Augmented Reality has come a long way from the days of science fiction movies and comics. AR continues to grow without any signs of slowing down. Especially now since the hype cycle is over and serious industrial applications are beginning to emerge.
The Development of Augmented Reality
Last year was a great year for Augmented Reality or AR in several ways. AR has moved beyond fickle Snapchat or Instagram filters. Big names like Google and Amazon are buying into the AR race. As technology and industries continue to evolve, many potential uses for AR emerge.
A brief look at the history of Augmented Reality is in order, especially if you want to understand its current and future implications. AR is not a 21st Century concept. It goes as far back as 1957 to cinematographer Morton Heilig. Heilig achieved a basic form of AR with his Sensorama. This invention delivered smells, sounds, visuals and vibrations to the viewer. Of course, it was mechanical and not computer-controlled, but it was the first step nonetheless.
Ivan Sutherland, the famous American computer genius, contributed more to the world than just the early Internet. Sutherland invented the world’s first head-mounted VR display. Circumstances made mass-production impossible, mainly because of the primitive technology of the time.
The First VR interface
The world’s first “VR interface” was known as Video place. Invented in 1975 by Myron Krueger, the invention allowed users to immerse themselves in a virtual world. It even allowed them to interact with their surroundings. All in real-time. Wearable computing devices date as far back as 1980 and Steve Mann.
The term Augmented Reality first became mainstream in 1990. However, it was not until 1992 that the first proper AR appeared, developed by the United States Air Force. Known as Visual Fixtures, the system was robotic and extremely complex. Especially considering the lack of computing power in the ‘90s.
After that, AR evolution picked up the pace. In 2000, the first outdoor Augmented Reality videogame known as ARQuake hit the market. In 2009, a design tool known as ARToolkit became available in Adobe Flash. In 2013, Google introduced Google Glass, a wearable AR display. In 2015, Microsoft launched a similar technology known as the HoloLens.
The Scope of AR
In 2016, Pokémon GO became one of the most downloaded apps ever. Today AR has many applications in:
- The Videogame Landscape
- Industry 4.0
- Health and Medicine
- Technical Repair and Maintenance
- Risk-Free Training Environments
The Videogame Landscape
The videogame industry has already gained mass approval for virtual reality games. Many big-name video game studios are looking at serious applications for AR in improving the gaming experience. This is far more powerful stuff than the 2016 hit AR game Pokémon Go. Using Augmented Reality for entertainment is an obvious use of the technology.
However, the multi-billion dollar videogame industry constantly seeks to reinvent itself. With computers and consoles far more powerful than in the past, it makes sense to expect AR to evolve with the fast-paced industry.
Industry 4.0 holds more business-focused applications for Augmented Reality. For those of you who are not familiar, Industry 4.0 is a term used to describe the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The first Industrial Revolution saw mass industrial mechanization using water and steam. The Second Industrial Revolution saw the introduction of electricity powering the assembly line.
The third set the ball rolling for the fourth by introducing automation and computers in manufacturing. The fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 builds on that by enhancing industries using modern technology. These include digital information, data, analytics, Artificial Intelligence, VR, and AR.
Industries Using AR
Many of the largest companies like Amazon and IKEA have already started using Augmented Reality. In the business world, AR has immense potential to add value to both companies and to their customers. This is an area where many companies want to get the first-mover advantage.
IKEA, for instance, has built an app on the Apple ARKit framework called Place. This allows furniture shoppers to generate 3D images of furniture on to their living spaces. It does so using nothing more than their smartphones. This lets them experiment with different colours and styles without worrying. The place takes out a lot of frustration and uncertainty from the shopping process using AR.
Amazon initially introduced AR View in 2017 only for iPhones because it was built on the Apple ARKit framework. AR View is available now for Android as well, provided you have the AR Core app. It is very similar to Place in that it lets customers visualize items in their living space before they decide to buy them.
