Augmented reality, the technology that pulls graphics from your TV or computer to integrate them with the real world, was said to be the next big thing not long ago. Then apps and games came along that seemed a little too complicated and a little too annoying, and a handful of glitches later the AR dream appeared to be nothing but a joke. Now, again, marketers say that AR might just be the sleeping horse for 2014 – so what’s it gonna be?
It’s a fair assumption that the Google Glass hysteria is contributing to a rose-tinted view of the future of AR. But then Google seems to lead the way in most aspects of digital life anyway, so it’s not that surprising. Add to that the fact that the 2013 IKEA catalog, which featured an augmented reality viewer visualizing furniture in 3D, became the most downloaded branded app last year, and the trend is, yet again, fact.
So why should you believe it this time around? Sebastian Thrun, one of the Google Glass researchers, says that the technology failed in the past because of it lacked focus on the interaction between people. With Glass, however, “other people can now see through my eyes”.
Likewise, computer science and graphics teacher and researcher Jordi Linares writes about how the by far most exciting opportunities presented by augmented reality technology go out the window when we need them the most, namely abroad, due to extortionate roaming charges. Well, lo and behold, this glitch, too, will be a thing of the past in 2014 as roaming charges are binned. Don’t get too excited just yet though, as it’s only through Europe at the moment.
Some critics have sighed over the clumsiness of recent AR projects, as the user is expected to get the phone out, load an app, point the camera at an object, wait for software recognition, and then, finally, go ahead interacting with whatever the promotion is all about.
Occasionally, heaps of money have even gone into AR projects that didn’t work at all in the end, due to faulty apps. At a time when the web has taught us to want everything immediately, if not sooner, it’s a fair point that this could become the nail in any digital coffin: as soon as the gimmicky excitement goes, there’s little left other than annoyance.
But change is on the horizon, and not just at Google HQ. Already, smartphones are becoming increasingly AR-equipped: visual displays are improving, as is camera performance. GPS-based experiences are being taken to the next level, with niche mobile technologies like NFC in addition to data from on-board sensors like the gyroscope and camera.
Over at Disney Research, there’s a real breath of fresh air, quite literally: behold Aireal, the device that allows you to feel objects created with puffs of air alone. If you like your soccer video-games then acting goalie is about to change, big style, with Aireal helping you actually feel the ball as you deflect the shots on-screen.
Just imagine what this same technology can do to a trip to Disneyland, with choreographed Aireal units creating virtual butterflies that tickle your skin or flocks of seagulls that swoop above your head. Suddenly, augmented reality doesn’t seem like such a gimmick anymore.
Want another example? National Geographic Channels International is currently showcasing some AR applications on screens throughout one of South Africa’s biggest shopping malls, with Qualcomm Vuforia software giving shoppers the chance to experience walking on the moon or interacting with dolphins and huge T-Rexes, all the while connected to live social media feeds to give the experience a previously unmatched 360 degree feel.
Augmented reality, according to Aireal’s lead researcher Raj Sodhi, is really about breaking down the boundaries between the physical and the digital world completely, taking interactivity to a whole new level. Still convinced AR is a fad? Didn’t think so.
Featured Image Courtesy of Kippelboy.
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