Visions of fantastical worlds or science-fiction apocalyptic landscapes are the exclusive realms of the imagination, video games, movies, television, and books, among others. What if you could transport yourself into a fantastical world without leaving this one? The technology to do just that already exists, and it is called Augmented Reality. If you’ll recall the Pokemon Go craze just last summer, you might remember that people were wandering about every town and city looking for various Pokemon that lived within real-world locations. Using only their smartphones (and phone data plans), players could traverse the real world looking for their beloved Pokemon from Nintendo’s legendary franchise while walking around the sidewalks and parks of their own hometowns.
It became a craze namely because it was so different and it was so Pokemon, though analysts will be better equipped to debate which had a greater influence. It was not Niantic’s first foray into an augmented reality game – Ingress. Ingress was the prototype for much of the game play players would find in Pokemon Go. It included teams, capturing territory, and utilized GPS systems and the player’s own hometown as the playing ground. While Pokemon Go might not be quite the craze it was upon its debut over a year ago, it is still the subject of fan love and adoration. The recent Pokemon Go festival in Chicago drew record crowds and was apparently a debacle according to many attendee accounts. Players take their Pokemon Go quite seriously, and some have banded together in a class-action lawsuit against Niantic because of the disastrous state of affairs they allege they encountered at the festival according to Polygon.
Whatever the outcome of that legal battle, the future for Augmented Reality video games remains bright, with many other producers developing their own take on the technology. There was the 3D craze of a few years back, which spawned a 3D Playstation-branded Sony television and a system from Nintendo in the 3DS, and currently we are in a bit of a Virtual Reality craze so the logical question becomes: Is Augmented Reality the next big thing for video games and maybe even tech in general?
If you’re not familiar with Pokemon Go, you’re probably wondering what exactly Augmented Reality is. Unlike Virtual Reality, which replaces your current environment with an entirely synthetic one, Augmented Reality is a live modification of a physical, real-time environment that is augmented by computer-generated sounds, video, graphics, or other information, such as GPS location. Augmented Reality is related to the concept of a Computer-Mediated Reality concept of technologies in which reality is entirely merged with computer technologies in an ubiquitous and seamless format (think Minority Report).
Augmented Reality can be used for a variety of applications, from gaming to medicine, or from design to theoretical astronomy. In other words, Augmented Reality promises great things that extend beyond entertainment. For the meantime, however, many of the companies focusing on Augmented Reality are tech firms that are looking primarily at entertainment applications for the technology. This is probably because of the great success of the relatively basic implementation of the technology found in Pokemon Go.
Trixi Studios recently developed an app, appropriately named “Take On Me App,” using Apple’s ARKit (an augmented reality toolkit to assist app developers in adding the feature into their apps) that allows users to place themselves into scenes reminiscent of A-Ha’s music video “Take On Me.” You may remember this as the music video filled with the sketches. Thanks to Trixi Studios app you can place yourself and others into the music in real time using Augmented Reality technology. 9to5 Mac is even reporting on a patent that it believes shows the rumored Augmented Reality glasses that Apple is developing.
Like 9to5 Mac reminds its readers, Apple tends to patent a lot of technology it never uses but it is still interesting nonetheless. The mentioning of glasses might make tech fanatics recall Google’s foray into this area – the Google Glass. In awesome news for fans of this type of technology, Google announced its new line of Google Glass products and Wired reports that its applications extend deep into the professional and industrial space. The original Google Glass product was an ambitious offering but many consumers were disappointed by its shortcomings.
Wired reports that the update to the Google Glass line follows success for the product on the commercial market, “Alphabet has been selling hundreds of units of EE, an improved version of the product that originally shipped in a so-called Explorer Edition in 2013. Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality.” Wired states that this is a major shift for one of the most-hyped products in Google’s history but it should not come as a shock to anybody who has watched the technology since its origins in the early 1990’s. Augmented Reality technology was first developed by Virtual Fixtures for the United States Air Force’s Armstrong Labs. Microsoft’s own effort at Augmented Reality, the Hololens, came out of its ill-fated Kinect technology for its X-Box line of video game consoles.
While successful as adaptor for the X-Box 360, the X-Box One Kinect’s failure to catch on as a peripheral and platform doomed it as a gaming device, to the consternation of many who held high hopes for the technology. It was impressive technology, indeed, and lives on in Microsoft Hololens which is currently under development for consumer use. The device is being outfitted with a range of technologies, including Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant technology, Holotour (an audiovisual tourism application), HoloStudio (for full-scale 3D modeling), and a version of the blockbuster smash-hit video game Minecraft by Microsoft-owned developer Mojang. Microsoft has even shown a version of Hololens in operation with Volvo to show the range of potential uses of the device. But it isn’t just tech firms that are placing large bets on the future of Augmented Reality technologies – AdWeek reports that Japanese luxury car manufacturer Acura and French cosmetics titan L’Oreal are also using Augmented Reality to further their brand experiences and reach out to new demographics in a display of AR tech outside of an industrial, commercial, or entertainment application.
Acura, for example, “..set up a racetrack in El Toro, Calif., around a former Marine base and asked four influencers to drive a car as quickly and safely as possible down the course. The catch? All of the drivers were wearing augmented reality-equipped helmets that overlaid HD graphics on top of the real world to make it look like they were driving through a jungle and snowstorm, making it difficult to stay on course. Meanwhile, footage from the race was livestreamed across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” L’Oreal, meanwhile, is making use of the platform offered by Facebook, Apple, and Snapchat to make Augmented Reality a part of their brand experience for consumers online and in-store. Apple’s new iPhone is expected to have extensive Augmented Reality capabilities and one rumored development is coming out of Swedish house furnishings giant Ikea, who will use Apple’s ARKit because it, “allows developers and brands like Ikea and Nike to create branded AR apps. Ikea has an innovation team of 150 people who work on new platforms including AR and the brand plans to launch an app this fall that lets consumers virtually place furniture around their homes to see what it looks like before they buy.”
One of the more ubiquitous and popular applications of Augmented Reality technology is Snapchat’s “world lenses” that add overlays to one’s environment. If you’ve ever stumbled upon someone with a puppy dog cartoon overlay on their picture, it probably came from this feature on Snapchat. One of the biggest and most obvious applications for Augmented Reality, and one that would, indeed, tie together the commercial, entertainment, and industrial aspects of the technology, that would be a Walt Disney themepark. As luck would have it, Disney is not only looking into AR technology for their parks, but plans on making it a massive part of the park-goer experience in the future. Engadget reports that Disney Research is looking at how to make Augmented Reality a shared rather than purely individual experience. An effort in this area is their magic bench, which is, “a blend of augmented and mixed reality that entire groups can share. It uses the combination of a camera and a depth sensor to produce a 3D recreation of you and the bench, letting virtual characters and objects interact with you as if they were there. And the seating is key to this — it can tell the system how many people are present, where they’re facing, and vibrate when a digital actor sits down. The activity you participate in depends directly on how many people are involved and what they’re doing.”
The possibilities within a Disney themepark, combining the fantasy of Mickey Mouse with the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, would probably be a pretty sensational experience. Here’s to hoping that Augmented Reality technology is the next big thing and not just the current gleam in big tech’s eye.