How Augmented Reality Will Become Part of Reality Before 2030
It was in 1955 when the American philosopher, inventor, film director, and cinematographer Morton Heilig released a paper entitled "The Cinema of the Future.” In the paper, he described an immersive multisensory machine, or Experience Theatre as he dubbed it, that included a stereoscopic collar display, a story-sound system, fans, odour emitters, and a motional chair.
The Sensorama, as it was called, and for which he received a patent, was a 5D personalised movie theatre avant la lettre. Spectators were treated to an imaginary motorcycle ride through New York City. They would experience the city as it was in real life, with simulated noises and smells of people, cars and pizza, and fan-generated wind. Unfortunately, the invention was far too early for society, and Heilig failed to achieve financial backing for his invention, so the Sensorama never made it to the masses. Due to his work, Morton Heilig is considered the father of virtual reality.
Since then, virtual reality has been promised a breakthrough technology many times but never really managed to achieve what was promised. The same applies to the other immersive technology, augmented reality.
For many years, these technologies have been over-promised and under-delivered. The devices were too bulky and uncomfortable; the graphics were mediocre, to say the least; the experience made people nauseous (especially with virtual reality); and the hardware was too expensive. It was far from the seamless experience required for a technology to go mainstream. Over the past years, we have seen a wide range of new augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets enter the market, targeting both the lower-end consumer and high-end enterprise markets.
With the hype of the metaverse, especially virtual reality has returned to the limelight, and many think virtual reality equals the metaverse. However, while virtual reality offers an immersive experience, it is certainly not the only technology that will enable the metaverse. The other is, of course, augmented reality, which saw its mainstream adoption in 2016 with Niantic’s Pokémon Go’s Gotta Catch ’Em All!
The Challenges of Augmented Reality
Where VR provides the user with a fully immersive environment, with an extended field of view, AR offers an additional digital layer on top of reality, often with a much smaller FOV. This digital layer offers endless possibilities because it can be used anywhere at any moment and deliver a unique experience depending on your location and where you are looking.
From heads-up displays in the car (called that because they literally enable you to keep your head up while driving) to Google Glasses (infamous for its breach of privacy as it was unclear whether it was recording you), and from AR glasses MagicLeap or HoloLens to futuristic contact lenses projecting information directly onto your retina, augmented reality will radically change our lives. In fact, long-time industry expert Ming-Chi Kuo predicted in 2021 that by 2032, Apple will replace the iPhone with an AR device.
While augmented reality is likely to have a bigger impact on our lives than virtual reality, it is also a lot harder to achieve, as you are dealing with the chaotic and ever-changing real world that you cannot control, and where it is necessary to sometimes hide digital objects behind real things for a realistic experience. This concept, called occlusion, is a tough problem to solve.
In addition, it is acceptable with virtual reality to wear a large and clunky device on your head, but this is not ideal with augmented reality if you are walking on the street. It won't be very comfortable, let alone safe. We would need smart glasses that are easy to wear and preferably fashionable and provide you with a field of view that matches humans' field of view, which is almost 180 degrees forward-facing.
Developing smart AR glasses has proven to be challenging, but the technology is developing rapidly. In 2021 Snaps Spectacles AR were the most advanced AR glasses with a Field of View (FOV) of just 26.3 degrees and a 30-minute battery life (and at the time of writing, available only to select developers), but at CES 2022, Kura announced their Kura Gallium AR Glasses with a FOV of 150 degrees, 95 per cent transparent glasses, a weight of only 80 grams, and a resolution of 8K per eye.
So, although the technology is improving, the high costs of AR glasses (the HoloLens and Magic Leap cost a few thousand USD, and the Kura Gallium will cost around $1,200) and the challenge of occlusion will prevent mass adoption in the short term. Once the hardware does catch up (the launch of Apple Glass or whatever it will be called, will likely be a pivoting moment), augmented reality will have a far bigger impact on our society than virtual reality, and it will become the main entry point into the metaverse. Nevertheless, in the coming years, AR devices will become as normal as carrying a smartphone with you. Therefore, let's have a look at some of the AR trends I am seeing.
