Pokemon Go barely scratched the surface: augmented reality is more than that

IT news

a year ago

augmented reality

Have your friends gone crazy (or maybe you) looking for Pokemons on the streets, at neighboring backyards, and public places? In a matter of a week, Pokemon Go has become the most downloadable app in App Store. It occupied 5.16% of Android phones just in the US. The game has beaten Facebook and Snapchat with the average 43 minutes a day spent in the app! Now the game is so viral that hating it becomes popular.

So, it’s time to admit. The augmented reality concept - which has been magnetizing so much buzz for the last years with no real output - finally made it.

Frankly, the AR technologies have been already used in a number of industries and institutions, but from now only common consumers have widely acknowledged it. Surprisingly enough, nobody anticipated it to happen so soon. Were you that early adopter waiting for HoloLens or Magic Leap? Take out your smartphone.

What’s wrong with Magic Leap and HoloLens?

When we used to think of AR, it most likely was some headset with futuristic goggles. And that’s exactly what HoloLens looks like. The Microsoft AR project promises to turn your living room into a three-dimensional desktop and playground, and workspace, ...and whatever you think of. The real place will be mixed with Microsoft apps overlaying your eyesight.

Hololense

It looks impressive, but there’s a problem.

The developers kit is available for ordering now, and it will cost you $3000. Existing capabilities are already impressive, though the system still has a long way to develop. One of the obvious technological concerns is the field of view where holographic elements are rendered. Currently, it’s limited to a rectangle, which cuts out the “augmented stuff”. However, the major problem is that HoloLens is unlikely going to a mass consumer. A living room with the Netflix app on the wall and the Skype window hovering over the carpet seems today more like a gimmick. And the price tag remains a big issue.

What obviously is not a gimmick are the ways this set can be applied in architecture, education, 3d modeling, and other industries that will benefit from expanded visualization capabilities. Professional use is what mostly HoloLens is focusing on right now, even in their presentation videos. Seeing a car model in a real size and editing it, looking at a future building right at its construction site or learning a blood circulatory system via its animated model are the things that Autodesk, Sketchfab, NASA, and others are lining up for.

Magic Leap is the main competitor to HoloLens, which unlike the latter remains extremely secretive about their accomplishments. Magic Leap has already acquired whopping $1.4 billion of investments, the big part of which came from Google. Magic Leap is supposedly going to solve the field-of-view problem that HoloLens is currently suffering from. But today we don’t even have a developers kit.

All the secrecy around Magic Leap implies that we’re going to get a groundbreaking technology, but it’s still too far away from the end consumer. Moreover, the recent launch of virtual reality (the AR’s sibling) unraveled that despite the buzz, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are interesting just for enthusiasts now. The sets are pricey, they require monstrous PCs, and they don’t have enough products yet to play with. In order to get immersive experiences, you have to pay approximately $2000. This is how much your PC and a VR set are going to cost together.

So let’s come down to earth and look at AR things that can be done right now.

Navigate your car safely

Until we have self-driving cars, the safety issues relating to navigation will remain. Low visibility conditions and the distracting need to look at a GPS-navigator increase a crash risk. So how do you combine continuous navigation tracking and keep safe when driving through unfamiliar places? Well, we have the answer from numerous video games, and now it’s fully possible in the real life situations.

Hudway

Yes, the head-up displays on your windshield

No, you don’t need to buy a new car. For instance, HUDWAY offers to project a HUD onto your windshield. You just fix a smartphone on a dashboard top and install the app. HUDWAY aims at increasing safety when driving in rain, snow, darkness, fog, and other low visibility conditions.

And, of course, there are goggles. Mini Cooper is designing lenses that not only going to overlay a HUD but also provide some sort of an X-ray vision to see what’s going on under the windows at blind zones. The video will be transmitted from cameras installed outside the car.

minicooper

AR marketing can be truly immersive

You aren’t going to install an AR app just to see more ads. You don’t need cutting edge technologies just to be exposed to more commercial junk, right? Well, it depends on how ingenious those ads can be. The Häagen-Dazs ice-cream app is stupidly cool and to the same extent useless. (But still cool.) You’ll need the app itself and the ice-cream container to watch a classical music concerto.

