Augmented Reality (AR): Prospects and the Future of Technology
Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the most promising technologies of the 21st century. Scope of application — almost everywhere: from the gaming industry to medicine. Few people know, but the history of augmented reality (AR — augmented reality) began in 1961. Every year the technology improves and is already becoming a familiar and useful tool, and not just an impressive toy.
To begin with, let’s explain what augmented reality technology (AR — augmented reality) is. It is often confused with virtual reality (VR — virtual reality).
It’s pretty easy to understand the difference. Virtual reality consists only of unreal objects created in the program.
Putting on a VR helmet, you completely find yourself in an artificially created world.
Augmented reality is when unreal, virtual, objects in the user’s perception become part of the real surrounding picture of the world.
In other words, when a person sees something in AR, they see something virtual in the real world. The display shows the user the physical world with added virtual objects. For example, a map marker in the camera interface on the phone — to show which direction to move the user. There are already headsets out there that actually bring an app or game into the real world. More advanced AR systems allow walls in a user’s home to be treated as if they were apps on a computer screen.
From “Sensorama” to applications on the iPhone
Researchers have been developing augmented reality technology for more than a year. In 1961, cinematographer Morton Heilig introduced an immersive multi-sensor device that resembled a kind of arcade game with vibration and playback of stereo sounds. The following year, Heilig received a patent for the world’s first virtual simulator called “Sensorama”. A huge device, similar in appearance to the slot machines of the 1980s, allowed the viewer to immerse themselves in virtual reality for the first time: for example, ride a motorcycle through the streets of Brooklyn. However, investors were not interested in “Sensorama” and the development had to be curtailed.
The next stage in the development of technology is considered to be 1974, when computer specialist Myron Krueger developed an “artificial reality” laboratory called Videoplace. It consisted of several rooms connected by a network, each of which had a large screen with a video projector located behind it. When a person entered a room, he saw on the screen his own image in the form of a primitive silhouette, as well as similar silhouettes of people in other rooms. All “shadows” could be changed in color or size, as well as attach various visual objects to them.
Perhaps the ideas of Krueger and his friends prompted scientist Tom Caudall to first propose the term “augmented reality” in 1990. While working for Boeing Computer Services in Seattle, he used the phrase to refer to a digital head-mounted display used by aircraft electricians who blended virtual graphics with physical reality.
In 1992, the first operational AR system began to be used by the US Air Force. It was called “Virtual Lights” and made it possible to create a new method of training pilots. By overlaying physically real objects onto 3D virtual ones, the first true augmented reality experience was born, providing picture, sound and touch.
Around the same time, a presentation of the KARMA system (“Assistant in Augmented Reality”) took place at Columbia State University, which allows you to see an interactive printer maintenance manual through a virtual reality helmet.
But until 1999, augmented reality was not widely used, and was not even understood by many scientists and researchers. For its work, complex software solutions and bulky equipment were used. However, the situation changed dramatically when Japanese professor Hirokazu Kato of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology released a unique piece of software called ARToolKit. It made it possible to track video capture of actions in the real world and combine them with virtual objects. The security could be associated with a simple handheld device such as a camera and an internet connection. The appearance of ARToolKit has led to the fact that now users can see directly the process of augmented reality.
Already in 2000, Bruce Thomas from the Wearable Computer Lab developed the first mobile game for open space with an augmented reality system, called ARQuake. It allowed the user with an attached digital display on their head to turn their head and see other objects in the virtual world. ARQuake was successfully presented at the International Mobile Computing Symposium.
A few years later in 2008, the first AR apps were created for smartphones, and people around the world were able to experience the latest technology for the first time. The first app was for Android users, and it allowed them to use their cameras to see different VR objects on the screen in 3D. The solution soon appeared on the iPhone, and launched as a navigation application called Wikitude Drive.
Noise from Nothing or Really Useful Technology?
While augmented reality has been trying to get into the tech mainstream for years, many of its most ardent proponents have begun to wonder if it can handle its own potential.
Many researchers believe that in fact, the technology has already begun to show its true value by simplifying many things that consumers are used to. For example, there are already hair and clothing apps widely used in the beauty industry; in the automotive sector, where users can now use augmented reality to immerse themselves in the driving experience of the car they want to own.