Trend #1: The metaverse is taking off
One of the goals of metaverse technologies is to converge the digital and physical worlds into one context that everyone can share. Blending the real and virtual worlds afforded by augmented reality creates exciting opportunities for businesses and consumers.
Augmented reality will be a big part of the future of digital experiences. Companies are developing new camera filters that recognise human faces and bodies and the distance between objects captured in a scene.
Geenee AR and Ready Player Me collaborated to bring this experience to life. Geenee's WebAR Builder software allows you to display your avatar in virtual environments, effectively bringing the avatar "to life" and making it seem as if it were actually present with others. The software also allows you to customise your Ready Player Me character, including equipping Non-Fungible Tokens representing accessories.
This AR technology is not new. It has been used with apps like Snapchat and Instagram for some time by using augmented reality "face filters" — virtual objects that users can add to their own faces in real-time and express themselves differently online. Nevertheless, the app's most innovative element is its ability to import users' virtual avatars from other platforms and use those images in augmented reality.
The use of this technology could improve the hybridisation of virtual meetings. If one person on your team used a VR headset to attend a meeting while you attended without one, an avatar that has been previously created with AR representing that individual would be at your meeting.
Although spatial audio may not seem like an augmented reality technology at first glance, it is crucial for maximising the immersion of VR/AR experiences. Traditionally, technologies have focused mainly on sight and touch. Metaverse technologists believe hearing is just as important to the technology experience, so they include it from the beginning.
To make VR and AR experiences more immersive, 3D audio is needed. With this technology, users should be able to tell where a sound is coming from in 3D space based on their own position—which has been developed since the 1990s.
Meta has added an advanced engine to its AR Spark Studio that lets users mix multiple sounds to create new ones. This makes it possible for people to create augmented reality experiences that enhance how we experience sights and sounds. With that in mind, we can create an AR effect that will respond to human interaction.
Converting Digital Items to Real World Applications
AR has opened up a new world for digital and physical content. This technology dates back to the early days of virtual reality, but it is until now that we can see its real-life applications.
For example, Meta is developing a platform for viewing digital collectibles in augmented reality. Users will be able to import their NFTs into Instagram Stories as 2D virtual objects and combine them with See in AR feature. This will open up new opportunities for collectors and creators to interact with their NFTs in ways beyond the limited capabilities of current digital wallets.
Virtual art, or real-world objects turned into augmented reality experiences, has also gotten a fair amount of buzz. For example, Sotheby's—one of the oldest auction houses in the world—has begun offering AR experiences to their bidders by providing an Instagram filter that allows them to see art up for auction as though it were right before their eyes. This has allowed Sotheby to leave aside its conservative and traditional image, opening up to new technological trends to reach new audiences.
As a result, Sotheby’s used the blockchain to sell a work of art for $121.2 million, demonstrating a smart move by using AR filters to create a gallery-worthy digital experience that let would-be buyers (and dreamers) virtually see themselves hanging the piece on their walls, which ultimately allowed the auction house to achieve its most important sale to date.
Trend #2: AI Meets Augmented Reality
Artificial intelligence and augmented reality can work together in two major ways:
- For AR to work, facial and spatial recognition software needs artificial intelligence.
- The convergence of AR and AI technologies can create new opportunities, systems, and services.
These roles tend to blend, so it can be hard for people to pinpoint an individual's role.
The Use of AI Improves AR's Performance
Augmented reality and artificial intelligence are not the same things. Although it’s obvious that AI and AR work well together because of the needs of AR.
The data collected by sensors must be processed using complicated algorithms before it makes sense. AI can make it possible to create more accurate models than a human would be able to make alone.
For instance, the app ClipDrop, powered by AI, allows users to quickly digitise an item in the real world into a 3D object for use in programs like Microsoft solutions such as PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Google Workplace products like Google Docs. 3D scanning could be used to import real-world objects into metaverse environments, speeding up the pipeline for offering items for virtual trial experiences.
AR and AI can be combined to form a tool that automatically designs something. The app SketchAR is one example of how this technology works. This app allows users to freely draw in augmented reality, but they can also have an AI draw for them. The app works by allowing you to trace drawings by placing virtual images on the screen of your phone or tablet.
