Six ways augmented reality will matter beyond puppy selfies

[Virtual reality has gotten more attention in the presence community but augmented reality has great potential to generate effective and useful presence illusions, as described in this story from Forbes. –Matthew]

[Image: Instagram ‘filters’ like this headband have become a key part of the app’s popular Stories feature. Credit: Instagram]

Six Ways Augmented Reality Will Matter Beyond Puppy Selfies

Kathleen Chaykowski, Forbes Staff
March 8, 2018

Augmented reality — mixing the physical world with digital elements — has gained traction among everyday smartphone users as a playful way to send selfies with puppy masks or silly effects like helium voice changers and sparkle filters. The tools have prompted people to communicate more frequently on social media apps by making it easy to turn casual, ordinary moments into creative, funny snapshots.

However, what started as on-the-fly fun is bound to turn into more serious applications over time. Just as AR’s older cousin virtual reality began as a medium for gamers and later expanded as a tool to support everything from medical training to simulations for building empathy and environmentally-friendly habits, AR’s relevance is poised to grow far beyond the confines of an Instagram Story or Snapchat messaging streak. (Read more about Facebook’s bet on an augmented reality future here.)

As AR increasingly becomes a “magic lens” for viewing the world through our smartphones, here are six ways the technology will change everyday tasks and activities:

1. Navigation – Whether you’re a tourist finding lunch in Manhattan or a driver transporting goods, navigation is one of the most central services we gain through our smartphones. In the short-term, AR can support navigation by showing us digital signs on our phone (for example, walking through a large park and using AR directions to find friends hosting a BBQ). However, when wearable AR devices such as glasses — or further down the line, contact lenses — are developed and gain adoption, AR could be used to provide more seamless navigation, and could become one of the most common ways people engage with the technology.

2. Games and Toys – The game Pokemon GO marked an important moment in AR history when it debuted in July 2016 and quickly became the most popular smartphone games of all time. By mapping virtual characters to real-world locations, the game illuminated how social and widely appealing AR games can be. Unlike virtual reality which confines people to a digital world, AR games make it possible to have real-world interactions with friends or other fans. Beyond consumer appeal, there is also a real business opportunity — SurveyMonkey estimated in July that Pokemon GO generated $6 million in advertising revenue per day (already mobile gaming is a $46-billion global market, research firms estimate). An even lighter-weight version of an AR “game” could be caring for a virtual plant on your office desk or a virtual pet at home. AR mobile apps are also being made for toys. Los Angeles, Calif.-based Seedling sells an AR teddy bear that’s designed to help kids learn problem-solving skills.

3. Education – Similarly to how virtual reality experiences can support education, AR could be used broadly as a tool for learning, whether you’re a middle schooler studying cell biology or a woodworker perfecting a new technique. The declining cost of smartphones and their proliferation among children (already more than half of U.S. kids aged six to 12 have their own smartphone or tablet) will support this trend. While current experiences are relatively simple — Facebook, for example, has been testing with “AR Posters,” which allow users to hover over objects and view animated scenes, like a fox programming at a desk inside of a robot’s chest — AR is positioned to be a much more accessible way to enhance learning than virtual reality in the near-term. Outside of traditional classrooms, AR tutorials — for instance, digital overlays showing you how to build a machine or apply eye makeup — could become the next generation of today’s typical YouTube tutorial.

4. Art – Some technologists, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have touted the idea that automation and algorithms will ultimately give humans more time to do what’s uniquely human: be creative. What’s graffiti on city buildings and streets today could very well become AR art in the not-so-distant future; and as an alternative to drawing on easels, kids can draw using their phones. One visual artist, Heather Day, created a “mark-making” installation mimicking brush strokes and paint pouring using AR. The installation, which is linked to parts of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, lets viewers trace their phones over walls, ceilings and floors on the campus to see 3D blue and yellow art strokes and pools of color. Over time, what’s known as “SLAM” or “persistence” technology will enable people to leave AR art on buildings and objects using location tags and “remember” the placement so that future visitors to the spot can view and engage with an earlier visitor’s creation.

5. Discovering facts about people, places, things – While today we typically turn to Google to find answers to questions and look up information, we can expect that in the years to come we’ll be using our smartphone camera lens and AR as a new “search” experience. Holding up our smartphone over outdoor statues in an exhibit or at a historic monument could generate information bubbles or animations that tell us more about what we’re seeing. (Google recently released an app called Lens that runs on the company’s Android operating system and allows people to scan objects through the mobile app to look up information such as a flower type or dog breed, create a contact from a business card or identify landmarks.) In a more distant possibility, an AR headset worn by a speaker on stage could use computer vision to read the facial expressions of audience members, and give the speaker visual feedback on how interested (or bored) attendees really are.

6. Location-Stored Messages – While photo and video messages with video effects are currently delivered directly to friends’ app inboxes, the same “persistence” technology that remembers the placement of AR art will likely also be used in the coming years to allow us to pick up AR messages from colleagues or friends at specific locations, detected by our smartphones. We could leave an entree recommendation, for example, for a family member at a restaurant we think they’ll try in the future. Or we could leave an AR bouquet and note for a significant other to discover at home.

Because AR is still in its infancy, even executives immersed in the technology emphasize that new surprising applications will arise as the medium grows. What we do know is that AR isn’t just for putting cats in cute space masks.


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