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Tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have started betting big on augmented reality (AR). Some reports predict that AR could generate $85 billion to $90 billion in revenue within five years. The technology has been around for decades but its entrance into the mainstream is now rapidly accelerating.
Despite its age, AR is still in its infancy and we’re only starting to see its full potential, as is the case with other extended reality (XR) tech like virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR)—the former being fully immersive and disconnected from the real world, and the latter being a blend of AR and VR content.
Technology has come a long way since computer scientist Ivan Sutherland created the first AR head-mounted display (HMD) in 1968. Its bulkiness and the positioning of the mechanism inspired its name, “The Sword of Damocles”.
As with Sutherland’s invention, hardware setup and limited processing power have created high barriers to entry for AR. This changed with the arrival of smartphones equipped with integrated cameras and hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. However, AR won’t fully come into its own until fashionable standalone headsets come onto the market.
The Capabilities of AR
AR can extract visual data from the real world in a number of ways. Two that have been used widely since the arrival of camera-equipped smartphones are marker tracking and image recognition. The first uses square markers with an encoded ID and the second uses 2D images, such as product packaging, photos, or paintings. The software recognizes the marker or image and then determines where it is physically located. The next step is to use this data to superimpose virtual 3D content on the camera view.
As hardware capabilities have improved, more tracking methods have become available. 3D object tracking can be used to detect known objects like toys, furniture, and sculptures. Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) doesn’t use known markers but understands and tracks features of the physical world and overlays virtual 3D content.
The latest evolution is called the AR cloud. This takes AR from isolated room-scale experiences to persistent multi-user experiences at world-scale. Virtual 3D objects persist between sessions and can be viewed and manipulated by multiple users.
Creating AR Experiences
Although a typical AR application requires a tailored solution, top augmented reality companies like Facebook, Snapchat, and Wikitude have created studios that significantly lower the barrier to entry for content creation. Augmented reality programming experience is not necessarily needed: 3D content can be found on sites like Sketchfab, TurboSquid, Google Poly, and Yobi3D, then converted into the right format using Trila.
But AR developers’ toolkits have been enriched with many new tools and frameworks as well—not the least with the emergence of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. These have brought advanced AR capabilities into the hands of millions of developers who are now able to create cutting-edge, tailored solutions without having to be experts in the complex field of computer vision.
AR projects need experts with plenty of AR experience. Key elements like the user experience (UX) require a different approach because of the paradigm shift AR presents. For instance, a core difference between designing for AR apps and regular apps is the need to take into account the user’s environment. Varied lighting conditions and room shapes affect UI placement and the use of colors and sizes.
Worthwhile experts will also tell you whether AR is the right tool for the job. Too often already, AR has been used just for its own sake, offering little value for its target audience. Take for instance the marketing gimmick where content was activated by scanning the label of a soft drink bottle. The only content it unlocked was a video overlay showing their latest commercial. This has no benefit to the user whatsoever—likely they’ll be hesitant to activate another AR experience from the same source any time soon.
An example of AR done right is KLM’s augmented reality app, which allows you to check the dimensions of your hand baggage at home while you’re packing. Simple, yet very effective, this app uses AR’s strengths to improve its customer service. Hiring an expert can help you to avoid AR’s many caveats, resulting in an effective solution with solid benefits for your company.
Mainstream AR Today
Snapchat was the first social media giant to add AR capabilities to its app. Their so-called Face Lenses use face tracking to detect and augment users’ faces and their World Lenses allow users to place virtual objects in the real world. An important catalyst, this addition exposed millions of users to casual AR.
Facebook was quick to follow and launched their Camera Effects platform with mostly the same functionality. According to Mark Zuckerberg, “The first augmented reality platform that becomes mainstream isn’t going to be glasses, it’s going to be cameras.”
In 2017, both Apple and Android added significant AR capabilities to their mobile platforms. Features like image tracking, 3D object tracking, SLAM tracking, and AR cloud are now available for free to millions of app developers, greatly accelerating AR app development.
How Can AR Create Value For Your Business?
AR has disruptive potential in a host of visual areas including employee training, advertising, and even media. For example, AR can augment workers’ abilities to improve their performance: HMDs can be used to overlay information, graphics, and videos on subjects of interest in areas such as maintenance, manufacturing, warehousing, and healthcare. Engineering giant thyssenkrupp AG is already using Microsoft’s HoloLens to improve the efficiency of elevator maintenance. CAE Healthcare is also using HoloLens to revolutionize medical training.
Mobile advertising is being transformed by AR, too: Snapchat has opened up Lens ads which have been used in campaigns by brands like Red Bull, Michael Kors, and American Airlines. Facebook will soon follow suit by enabling AR adds in its Messenger app. Even in-store advertising is seeing the benefits of AR already.
Media and entertainment are also starting to be shaken up. USC is leveling up their course coverage to include AR’s place in the media. Video game developers are forging new narrative-building techniques for AR games. Music and sports fans are engaging with AR content en masse.
The potential reach of AR’s impact is almost limitless.
Market Analysis, Forecasts, and News
Want to stay up-to-date on the latest market research? These reports will give you all the information you need.
- Global Mobile Augmented Reality Industry Market Research Report by Maia Research
- Augmented/Virtual Reality Report 2018 by Digi-Capital
- 2018 Market Research Report on Global Augmented Reality (AR) Industry by QY Research
- Virtual and Augmented Reality: Technologies and Global Markets by BCC Research
These are solid go-to sites for staying on top of the latest news about AR:
The augmented reality revolution is already in full swing. Once, AR’s impact was limited to the imagination of sci-fi writers. Now, with the help of AR development talent, it’s up to your own creative insights—and your competitors’. How will your company leverage the opportunity?