept to a science-based reality. Today, things have changed and AR is even available on the mobile handset. This makes me feel quite old, because in 2001, a Motorola handset seemed like something brought from the future.


AR is a digital media that allows users overlay virtual content into the physical world in a way that makes the content seem like its physically there. It is a technology that places 3D visual into a “real-world” experience. AR allows us to merge the digital into the physical world. It gives users the appearance that a virtual object co-exists with them in the physical world. AR is a view of the real, physical world in which elements are enhanced by computer-generated inputs. These inputs may range from sound, video, graphics, GPS overlays and more.


The past, the present


Boeing co-workers Jaron Leitner and Thomas Caudell coined the term “augmented reality” in 1990. But there were scientist that tried to build machines that relate to AR before, starting with a cinematographer called Morton Hilig (1957) who was the first inventor of an AR machine. He invented what was called the Sensorama, which delivered visuals, sounds, vibration and smell to the viewer. Then came scientists such as Ivan Sutherland, Myron Kruger, and Steve Mann who all tried to invent visual devices that allowed users to interact with virtual objects in real time. But the first properly functioning AR system was developed by Louis Rosenberg at the USAF Armstrong’s Research Lab (1992), then followed other breakthroughs such as an outdoor mobile game called ARQuake, developed by Bruce Thomas (2000), then came the ARToolkit which is a design application developed by Adobe (2009), followed by the GoogleGlass in 2013 and the HoloLens augmented reality headset developed by Microsoft (2015). Today, there are many apps available or currently being research in nearly every industrial sector including- Military, navigation, sports, entertainment, medical, education, translation, construction, commerce, archeology, art and architecture.


How does it work? It all starts with an AR activated device, such as a smartphone or glasses. AR uses the camera and sensors to understand the physical world around you. Imagine getting into a room that you’ve never been. Your mind automatically builds a mental model of the space so that you can memorize it next time you enter the same space. Similarly to an AR activated phone or glasses, they map your environment and also keep track of where you are in relation to it. By doing that it allows you to place digital content in the physical world in a way that makes you and those who surround you believe that its actually there.


AR has a true potential to disrupt every single industry on earth and it will spawn new industries we haven’t yet imagined. AR Apps might sound futuristic, but customers are already catching onto the trend much quicker than you think. More customers prefer buying from stores that have AR as part of the experience. AR is often used in gaming, bringing a more realistic experience to gamers and also engages more senses. Apart from gaming, we have seen apps like Snapchat, Houzz, Google Lens, ROAR, Amikasa and many more that people are using and enjoying customer experience. Try downloading one of these cool applications and let me know about your user experience.


You don’t need to code for you to create virtual reality content. In fact there are basic applications for phones, iPads and computers that are available for you to start with. If you are using iOS, you can download an App called: RealityComposer and give it a shot! Most 3D systems use the metric system, so it’s a bit complicated getting accustomed to the system at first but you should be able to get the hang of it the more you use these basic Apps.


Moving on from the basics, Apple released the ARKit 4, the latest version of its open source augmented reality development tools. Google has also released ARCore technology, which is also making great strides to keep up in the industry. Since their introduction in 2017, these tools have helped developers ease into the AR market. Because of greater app support, AR-capable devices and their users have dramatically increased.


The future


AR is quickly becoming one of the most interesting technologies in the digital space. According to Google, the AR market will be worth between 70-75bn USD by 2023. Moreover, AR provides the opportunity to replace the absent senses for impaired individuals, helping them catch missed signals. There’s also a potential likelihood of AR in commercial fields, manufacturing, service, government related and occupational health and safety sectors. Just like other new technologies, AR also faces many challenges such as social acceptance issues, privacy and ethical concerns. Nonetheless, many experts and researchers are strongly leaning towards AR making a positive impact in our society.


Conclusion


Despite AR being around for years, it is still in its initial phase. Despite AR being broadly used in the customer sector, for example social engagement, entertainment and marketing, the upcoming apps are endless! The layering of information over 3D space is pushing us into a completely new experience of the world, and also supports the broader transition of computing from the desktop to other devices while at the same time enhancing new ways of learning and attaining information. To conclude, AR will be more accessible in the near future and expect it to be in our everyday lives. One day, we shall be staring at one screen but watching and hearing two completely different things. Watch this space.

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