The violin and cello performance also has its “added value” aspect. While you’re listening to classical music, the ice-cream inside is warming up to reach just the right temperature after being taken out from a freezer

This is a good example of how we can use the augmented reality concept to deliver engaging experiences in marketing. Definitely, you aren’t going to use the app frequently. And frankly, your ice-cream will warm up before you even install the app. But Häagen-Dazs made one of the first steps towards AR marketing.

The marketing AR application, which is more known, was made by IKEA. They’ve created an app with a product catalog and allowed customers to see how one or another furniture item would look right at their homes. What’s really great about this app is it being very helpful for a consumer long before an actual purchase is made.

The IKEA app isn’t as popular as Pokemon GO but it collected over 8.5 million downloads just in their first year.

Combining the Internet of things with AR

Both the IoT and AR concepts seem to be overhyped today. But eventually - as the devices surrounding us are getting smarter and smarter - we’ll need clear and universal interfaces to operate them all. Switching your light bulb isn’t a challenge yet but it might become so, when you’ll have a separate app to tweak the lamp, another app to run a thermostat, and another app to make your favourite Irish coffee.

Read more: The Internet of Things: Will it Hit the Market?

The perspective of getting lost in intricate smart environments is concerning the technicians from the MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Group. They offer the Reality Editor app built on the Open Hybrid platform. The idea behind it is to design a sole customizable interface to connect multiple smart devices, set the chains of interactions among them, and even reprogram certain controls to complete multiple tasks within the entire environment.

Well, that sounds complicated.

Imagine that you have a food processor that doesn’t have a timer on it. Though you also have a toaster that actually does have a timer. The Reality Editor app allows you to connect the timer from a toaster and apply it to the food processor motor and …well, have the timer on your food processor (presuming that these both devices are smart enough to be connected with the app). The new interface to operate these connections is realized via augmented reality on your phone.

openhybrid

Basically, the Reality Editor allows for breaking down physical objects to their components and making convenient combinations

Another great thing Reality Editor can provide is setting sequences of actions based on your daily routine. For instance, while you’re commuting back home at a cold winter night, your thermostat starts heating up a house, and a coffee machine starts fixing the drink for you.

The Open Hybrid platform is open source now encouraging developers to build their own apps and connect with physical objects. The website has all instructions, libraries, and downloadable materials needed to engage developers and garage enthusiasts in building their own “AR-IoT-smart” environments.

Augmented cities

Every time you arrive in a new city a specific set of “must-see” sights attracts you. You’ve googled them before; and now you’re passing blocks to reach the spot and make a selfie, losing the lion’s share of city’s captivating backstories. Imagine you could catch these. Well, you can always hire a guide, follow the preset path of an audiobook or, in the worst case, buy a guidebook.

There’s a much more engaging way. The Detour app created by one the Groupon co-founders, Andrew Mason, offers you to have geolocated audio tours that launch depending on your current position. As you pass some San Francisco’s neighborhoods and hit special triggering spots the app initiates narrated stories that guide you through the place unraveling the history behind the buildings you see. The most intriguing thing is that narrators involved are the people originating from these places basically telling their own stories.

Detour tries to be flexible adjusting the length of tours to your walking speed and making the experience even more natural and engaging.

This idea has a big potential to develop. Not only audio tours but also building recognition apps allowing you to explore the history of buildings, seeing ratings and feedback of restaurants just pointing a camera at them are the next steps to push AR to streets. Although Google Goggles tries to accomplish similar goals the technology is still in its infancy.

Making learning engaging

Making students engaged is one of the biggest concerns when creating learning courses. AR has proved to be engaging and, more importantly, augmented reality technologies have been already introduced to the educational industry. LargnearTech has been doing this since 2006 providing both physical learning materials and the software to visualize complicated things and make education in the K-12 sector truly immersive. While we’re waiting for HoloLens to revolutionize the learning process with AR, it’s already there.

All you need to bring this to a classroom are books, PCs, and web cameras

The major problem with the learning industry is that any innovation is highly dependable on local authorities as they make final decisions. So the system may be quite rigid.

The AR sphere is among of the most budding trends, and in a matter of two-three years it’s going to be shaping the world we live in today. We see some great ideas being realized and we also have the hardware to handle them. But the market is still far from being mature. Hopefully, the Pokemon GO fever will catalyze it to develop further.

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