The AI can design 3D objects quickly. This demonstrates that it is possible to use the real world as a source environment when designing structures in 3D space. Shortly, AI may be able to design and create structures for use in real-world applications.
Trend #3: WebAR Development
The growing popularity of augmented reality has led to the development of WebAR: Augmented reality–based applications and services that can be accessed via browser to be experienced on any device.
WebAR requires no additional software since the user's web browser powers it. This is the best-case scenario for accessibility but comes with a price tag— WebAR is the most basic form of augmented reality.
However, WebAR can be useful for simple experiences when appropriately used. You can add filters to faces, change the colour of hair or objects, replace a background, and add simple 3D elements.
Simpler virtual try-on experiences are possible with WebAR. For example, L’Oréal and Maybelline use this technology to showcase their cosmetic products and create more immersive customer-centred experiences.
Now, you might wonder: why is WebAR relevant?
Tom Emrich, CEO of 8th Wall—the world’s leading WebAR development platform—notes that the key to bridging the gap between virtual and physical worlds is WebAR, as this system helps the user to see and interact with virtual elements while they are in a real-life environment. Although WebAR is still in its infancy, it can potentially be a significant way for people to interact with online content. 8th Wall is dedicated to making WebAR technologies more robust so that they can serve this vision.
Trend #4: Augmented Reality Glasses: Fact or Fiction?
Augmented reality glasses will soon be as comfortable and easy to use as any other eyeglasses. A significant development to monitor is the evolution of Apple's LiDAR scanner.
Apple is one of several companies predicted to introduce consumer-focused AR headsets or glasses in the future. Beginning in 2020, their advanced depth sensor was a standard feature of the iPad Pro. Later that year, it became available on iPhone 12s as well.
To have all the functionalities that this system offers in a comfortable and easy-to-carry device may lead us one day to see Apple Glasses being worn around by many people.
Augmented reality is more than just smart glasses. Many innovative devices promise to be big in AR's future, and advances such as the Kura Gallium AR Glasses really help make AR a seamless experience.
However, nothing is as seamless as smart contact lenses that project a digital layer directly onto your eye. In June 2022, at Mojo Vision Labs in Saratoga, California—located in Silicon Valley—engineers demonstrated a pair of augmented reality smart contact lenses that project images onto the wearer’s field of vision.
AR lenses integrate with a user interface to augment reality using eye tracking, communications, and software. Mojo Lens uses a custom-tuned accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that track eye movements to keep AR images still as the eyes move around them.
All these new developments in the field of augmented reality and its accessibility to the public demonstrate how fast the technological landscape is changing and how easily we will be able to experience the digital world in a very vivid way in the next few years.
The Use of Augmented Reality Across Various Industries
Virtual and augmented reality have been growing and showing themselves more to the world. They have become revolutionary technologies that industries are increasingly adopting and adapting to their needs.
Business applications of virtual reality technology are endless, particularly in fields where users need to train or educate their workers. The shift towards virtual reality will completely change how we interact and engage with others.
These are some of the most important applications of VR and AR across various industries:
Deloitte predicts that augmented reality and artificial intelligence will transform the healthcare industry by offering hands-free solutions powered by AR/MR technology and diagnostic tools created through IA.
For example, the Microsoft Hololens 2 can provide information to a surgeon during a procedure without preventing them from using both hands.
In light of the increasing restrictions associated with COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020, augmented reality solutions have become increasingly important to address issues such as remote patient support and increased hospital workloads.
The mental health apps are helping people to be less stressed, and the telesurgery solutions make it possible for doctors to treat patients thousands of miles away. For example, drawing and annotating on the 3D screen can make communication between doctors and patients much easier. Remote assistance tools also help clinicians support their patients while reducing downtime—and they do all this without being in the same location.
When combined with machine learning algorithms, AR technology can help detect diseases more efficiently. In 2020, Google announced that it was developing an AR-based microscope for the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve the accuracy of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Such a device uses a camera to capture real-time images, which are then analysed via computer diagnostics and displayed immediately as results—allowing diseases to be diagnosed early.
