To date, Augmented Reality (AR) has been referred to as “the biggest technological advancement of our lifetime” by some, a mere “gimmick” by others or, worst yet, the next iteration of the QR code. The divisive term was introduced more than 25 years ago (although elements of AR technology have been used in science labs around the world since the mid-20th century), but if there’s one thing AR proponents and its naysayers can agree on, it’s the simple fact that AR, as we know it today, has an image problem.
Largely misconceived as an absolute technology that only lends itself to advertising and marketing opportunities, the real potential of AR is just emerging. AR is not a linear technology — it is macro. It will help objects think; it will help objects talk. The Internet has powered remarkable new ways for us to achieve just about everything — learn, buy, book travel, connect with each other — and AR, in all its many forms, will be at the forefront of the next revolution in the way we connect with the world around us.
Even better, this future is not very far away. Already, new use cases of AR technology are disrupting the industries in most dire need of evolution, and as our mobile devices become smarter and work in harmony with increasingly sophisticated wearable devices, the power of augmented reality technology will truly reveal itself to the masses.
So, where are we today? Where are we going?
The advertising industry was a natural starting point for the value and possibility of augmented reality. From a Pepsi can to a cereal box to the promotional materials for the next big Hollywood blockbuster, AR is already making packaging and products come alive and “talk” to consumers. Products themselves are beginning to answer the how, what, why, where. Image recognition technology coupled with artificial intelligence has begun to revitalize the marketing industry, providing just a small glimpse into the true potential of AR.
But advertising is just the beginning. Here are the four industries that AR will impact next.
Education provides perhaps the most tangible example of the power of AR. Augmented Reality technology in the classrooms — from today’s tablet- and mobile device-based approach to tomorrow’s heads up displays — empower the sort of visual and contextual learning proven to improve information retention to the extent that an estimated 80 percent of visual content is retained by short-term memory compared to an estimated 25 percent for spoken content.
Our brains are image processors, not word processors.
Imagine a classroom where a teacher can push lessons directly to students through a mobile device, where a student can use a tablet to access a multi-dimensional rendering of a mountain to learn the phenomena of a volcano, one step at a time. For early childhood education, apps like Quiver Education bring a child’s drawing to life, allowing the child to not only engage with their own creations, but to also learn myriad topics.
And for high school students, apps like Anatomy 4D create 3D renderings of the human body to give students a hands-on anatomy lesson directly from a tablet. Our brains are image processors, not word processors, and AR technology has the potential to bring a lesson plan to life and create digital, visual representations of the staid texts on which we’ve come to rely.
Let’s think beyond the classroom, and look to the industrial workforce. Design, construction, manufacturing, medicine — specialized careers require employees to visualize in 3D. The practical implications of allowing workers to use tablets and wearables on-site to see how a blueprint will come to life as a building or how a prosthetic arm can improve a patient’s life speak for themselves.
Take for example APX’s Skylight that offers a hands-free, AR-powered solution to empower workers across various fields to directly connect with each other and their environments to create a more efficient workforce. Companies like Daqri and WaveOptics are creating devices to enhance visual knowledge of the work environment while keeping both hands free.
The potential to solve the problem of knowledge transfer is quite literally at our fingertips.
Even in an office setting, Augmented Reality and image recognition technology will transform the way we transfer information. What if a holographic rendering could allow a new hire to see and learn the ins and outs of their new position, as opposed to spending tens of millions of dollars to train new employees? The potential to solve the problem of knowledge transfer, while being remarkably cost-efficient, is quite literally at our fingertips.
Every year, especially around the holidays, online and brick and mortar retailers record billions of dollars in merchandise returns. Oftentimes, those returned items cannot be resold — from being pre-worn to out of season. What if all shoppers had easy access to 3D renderings of their bodies powered by Augmented Reality to see the fit of an item, without needing to actually be in-store to try on?
It’s inevitable that being able to virtually try on 20 items in three minutes will increase sales and reduce return rates. Companies like Me-ality are already powering this shift. As the technology is streamlined and mainstreamed, we’ll see AR enabling real problem solving, amounting to higher profits and overall stronger margins for the retailer.
Food and Health
Apps like Vivino are enabling customers to use their mobile devices and AR to learn more about a bottle of wine directly from the label itself, and we’ll only see more powerful ways AR can impact our relationship with food in stores and in the kitchen. We’re just around the corner from the ability to use your device to scan a food item and immediately visually learn how the product was sourced, where it came from, best recipes and nutritional information.
Beyond that, soon we’ll see kitchen appliances outfitted with cameras to alert cooks when a food’s optimum nutrition point is reached during the cooking process (or when the chef may have accidentally overcooked a product!).
AR will be at the forefront of the next revolution in the way we connect with the world around us.
Ultimately, the present and future of AR quite literally means the ability to receive the right information at the right place directly from the objects we need to know more about. As devices get smarter — from cars to washing machines to microwaves — machine-based learning systems will have ambient omnipresence and will help humans get smarter and more aware of the world around us.
Deep learning systems as they stand today are a new phenomena, but as devices and technology evolve in parallel, we’ll see AR driving new behaviors and new learnings across the industries that impact our lives the most. We are teetering on the edge of a new way to interact with the world, and becoming more informed consumers than ever before.