Virtual Reality was definitely among the biggest trends and buzzwords of 2016’s technology industry. We even hold frequent MeetUps in Sweden to discover how those within the country’s prolific tech industry are forging the future of VR. However, as 2017 continues to creep towards the halfway point, it’s clear that Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming 2017’s buzzword.
While AR may have grown in popularity the last year with the release of Pokémon GO, it’s actually been around for much longer. Apple’s discontinued instant messaging app, iChat, was released in 2003 and allowed users to swap their backgrounds during chats. Although this may seem like a primitive form of Augmented Reality, it’s still commonly used in popular apps such as Snapchat. The origins of AR can be tracked all the way back to 1968, when American computer scientist Ivan Sutherland developed a head-mounted display system which showed the user simple wireframe drawings via computer-generated graphics.
Over the past half-a-century, the technology has come leaps and bounds, with growing excitement surrounding it. Facebook’s recent F8 developers’ conference was used by the social media giant to announce a new Augmented Reality platform. Using Facebook’s Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology, a phone’s camera can be used to integrate 3D objects into the real world.
More impressively, SLAM can allow the user to do more than add an object into the environment. It also allows the 3D object to interact with real, physical objects. However, this feature isn’t currently available to Facebook’s nearly 2 billion active users, but it will soon be providing developers with the necessary tools to help them build custom Augmented Reality experiences.
Facebook isn’t the only one making AR a focus of their content focused experiences. Snapchat creators Snap is continuing to push its AR offerings far beyond faces. Their new, ‘World Lenses’ offering is adding AR elements to the app. This app also provides room mapping and depth sensing to allow 3D objects to interact with the real environment. However, the elements being incorporated into Snapchat are closer to an earlier definition of Augmented Reality.
AR is a big focus of many technology companies looking to take advantage of the emerging market. Apple are reportedly investing heavily into Augmented Reality. Asus are looking to release a new phone this year that will support Google’s Tango. Microsoft’s HoloLens, which conjures and anchors data into the environment around the user, is also being shipped to developers and the secretive Florida start-up Magic Loop is set to release an AR headset later this year.
Currently the bulk of the AR push seems to be aimed towards mobile devices, with Facebook wanting to build their technology around the mobile apps they offer. While AR has more prominently been used in mobile entertainment with games such as Pokémon GO! bringing the tech to the forefront of people’s minds, there is huge potential for it to completely reinvent industries like marketing, communications and even education.
However, Augmented Reality is still developing and is far from a perfect product. The hardware currently isn’t affordable enough for it to become a viable option in classrooms or within marketing departments. Microsoft’s HoloLens prototypes currently cost around $3,000 and it could be a while until we see an affordable finished model hit commercial shelves.
Despite the hardware not currently being readily available, people are already looking to the future of Augmented Reality and the technology’s potential. In its prime the AR Pokémon game brought in $10 million a day, so the industry is showing great potential for growth and profit, as established and new tech companies look to create the best way to harness this.
While some believe the future of AR lies with Microsoft’s HoloLens, others believe Augmented Reality will lead to data transmission through wearables, more specifically glasses. While Google Glass never got the traction it required, the product may just have been too ahead of its time.
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