There is no doubt that we are living in the Information Age. Compared to decades past, we have a much larger appetite for information, and details regarding things we see, and interact with. For the past several years, every time I’m seen a movie, I’ve gone straight to IMDB soon after to find out what other movies I’ve seen those actors in, or what kinds of behind-the-scenes tidbits they have listed in the trivia section, etc. I’ve also spent some time standing in a store, fumbling on my phone, trying to find product reviews for a game I was thinking of getting for my daughter, or myself. Why? Because I have to know more, now! I’m sure we’ve all been in a town or area we weren’t familiar with, and wanted to know what good places there were to eat nearby. Fortunately, now with the recent growth of augmented reality (AR) we can now have easy access to a much wider variety of information about the world around us. Augmented reality is a means of modifying the presevable real world with digital information, or assets.
Augmented reality is already used more in our daily lives than we might imagine. For the past few years, during a typical football game on television, it’s been easy to see how many yards the offense has to go to the first down line. Through AR, an invisible line is highlighted on the screen for viewers at home. It’s also been easier in some hockey games to see where the puck is with newer means of puck-tracking or highlighting. It can be argued that weather reports have been using AR for decades by colorizing precipitation on satellite imagery maps. So, although the concept may seem new, it’s been around for some time.
Now, with the flourish of cell phones, and smart phones in particular, we can now have AR on the go. With their collection of sensors and digital connectivity, they can reveal a wealth of information based on your location. Mobile apps can use a combination of your phone’s GPS, compass and camera to show nearby points of interest. Using AR, your phone can help you find anything from restaurants, gas stations, photo ops, to where you parked your car, by overlaying digital information on top of the camera imagery. I currently have an app on my phone that recognizes barcodes and shoots me off to a website that tells me what it thinks it is. Although somewhat helpful, it’s not the real-time overlay I’m looking for that tells me what how well rated this product is.
The future of AR is bright indeed. Juniper Research predicts that global revenues from AR will reach $1.5 billion around the year 2015. We will soon see it used in many more aspects of life. Several cars now have GPS units built into the dashboard. Before long, cars will have that and many other features displayed on the car’s windshield like some of the aircraft of today. There’s no need for paper business cards in the future, as all your professional information can be displayed via your face. Sight isn’t the only real world sense that can be augmented. Self-guided audio tours of tourist destinations can be delivered straight to our ears based on our GPS location, and app/interest selected. When I become a senior citizen and my hearing starts to go, I’ll have a much easier time conversing with you thanks to my hearing aids that filter down all other. Some early experiments are currently being done with augmented haptics, or virtual touch, so when we are waving our hands around at a virtual interface, we’ll be able to feel the buttons or elements, and get a real sense of weight and inertia.
Augmented Reality’s future is truly limitless. In a few generations a whole wealth of immediately accessible, contextual information will be available in the real world in real time. Additional information on any subject or object will be right at everyone’s fingertips (or ocular/auditory implants as it were). I imagine that like our parent’s fear of our children’s digital connectivity, each generation will become more and more accustomed to the information abundance. What might be the norm for our grandchildren will probably seem like a digital nightmare to us.
However quickly Augmented Reality evolves, I’m certainly looking forward to getting it built into my glasses so I don’t have to wave my phone around in public like a fool.