One of the corporate areas that stand to benefit the most from the introduction of AR technology is corporate management.
Efficient management translates into increased productivity. Increased productivity ultimately means more revenue for the company. Augmented Reality can help augment (pardon the pun!) the way managers handle their teams and projects.
AR can help provide real-time visual statistics to managers on employees. Managers can use this information to assign more work, manage productivity, and offer guidance to employees. Supervisors won’t have to wait for reports generated at the end of the week, month or year. Instead, they can make their management style more fluid, dynamic, and efficient using AR.
Health and Medicine
Surgery leaves very little margin for error because many times a patient’s life and wellbeing depend on a successful surgery. But without surgical experience, how can we expect surgeons to perform successful operations? After all, experience comes from learning from your mistakes.
The answer is Augmented Reality. A surgeon can practice surgeries an unlimited number of times in an AR environment. Instead of practising on humans or animals, and risking their lives in the process, surgeons can train themselves using AR.
AR can also offer means to support surgeries in other ways. For example, AR can currently generate 3D images of a patient’s body based on MRI and CT scans. This allows doctors to tag organs that need attention. This means there’s also no need for large incisions.
Another interesting aspect is that AR has applications in training less experienced surgeons. An AR overlay can help surgeons in extremely complex operations like brain surgeries. A 3D visual of the patient’s brain, exactly tagging the important areas can be exceedingly helpful.
Technical Repair and Maintenance
Augmented Reality has several important uses when it comes to the repair and maintenance of complex hardware.
Take this for an example. An aircraft mechanic can service and repair a complex jet engine without any prior experience using an AR display. The AR display can be a smartphone, HMD (head-mounted display, or technology similar to Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens.
The display overlays instructions on specific parts of the engine. It also lets the mechanic identify how to disassemble and repair different parts of the engine. Best of all, the technology can save instructions on every type of aircraft maintenance. This means all the mechanic needs to do is load the file relevant to the aircraft model they are working on.
Remote Technical Support
Another interesting aspect to consider. Let us say your car breaks down on a lonely stretch of road with no help in sight. You call your car repair service, and a representative guides you step-by-step to fix the problem. The representative uses your smartphone camera as an “eye” to see beyond the screen.
They can also place 3D pointers and markers on specific parts of your car that may need attention. Even if you have no experience fixing vehicles, anybody can follow real-time instructions. The repair representative never visits you physically but uses AR to remotely support you in fixing your car.
Risk-Free Training Environments
Many other occupations come with a high risk of disaster and a very low margin for error. Take piloting commercial aircraft for example. A pilot requires a certain number of flight hours on a specific plane to pilot it safely. Any negligence or mistakes could cost the lives of not just the pilot, but the people on board as well.
Fighter pilots are a similar concern. A combat aircraft is one of the most expensive pieces of weaponry to manufacture. The margin for error for fighter pilots is very, very slim. Which means inexperienced pilots can be a liability. So how do you train a pilot without letting him or her get in the pilot’s seat?
Augmented Reality is the answer, of course. Augmented Reality environments can help simulate real flying conditions. It does so using a mix of hardware and software. You can configure these environments to specific types of aircraft as well as different weather conditions.
Take counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency combat training for example. In a real-life situation, the risks of collateral damage, friendly fire, injuries, etc. are very high.
Inexperienced personnel put themselves and innocent bystanders in a dangerous position. Inexperience can be dangerous by compounding these risks.
AR headsets can help train personnel in real-time, risk-free environments. It has none of the fallout of an actual urban gun battle but offers more or less the same experience for training purposes.
Augmented Reality is still in its infancy, for most intents and purposes. However, it is past the hype stage. This means corporations, governments, and other organizations are giving serious thought to AR. Especially in the modern world.
I’m certain the time may not be very far off when I would be getting my entertainment off my Spectrum TV packages using AR.
For more blogs and discussions on modern technology and its implications, stay tuned to this blog.