We’ve been getting a lot of questions about augmented reality this summer, in large part thanks to Apple’s recent release of ARKit, their framework for developing AR apps for iOS devices.
The most common question: what in the world is augmented reality? AR uses the camera on your mobile device to “augment” your view of reality with images, sound, or video. It’s what powers Pokémon Go, and the speed with which AR technology is evolving means very cool things for the future of the gaming industry.
But what I’m really interested in, as a developer, is the obvious follow-up question: so what? Is it useful? Can AR make experiences better, outside of the world of entertainment? We’re currently working with several clients to explore just that question, and I think the answer is yes. Here are three big areas of opportunity for AR in the next few years.
YouTube is full of instructional videos. I know when I need a tutorial on how to fix a dishwasher or work on my car, it’s the first place I go. But it’s one thing to watch a two-dimensional video of a piston, and it’s quite another to be able to examine a 3D model, to turn it around and look at it from every angle.
With video, you rely on what the camera shows you. With AR, you are the camera, and your phone is more like a window. You control how the object is scaled, and whether it’s near or far, which means this technology is perfect for dissecting complicated models or explaining how pieces of machinery work.
Folks, this is a game changer for technical training, not to mention regular classroom training. Just think about the impression your high school history lessons would have made had you been able to augment and explore a pyramid, or a medieval castle, or a pre-industrial farming tool.
Video games have already gamified navigation — if you’re a gamer, you’re probably picturing glowing waypoints and high-contrast pathways — but AR has the potential to be truly helpful when it comes to mapping the world, particularly in light of the new markerless technology we’re seeing from companies like Apple. (Up until now, most AR experiences have required a “marker” at which you point your phone. Markerless AR dispenses with the marker, allowing you augment onto most surfaces.)
Imagine you need to get from point A to point B. You look up the directions and then augment a path in front of you, a clear blue line for your feet to follow. No need to keep looking down at a tiny map on your phone; instead, you’re free to look up and notice what’s around you. To me, this is a better navigation experience, but it doesn’t stop there.
Now imagine helpful touchpoints along your route — more information on the area, potential points of interest customized to your trip, or even historical facts to give you more context on your environment.
Soon we’ll even be able to use AR for trip planning. Augment a 3D model of the city you’re visiting and begin to explore before you’ve even set foot in it.
One of the biggest challenges that doctors face is actually getting patients to take their advice. And one of the toughest parts about being a patient is understanding what’s happening in your body when something goes wrong.
AR has the ability to empower patients with knowledge, especially since matching the size, shape, and scale of a physical object is something AR does very well. Think about a torn muscle. Rather than simply explaining the problem and how the muscle interacts with the bones and ligaments around it, your doctor can augment a 3D muscle and allow you to have a look inside.
Even better, AR puts the technology in your hands. Using an app at home, you can look at 3D models of your ailment, watch videos on how to treat it, and get updated advice from your doctor. Healthcare professionals have high hopes that technology like this will improve patients’ health, and patients like you and me can look forward to more agency in the healthcare process.
There are a million ways to use AR, but the industries where it will catch on first will be ones that can benefit from interactivity. AR takes the user from passive viewer to active driver. You control how you view the content and what perspective you’ll take, and in doing so, you engage in physical movement while you take in new information. It’s an active, engaged form of knowledge processing, and that’s why it’s such an exciting technology: because it’s about the experience.