To experience AUGMENTED REALITY, you look through a device screen or put on a headset and a virtual image is laid over the room you’re in. You can see what’s around you, but part of it is blocked out by whatever video projection is playing on your headset.
The Basic Setup
▶ A camera and screen equipped with computer vision, a technology that identifies objects and surfaces. Adding depth and motion sensors lets a device map the room around you and track your motion through it. Your app can then overlay anything from a first-person-shooter zombie attack to the steps to replace a fan belt.
▶ For now it’s pretty simple: catching Pokémon (Pokémon GO), mapping constellations (Sky Map), inking a tattoo (InkHunter), turning you into a half-dog (Snapchat).
AR can’t scan a room and identify every object. But you can teach its computer vision to identify individual objects, like a motorcycle, when prompted, says Mike Campbell, executive vice president of the ThingWorx AR platform. “There’s not enough computing power to analyze everything it sees.”
▶ Hands-on skill training, interior design, wearable computing.
AR can lead a factory worker on a tutorial, but right now the technology won’t change your life unless you own a factory, says Amber Case, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. A Microsoft HoloLens can overlay hidden parts such as a tucked-away air filter and demonstrate its removal. Similar programs are in development for phones and tablets and could soon offer life-changing relief for tasks like Ikea furniture assembly.
▶ Motion sickness sets in when your perceived motion—what you see—doesn’t match what your inner ear feels. That’s not the case with augmented reality, says Robert Scoble, coauthor of The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything. You’re still looking out on the real world and the same horizon.
▶ AR on mobile devices really is mobile. Unlike high-end VR, which can’t leave a room, AR can enhance a city tour or museum. Last winter, the Detroit Institute of Arts lent visitors Android phones to view the skeleton inside a 2,000-year-old sarcophagus and to see the original colors on a now-biege Assyrian sculpture.
However, AR is difficult to wear on your face. Everybody thinks we’ll be walking around with the next Google Glass but social constraints prevent that, says Case, adding, “Sunshine makes headset AR difficult to see, voice and hand controls are still unreliable.”
How Apple Will Own It
▶ AR will explode in the next year. Today, relatively few devices offer a rich AR experience, leading to a lack of demand for new AR apps—phones with Google’s Tango AR number less than a million. Expect that to change after Apple’s June release of iOS 11 ARKit for developers, says Scoble. ARKit is a bundled suite of AR tools that can reach a quarter billion Apple devices. Additionally, this fall’s new iPhone adds 3D sensors and room mapping that can play hologram-like counter-op games or virtually measure and then furnish a room without draining battery.