Some brands, such as Lego and Jurassic World, are already experimenting with the technology, and note that its potential impact on audiences is huge.
Go beyond the wow factor
AR still has an amazing wow factor. It worked perfectly with Pokemon Go, which still has millions of players finding, capturing and training virtual creatures that appear on the screen as if they were in the same real place as the player.
Leading brands and retailers such as Sephora, Nestlé and Jaguar Land Rover have shown particular leadership in this area. They’ve experimented with using AR to provide personalized advice, origin information, or value-added services for their products, resulting in successful, inspiring campaigns that go far beyond conventional games.
And, for example, Ikea has fully integrated AR into its app, which allows users to check out how furniture might look in their homes. Confectionery brand Cadbury has used augmented reality to improve the Christmas gift calendar for its consumers. Chocolate lovers can use the Blippar app to scan their calendar and enter an “augmented world of winter wonderland”.
Interest in AR continues to grow exponentially. Now it is also fueled by artificial intelligence, which allows cameras to “understand” the world and overlay digital content on it. Combined with equipment becoming more powerful and lighter, the coming years will be key for the development of augmented reality.
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The greatest interest in AR is among the largest technology giants — Google, Apple and Microsoft. Thanks to their financial resources and development staff, they are the closest to creating truly mass-produced products using augmented reality.
Smart augmented reality glasses Google Glass were introduced relatively recently — in 2012. After the presentation, prototypes of the device were released to developers, and a long process of testing the product began. For a wide audience, Google Glass glasses became available in May 2014. Their price at that time was $1,500.
Apple’s merits in the AR industry are still modest, but the company continues to “keep its finger on the pulse.” The main achievement of the company is the ARKit augmented reality technology, which allows recognizing the dimensions of real objects and taking into account lighting conditions in order to integrate virtual objects into real life as reliably as possible. The iOS-compatible technology could become the most mainstream augmented reality platform in the world, given the interest in the company’s products. In response to the spread of ARKit, experts expect further promotion of Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality glasses and Google Tango augmented reality technology.
Microsoft is also struggling to build augmented reality as a platform for the future of mobile technology. The company has combined virtual and augmented worlds for users, creating what may be the first glimpse of mixed reality thanks to the Microsoft HoloLens headset. They differ from other augmented reality devices in that they have adopted the ability to track the smallest movements of the user’s head from VR helmets. The process takes place using a conventional gyroscope and accelerometer and allows not only to speed up data processing in special cases, but also to supplement gesture control.
In addition, Microsoft has continued to develop the Windows Mixed Reality platform, announced as part of the Windows 10 operating system, for several years now. According to the developers, it provides a “holographic experience” in mixed reality with compatible helmets. Probably, the company expects that with the development of AR, users will need a unifying interface and a common platform.
Applications of AR
In education, AR can be used to recreate historical events or read ordinary books in 3D projections. Augmented reality is extremely useful for educators in classroom settings or during presentations and allows students to gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic. An example of already implemented technologies is the Japanese application New Horizon, which, using the built-in cameras of a smartphone, shows animated characters on the right pages directly in educational books.
Another area of application of AR is healthcare. The ARnatomy app is already helping future doctors explore a real skeletal model, and the VA-ST visual aid is being used by people with significant visual loss. It creates outlines of the contours of the face of the interlocutor.
The military is also interested in technology. The American company BAE Systems has developed a helmet called Striker II, which uses a kind of visor with a display instead of glasses. An image from a night vision camera is projected onto it, and the device is able to track the movements of the operator’s head. So the data is always located in the direction of the user’s gaze.
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Another American company, Matterport, uses AR to create a virtual real estate market.
But, of course, the main drivers of AR, like many other technologies, are the giants Apple, Google and Microsoft. They are actively investing in AR to make the technology more efficient and accessible to billions of smartphone users.
In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “AR will be as important as eating three meals a day.” And recently, Facebook also unveiled plans for digitally modeling 3D objects on the social network so that users can truly immerse themselves in surfing the news feed and chatting with friends.