Virtual Reality (VR), is one of the hot new technologies in the consumer entertainment space, and it’s easy to see why; slap on a pair of goggles and be placed in the middle of a virtual world and interact with it as though you are there.
But VR is increasingly looking like a stepping stone towards something far more impressive — and far less limited. That technology is Augmented Reality, or AR, and it’s not as far away as you might think – it’s threatening to make VR obsolete more quickly than many expected.
“VR is a great interim technology, and we need it as it is teaching us all how to think about new ways to interact with digital media, but it’s not for everyone. Minors cannot safely use VR until their eyes are fully formed, and it cannot be used for extended periods of time as it invokes motion sickness in the vast majority of users,” Ross Symons, CEO of Big Ant, told Daily Review.
“AR leapfrogs many of the VR human interface issues. It does not invoke nausea, and it allows for normal eye focus, so is accessible to all ages. AR also removes the ‘uncanny’ effect that VR has, where you can’t see your own hands. It blends the real and virtual to the point of not being able to know where that line between the two exists.
So, what is AR?
AR is, basically, the interaction between digital media and the real world. To see this media, we need through filters that appear and feel like everyday “windows,” such as glasses or glass screens, so that the end effect is that the digital media appears to be a natural part of the world that we’re observing.
Microsoft has an AR solution in the works called HoloLens, demo starts around 2:20 mark), allowing people to turn their tabletops into a gaming environment. Cypton in Japan has developed technology that allows a hologram artist, Hatsune Miku, to perform live concerts.
“Our viewed reality will be whatever we desire it to be,” Symons said. “At the moment most of the AR in place is in working with gestures – think Minority Report or Tony Stark’s computers in the Iron Man films – screens will appear in thin air, and can be interacted with swipes of the hand.
“I would think that everything from vehicles through to homes will be integrated into a central AR network within the next ten years”.
“But from there I believe will we see AR technology respond to the user’s eye movements, and then move on to virtual touch, before finally adding tactile feedback that will be mimicked by generating electrical impulses set to the brain by stimulating muscle groups.”
For now, AR technology is expensive, but it is finding applications in verticals. Big Ant, for example, is actively working on AR technology for police training; allowing officers to undertake simulated firearms training. The military, too, is making use of the technology for training purposes. Beyond that, AR can improve educational outcomes for students, find a role in medicine, and provide unprecedented equality to information and virtual experiences for everyone. Imagine, for example, an AR application that allows you to visit museums or art galleries without having to physically travel there.
This is the technology that will fully realise the idea that people can create their own realities. If the technology were to work in concert with robotics and AI, for example, we would, soon enough, even be able to create our own social environments and interactions.
“I am sure there are people working on it!” Symons said. “It just makes too much sense. To take a robot, and replace their form with an avatar “skin” and virtual audio for communications then there would be no reason we can’t create ‘living’ people to interact with.
“I would think that everything from vehicles through to homes will be integrated into a central AR network within the next ten years, however the pace of change is accelerating and any prediction will now more likely be an overestimation than under. It is certainly an exciting time, and, at the same time, more than a little scary!”