Augmented reality in 2013 can be likened to the Internet in 1995 – still in the early stages and not quite at a ‘tipping point’ for mass consumer adoption. Yet the industry is full of untapped potential that we’re starting to see gain traction across a number of verticals. While Google Glass has acted as a catalyst in shining the spotlight on AR, some of the most useful ways that the technology is now being used can be found at home, in the classroom and even on the operating table – like the German research institute Fraunhofer MEVIS’s app, which assists doctors in planning their operations and provides a digital overlay of veins and blood vessels during procedures.
Below, I present four bold predictions for the future of this innovative technology. Like the internet in the 90’s, smartphones a decade ago, and even tablets just a few years back, the industry will certainly face challenges, but there is no doubt that AR will soon be a part of our everyday lives.
Creating a Wikipedia for 3D Objects
When we need details on a product or other object, we generally type a word or phrase into Google or other search engine. In many cases, the item can be difficult to describe, resulting in the need to try a few different terms and browse through pages of results before yielding the correct find. It will not be long before AR enables the creation of a “Wikipedia for objects,” where we no longer have to play the search engine guessing game.
Instead, by using image-recognition technology on our smartphones and tablets, users will be able to scan and identify 3-D objects like plants, furniture, or even car makes and models. Soon, AR will disrupt not only how we search for information on the Internet, but how we digest it as well. In the same way that the Wikipedia database grows each day, a library built through AR will eventually contain details on any 3-D object you can set your eyes on in the physical world.
Bringing AR to the Classroom
We’ve started to see schools and universities around the world embrace technology in the classroom, utilizing tablets and SMART boards in everyday lessons. Augmented reality will play a crucial role in continuing to digitalize and transform the way we teach, presenting new opportunities for students and teachers to engage with educational content. From virtual dissection experiments to interactive textbooks, students will benefit from a more immersive learning experience, and one that truly prepares them for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. This means that the “bring your own device” trend may even catch on in the classroom – when used for learning only, of course.
One recent example of AR’s benefits in education comes from researchers in Spain, who have already developed AR glasses that allow teachers to receive feedback from students in real time via their mobile devices. Teachers can then identify who may need additional assistance. However, as school budgets continue to shrink and underfunded schools are forced to cut programs like music and art, pricey AR technologies won’t reach every student just yet.
Making Wearable Technology Mainstream
Augmented reality will make wearable technology more prevalent. It’s already seen in the health and fitness markets with the arrival of Nike+ Fuelband and Fitbit Flex, but Google Glass will continue to usher in a new wave of AR-enabled wearable computing devices. But don’t take my word for it – Forrester Research has already described ‘wearables’ as ‘the next wave of consumer technology product innovation.’ Though many AR experiences currently require a smartphone or tablet – as a camera is needed to detect the image – the tech giants of Apple, Samsung, and more will start rolling out own their product lines for standalone devices, where wearable technology will likely become a piece of everyday fashion.
While the future of this multi-billion dollar industry is bright, it’s important to remember that Google Glass is still in the development stages, and that mainstream consumer adoption is still a few years away.
Moving Beyond Augmented Reality
Without a doubt, the AR continuum will continue to evolve. Many of us have already experienced AR firsthand on products and advertisements, where a new layer of information is added on top of the real world around us. Soon, we’ll see this trend shift towards “augmented virtuality” and virtual environments – similar to Wii and kinetic sensors, where users will have their motions replicated by 3D digitization. Eventually, this will become a complete 360-degree virtual experience where users are totally immersed in a lifelike digital world. The bottom line is that augmented reality has not only arrived, but is here to stay. By crossing verticals and providing new opportunities for interactive, educational, and entertaining experiences that have not existed before, the technology will soon hold a significant place in our daily lives. The biggest challenge is mass consumer adoption, but as devices get faster and consumers become further educated on the uses of AR, it’s only a matter of time before yesterday’s augmented reality becomes today’s Internet.