Although many AR applications are designed for consumers, the technology also has great potential in industrial settings.
AR can be used to create training programs that are more engaging and relevant by incorporating CAD data. Technicians can use AR to assist them with routine maintenance processes. Technical applications for augmented reality can make it easier for workers by highlighting elements of the machines being worked on to guide technicians through the process.
More complex implementations of AR can provide end users with more contextual information about objects in the real world. Workers can gain more information about an object by highlighting it with a mobile device and finding out whether any action, such as maintenance, is needed.
Remote troubleshooting agents can use the program's virtual marker tool to lead employees through a series of steps over the phone. This can allow factory workers to receive more comprehensive remote support.
Augmented reality can be used in several ways to make the automotive industry more efficient and cost-effective.
One example of a futuristic technology being developed for this space is augmented reality highlighting, which uses heads-up displays to project information onto the road as you drive. This feature can help drivers stay aware of hazards and follow GPS directions without looking at the screen. Other uses of AR include entertainment (e.g., 3D car manuals) and information-based applications.
The automotive industry may benefit from the application of augmented reality in parking assistance. With 5G connectivity, empty parking spaces can be highlighted on a driver's heads-up display. This can contribute significantly to the optimisation of parking facility layouts and operations.
WakeUp app is an excellent example of augmented reality in the automotive industry. The WakeUp app keeps drivers awake by using ARKit to detect when a driver's eyes are closed or their head tilted—and making sounds as a consequence. If the driver's eyes remain closed for too long or their head tilts back, the device will play an alarm to help him wake up.
Already launched in 2017, IKEA's Place app is a leading example of using augmented reality to offer customers a unique experience while generating a stream of additional user data for IKEA.
It was one of the first examples of a mobile shopping app that took full advantage of ARKit, Apple's augmented reality framework, allowing users to try out furniture digitally to better understand how that new couch or table would look in their house. Linking such digital customer interactions directly to your organisation's business intelligence would offer invaluable, real-time insights into who is interested in what, when, where, and why.
At the end of 2021, the augmented reality company Snap worked with Tommy Jeans to create a virtual try-on for their clothes. Using Snap's AR glasses, customers could try the Tommy Jeans, a men's or women's puffer jacket, and easily change the jacket's colours to see which style worked best for them. Users could then instantly click through to the website to buy the product they had virtually tried at home.
Can We Expect These Technologies to Make a Difference in the Future?
Michael D. Gallagher, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), has stated that we have begun to witness the wide adoption of a technology that has revolutionised our communications and our way of life.
He has also spoken that immersive technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, are poised to revolutionise entertainment and other industries. For example, NASA is using these technologies to train astronauts in simulated Mars environments—travelling there without ever leaving Earth.
In addition, Walt Disney recently showed how media organisations could adopt augmented reality in their entertainment, literally immersing the viewer in the show's content.
As technology becomes more accessible and affordable for consumers, augmented reality will become increasingly important in our society. Investing now may be a smart move for businesses looking to stay ahead. The market for augmented reality is expected to reach $97.76 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights, illustrating just how important the technology has become in recent years. Companies offering rich AR experiences will be better prepared for the future than their competition.
Without becoming too futuristic here, it is likely that five or ten years from now, if you are walking down the street and not carrying an augmented reality device, you will likely miss out on a lot of the action happening on the street, ranging from innovative street art on the walls to fantasy creatures flying through the air and immersive, personalised advertising (which you can subsequently block with AR ad blockers).
Altogether, we can expect that augmented reality will become part of reality. If you don’t have the wearable to participate, you will be left out of the physical world. AR will be the new reality. Lines will start to blur, and soon VR and AR will merge into extended reality (XR), and you no longer have to change devices if you want to switch between virtual or augmented reality.
Once we have reached that stage, probably the early 2030s, the metaverse will have arrived. Smartphones and laptops will likely become unnecessary, as will separate VR and AR devices, because for our entertainment, socialising, or work, we simply put on our sleek XR glasses.