Augmented reality (AR) has had several false starts (yes, Google Glass, we’re looking at you, through normal lenses). But have no doubt—practical AR is coming to a market near you sooner than you think.
The tech behind AR has been around for at least two decades. In the early 1990s, the Air Force started working on a heads-up display (HUD) for pilot training it called “virtual fixtures.” Luckily, other terminology won the day after a second experimental group published a study titled “Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance.”
Naturally, game makers have shown the most interest, but that’s not where the real action is in the AR development. Pokemon Go was only a test. Here’s a look the latest applications of AR that will have a much wider impact on society in the days ahead.
Phones: The Interface of Choice
Apple made AR a big part of its presentation at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Tim Cook even said the AR would be bigger than the iPhone. The company gave developers a great gift in the ARKit—a new framework to help streamline the building of AR apps. That starts with Visual Inertial Odometry, which is how the ARKit tracks what’s happening in the real world. It fuses together camera sensor data with CoreMotion data so you don’t have to. On Apple’s Developer site, you can get the Xcode 9 Beta, including the iOS 11 SDK with prebuilt modules and suggested use cases.
Elementary, IBM’s Watson
IBM’s cutting-edge AI is actually named after the company’s first CEO, Thomas Watson, but it was only a matter of time before a virtual detective companion for it was produced. The Silicon Prairie’s FinVR made it happen with Sherlock, a financial planning app combining advances in AI and AR. Co-founder Mark Neville explained, “The software is designed to learn an investor’s trading behavior and risk tolerance in order to anticipate what an investor wants before they want it. Then, applying augmented reality, the user can choose visual techniques to present the data.”
Fantastic Voyage 2.0
In the movie Fantastic Voyage, a medical team goes in search of a tumor by being shrunk down to nano-size and injected into the patient’s bloodstream. AR offers a simpler answer—just make the patient’s insides bigger. The Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft finally teamed up this year to build a 3D AR projection of the human body that medical students can interact with, just like the imaginary AR in films like Minority Report and Iron Man.
HUD on the Windshield
Building on the original use of AR for a HUD for pilot training, there is plenty of real estate in the connected car windshield, even if AI will be driving. IHS analyst Mark Boyadjis enthusiastically laid out what’s in the works, “Augmented reality is—hands-down—the most exciting new advance in HUD innovation,” he said. “The biggest opportunity for augmented reality systems is for safety, but imagine an HUD enabling a virtual arrow to be laid upon the road itself as you drive, helping you to navigate more naturally. Other options could be illumination of the road lines or pedestrians at night or in poor visibility conditions.”
Augmented Real Estate
In the past, experienced and creative Realtors could make potential buyers fall in love with a new home using visual language. Now, they can just use visuals. AR displays info about the home as buyers or sellers drive past in software like Realtor.com’s Street Peak and Sign Snap. Inside, interior decorator apps use AR to generate any imaginable furniture combination, change wall colors or even build virtual patios on the lawn.
Don’t forget that there are two aspects to AR. It can map virtual elements onto external surfaces in the real world, or it can make alterations to the representation of the user, like the filters that have driven the success of Snapchat. Retail is jumping on the latter with AR apps that show users how they will look wearing new clothes. The Gap is looking to make a comeback with virtual dressing room apps for e-commerce, chipping away at the advantages of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store.
Where Talent Is Headed
No matter how you look at it, AR is where the talent is headed. Earlier this year, Slashdot reported that, “The top 10 percent of salary earners in AR who live in North America earn a median salary of $219,000, compared with $169,000 for the top earning 10 percent of back-end developers.” That’s the level of income that coders everywhere are looking for to seriously augment their lives.