Talking about the future of technology and all the different possibilities, you can often receive raised eyebrows if your vision appears to be too far-fetched. However, I don’t think that anything is too far-fetched for augmented reality (AR). When you look at the technology and its potential, the possibilities appear to be limitless.
According to most forecasts and analyses, we’re still several years away from AR being a common experience for everyone. However, you can see that AR is on track for significant growth. According to a report by Markets and Markets, the whole AR market covering hardware, devices and applications is expected to reach $72.7 billion by 2024.
This growth is not coming from amazing dedicated consumer AR devices today (they’ll be arriving soon enough), but from the devices most us already have – smartphones. We’re already seeing AR being used in the common daily activities of consumers. These will continue to evolve and grow, with AR likely to be experienced in almost any situation by most people in their daily lives.
So, with this in mind, I’d like to delve deeper into five key AR use-cases and experiences. Looking at what’s happening now and what is set to happen in the near and far future.
Text and audio translations of foreign languages has been available on smartphones for many years. For example, Google Translate scans text in a foreign language through the built-in camera of smartphones and translates it into text of the language that you understand. For audio, you can speak into a smartphone in a foreign language and receive what was spoken as text or audio in a language that you understand, and vice versa. In the near future, these functions will move to wearables, such as AR smartglasses, with the translated text appearing more naturally on the transparent display.
The far future of translation will involve the AR smartglasses ‘automagically’ translating what others are saying in real-time. Rather than having to proactively ask the device to translate sentences or signage, the translation will automatically happen. This could be whenever someone is speaking to you in a foreign language or if you are looking at text not in your native language. The translated text would either appear as subtitles in the display of the AR smartglasses or as audio through speakers in the frame. This will give you the freedom to have a flowing conversation with someone even though neither of you speak the same language!
AR Navigation and Translation
Navigation is a greatly used feature of smartphones, whether you are driving to or exploring an unfamiliar location on foot or cycle. Another part of navigation happening today is the search and tagging of various sites and landmarks. Smartphone applications use built-in cameras to scan and identify these sites and landmarks before shifting through search results and providing the relevant information.
Just like translation, the next stage in the near future will be the move to AR smartglasses. This will make the overall navigation experience more convenient for the user. Instead of looking down at the smartphone, the directions to the end destination will appear right in front of your eyes. You will also be able to access information about various sites and landmarks simply by looking at them through the smartglasses. Moreover, there will be proper orientation, with the smart glasses instantly recognizing where you are and the direction you are facing.
The far future will add more advanced capabilities that will facilitate a better understanding of the environment. Navigation will be able to take place indoors – as well as outdoors – with supporting directions in big indoor arenas, such as exhibition halls or shopping centres. Navigation graphics will blend into the real environment in a natural way, making the experience more fluid and less distracting. There will also be an additional layer of intelligence, with the AR smartglasses being able to flag friends on your social media accounts that are nearby.
AR Instructions for Cooking
Instructions through mobile devices are already taking place through walk-through and ‘how-to’ videos. You can follow these guides to learn how to do something unfamiliar or new – usually DIY (how to build or make something) or cooking. These videos can be incredibly useful, but the challenge is having to keep stopping and starting while you’re trying to complete the task. This will change through AR.
Just like translation and navigation, how you receive and follow instructions through technology will be transformed by AR smartglasses. The text for instructions will appear in front of yours eyes through the AR display, removing the need to look down at a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Simple gestures or voice commands will allow forward and backwards navigation through the stages.
The far future will see even further intelligence added to the experience. The AR smartglasses will recognize exactly where you are in the process so won’t keep giving out instructions if you haven’t moved onto the next stage. The device will also be able to provide additional guidance. For example, if you’re putting together flat-pack furniture, the AR smart glasses will highlight the items that you need to attach. This will be like having your own ‘live expert’ helping you.
The far future of instructions will also see the integration of technologies and information. If you’re cooking then alongside the instructions, there will also be information about the amount of time left in the oven or whether you need to buy more food items. This will essentially sync different pieces of information from other smart appliances in the home together.
The ability of AR to enhance the real-world environment of users through merging it with virtual characters and objects lends itself perfectly to mobile gaming. One obvious example is the Pokémon Go mobile game from 2016. An Arm-commissioned report from the market intelligence agency Newzoo reflected on the ‘boundless potential’ of AR in mobile gaming. The report states that over a quarter (26 percent) of active smartphone devices are able to use either Apple’s ARKit or Google’s ARCore. However, AR gaming will begin transitioning from mobile to wearables, as devices like the Nreal Light come to market.
In the near future, the transition to wearables will add another level of immersion to AR gaming. The immersion will be amplified through the screen size, moving from the smaller screen of a smartphone to a big screen through the display of AR wearables. This essentially means that you will be able to experience the immersion of in-home AR gaming anywhere while on-the-go.
The far future of AR gaming will see advancements in the realism of the experience, with the real-world environment, virtual characters and objects seamlessly merging. This means that the content of AR games will match and reflect the real-world environment more realistically. Virtual characters and objects will be able to properly interact with the real-world environment. Virtual characters won’t run through walls in the real-world but enter/exit through real-world doors. If there is an obstacle in the real-world then the virtual character won’t just go through it, they will jump over it.
The use-cases for AR ‘superpowers’ are not available today, or indeed not available in the near future either, but they will bring some exciting options in the far future. This is AR providing you with human enhancements to your natural sensing capabilities, mainly vision and hearing. For vision, this could be AR having the ability to automatically provide night vision or telephoto vision or even being able to see in non-visible light spectrums like infrared. For hearing, this could be noise cancellation. Having a two-way conversation with someone in a busy place or communicating with someone the opposite side of a room without shouting. Essentially, AR will enable you to hear a pin drop in a crowded room simply by focusing your gaze on the pin! These experiences are still years away, but they serve well to illustrate the limitless possibilities of AR.
While there are some good AR use-cases and experiences today, mainly on smartphones, they are nowhere near the possibilities of the near and far futures. The move to AR wearables - mainly lightweight and trendy smartglasses - will enhance the AR use-cases and experiences that are possible now on mobile. These devices will provide information in your eyeline when you want it. Like smartphone capability evolved quickly in the first few years, so too will smartglasses evolve to pack the performance needed for the complex AR workloads.
The far future will bring more contextual understanding to AR use-cases and experiences on smartglasses, bringing richer experiences and services seamlessly and automagically into everyday life. This means being understood regardless of language, being able to find where you are going, being able to bake great cakes and being able to immerse yourself in entertainment no matter where you are. Essentially, being able to experience your world like never before.
Enabling these amazing experiences of the far future will take considerable effort to turn into a reality. However, just like smartphones where you can navigate, view content and find anything instantly, I believe that AR will be part of our everyday lives. For AR’s future, the sky really is the limit!
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