November 24, 2017

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Augmented Reality: When Real Isn’t Enough

Augmented Reality: When Real Isn’t Enough

I wait for the gasp during my social media presentations when I talk about augmented reality, or “AR.” You don’t know about AR? Simply put, AR is literally a new layer of reality provided by your mobile phone. In the not too distant future, phones without AR abilities might as well have big ‘ole rotary dials and copper wire hanging off them.

Imagine taking your smart phone and looking at an object through the camera on the phone. Instead of snapping a photo, your camera returns detailed information about the object you are viewing. That is a simplified version of mobile augmented reality.

The photo interacts with AR software on your phone to deliver the information. While it will be possible for the software company to mine what you are interested in, or where you are, to target ads to you there are many other potential applications – and some are already available.

Think of the tourist possibility. You can walk through Boston and point your camera at the statue of Paul Revere and get historical information about the statue and Paul.

Last year, augmented reality was a $6-million industry, according to an ABI research study. By 2014, it will expand into a more than $350-million industry. That’s less than five years away.

According to the study summary: “The new capabilities of handset platforms [will] create an explosive opportunity for Augmented Reality technology,” explains study author Joe Madden. “Existing technology suppliers will have to adapt, as rapid growth will transform the Augmented Reality ecosystem.”

While Mr. Madden notes that “GPS location accuracy is not adequate currently for many applications, requiring additional techniques to refine location precision for shopping applications, or for game applications in which virtual objects must be placed precisely on the display near corresponding real objects.”

Take a step back and look at your mobile phone. mCommerce, or eCommerce on mobile device is coming at a rapid rate, and arguably is here. AR is right behind it. Social media is creating and keeping personal connections like never before. Gaming devices are connected to the Internet and are moving to mobile devices. That phone of yours is going to look so old in five years. The convergence of these technologies and accompanying user behaviors will open new possibilities of collaboration, learning, selling and buying. With them will come unbelievable new opportunities to grow a business segment that until now has been left to dreamers.

In the Ben Stiller movie “Night at the Museum” the exhibits of the Museum of Natural History come to life. What if your children’s history books had a 3D interactive component to engage them as far as they were willing to learn? Not movie-style 3D, but interactive in your face 3D? (The augmented reality wiki has some great examples).

Now think about the places where you want more information. When you’re shopping, wouldn’t you like to compare item prices at other stores? What about standing outside a restaurant, holding up your phone and being able to read the menu and recent reviews?

How about while watching a movie, a concert or a ballgame? What if you could select the type of information you want in those venues?

On the other side of the spectrum, you can hold up your phone and perhaps see the Facebook status of people walking by. That is very much within the realm of possibility and definitely scary-cool.

There are already basic AR applications available for the iPhone, Nokia N95 and Google Android, with Blackberry and other platforms not far behind (and may already exist at this writing). The technology will get better, as did the phones, GPS devices, computers and everything else before it.

In addition to mobile devices, other AR devices add other possibilities. Head mounted displays (which should evolve to glasses) and Spatial Augmented Reality devices, or SARs, project displays onto physical objects. Both may do amazing things for virtual training and collaboration.

Since we never got the flying cars or robot maids of the Jetsons, we may just have to settle for a reality that may be described as “unreal” yet inevitable.

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