Augmented Reality Past, Present and Future: How It Impacts Our Lives

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USPS priority mail shipping simulator
USPS priority mail shipping simulator

Interacting With Digital Objects

In many ways, AR is an attempt to meld digital content with physical objects. One of the best examples of this is the US Postal Service’s priority mail shipping simulator. At the site, you first see a digital representation of a shipping container. Then, you take the object you want to ship – say, a child’s toy – and hold it up to a webcam. The box overlays on the toy so you can see if the object will fit or if you need to use the next largest size. What’s amazing about this AR simulation, which went live this past summer, is that it offers immediate and clear benefits, helping demonstrate just one of the quickest upsides to be recognized by employing the technology.

Another example of augmented reality in motion: The A&E Television network created an augmented reality puzzle game to promote a magic show with Chris Angel. But as fun a concept as even these digital diversions seem, John Swords, who produced the AR portal, says the initial AR entertainment apps and games on the on iPhone and other smartphone platforms are just the beginning. Currently limited to simple overlays, the next phase of smartphone apps that employ augmented reality components will introduce actual interaction with digital objects.

“Most mobile apps, particularly on the iPhone where there is a software limitation, are using the GPS and compass to overlay data onto the video feed,” says Swords. “This will lead to the next point in the field’s evolution, which is to be able to directly manipulate objects in the video feed.”

Markerless AR
Markerless AR

Markerless Augmented Reality

Swords says another use of augmented reality in development is called “markerless” AR, where a user interacts with a virtual object in 3D space in real-time. A project underway at the University of California shows how you can see and “touch” one of these faux objects, using it to enhance perspective and depth of field. GE created another eye-opening proof-of-concept that shows a bridge and windmills that appear when you hold a sheet of paper up to a webcam. If you blow into the webcam microphone, the windmills spin faster.

Bergen says that, as a field, AR needs these legitimate examples to help spur other companies to invent cutting-edge augmented reality services, push the category forward and prompt widespread user adoption of AR-enhanced devices, ultimately making them as prolific in the future as cell phones and laptops are today.

“We have to get past big hurdles of data capture, storage, processing and integration, but AR has the potential to create a whole new kind of disintermediation,” agrees Scott Smith, a technology forecaster at Changeist. “Eventually, we may spend as much time looking at recreations of reality as we do looking at reality itself, particularly if we become dependent on the insight AR provides. Think about how often you look at some form of Google Maps today (or MapQuest or others). Expect to see multiple layers of information about anything [going forward] – the food we buy, people we pass on the street, roads we drive on, etc.”

Smith says augmented reality could become so ubiquitous that we use it just as often as we go online, and that there may come a time when we wonder how we ever viewed the world without the help of AR insight and prompts.

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