Augmented Reality Gets Its Big Boy Pants

Still thinking Augmented Reality (AR) is a fad at worst or science fiction at best? Is it just a passing distraction-dujour for teen gamers, before they move onto the next new shiny thing? Or is truly disruptive technology that’s on the cusp of enhancing our every day lives?

Warp Speed

In the past, we use to think the future would be. . . well, in the future. However, as soon as 1984 and 2001 came and left, we realized our Brave New World was upon us, and that the speed of technology was moving exponentially faster than ever. Just as quickly as we all got accustomed to Big Data moving at 1 gigabyte per second, on Aug. 3, 2014, a team at the Technical University of Denmark reported blasting 43 terabits of data down a fiber cable in a single second.

Similarly AR is scaling faster and faster as it converts physical objects into viral billboards, complete with computer-generated overlays that add a whole new dimension to how to look at the physical world.

Built to be Mobile

With the mobile space transitioning from 3G to 4G networks, the demand for software apps is also on the rise, propelling global AR usage and its capabilities. Forecasts show the market growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 132.2% over the period 2013-2018, from 54.3% over 2012-2016.

With such growth, separating the chaff from the wheat isn’t always self-evident. But you know it’s time to take a more serious look at certain technologies when they are being parodied. For example …

Imitation, sincerest form of flattery. . .

On the heels of Google Glass and its AR functionality entering our zeitgeist, the British news site The Guardian took liberties to promote their own version introduced as Guardian Goggles. Augmenting their device with anti-bigotry technology that had the ability to redact racist commentary when it reared its ugly head, the press release initially looked legit. That was until you realized it was published on the eve of April Fools Day, 2013, accompanied by the following video.


Doubling Down or Dummying Down?

With intent, The Guardian’s tagline for their hypothetical invention was “Life’s Too Short To Think For Yourself.” The obvious satirical swipe was pointed at the dark side of AR, which some view as the potential “dumbing down” of the world we live — a dystopian society where corporate logos and information overlays become an overload of data constantly telling us what to think and do and next.

However, that same level of criticism was levied at the Internet, robotics and artificial intelligence. AR has matured and its interface with the real world is exceedingly more interactive than any prior technology. It merges online and offline environments bringing new levels of engagement to previously one-way conversations. It modifies input with the result of educating and allowing users to become more informed about the environment around them.

In a TheNextWeb report, it was noted that “the potential for AR to impact all elements of our lives is massive: from education to gaming to manufacturing, the world seems poised and on the brink of substantial AR adoption – with all associated benefits.”

Other fields of endeavor that will benefit from future iterations of AR use include:

  •    The Military – uses include unmanned drones with complex HUD systems, and army trainees directly interacting with simulated data overlaid on the physical.
  •    Tourism – where geolocative media provides navigational/historically-relevant data.
  •    Publishing – enhancing print media through targeted AR (like in IKEA’s recently released catalogue) generates boundless educational value for school textbook, manuals, and How-To books.
  •   The Arts – creatives such as Mark Skwarek, Tamiko Thiel and Jeremy Hight are all trailblazers in terms of using AR artistically.

Getting Hyperreal

As augmented reality technology enters mainstream, it’s perception as a novelty is quickly dissipating. However brands need to do more than just tick the “innovation box” when they add AR to their techie tool kit. To reap true benefit, they need to fully embrace its current capabilities while pushing the envelope to unfold future innovation.

Our hyperreal world is here, no longer the pabulum of science fiction. For the naysayers, the glass is truly half full enhancing people’s decision-making, while propelling our daily lives into that Brave New World we only read about, not so long ago.