The 90's brought us the Virtual Boy and the hype of the century was on the go virtual gaming, which ended up being a truly epic fail. 2010 promises to usher in an entirely new way of interfacing with our reality both in gaming and much more so in day to day life. The purpose of this post will be to give people a primer on AR(Augmented Reality) its difference in comparison to VR(Virtual Reality) and most importantly the short, medium, and long term trends with this technology.
While many would argue that 2009 was the birth of AR I would argue that this year was not its birth but its in-utero growth, sorry to take the analogy that far, but the baby has not even crowned yet. Current applications of AR include business cards, action figures, phone apps, GE commercials, Jack Links commercials, esquires commercials and of course the MIT Sixth Sense program. All of these apps are examples of proof of concept as opposed to full fledged media outlets ala traditional media and gaming. GE, esquire, and Jack links for example are banking on the novelty of AR, as opposed to the Utility, to sell their traditional products. The future of AR is not likely to be on the same linear track as current uses of this technology.
Many have seen Minority report, and while some of those uses of AR are likely to be seen, many valuable and practical uses of AR are skipped over in Minority report. The commonly cited scene of Tom Cruise using AR gloves and glasses to sort through video information is baby AR and something that you are likely to see early adopters using in the next 6 months to 2 years.
In the next 3-5 years one can expect to see continued increases in the use and misuse of AR in advertising, fashion, gaming, and entertainment. Specifically fashion, with X-Box Live's adoption of "avatars" complete with their own purchasable clothes, one can reasonably expect AR to begin to blend first with that which we change most, our clothing. Styles, cuts, colors, etc change with the seasons by adding AR data to our clothing the ability to express oneself through fashion explodes.
One may have seen the video on Ted of the MIT Sixth Sense program, towards the end of the video the show two people and on their white t-shirts their social networks and blurbs are projected on to them, with a true AR device one could be wearing plain gray clothing but would be perceived, by all wearing an AR device, as being more colorful than a medieval Hindu Brahman. The blending of AR and clothing will also offer whole new methods for people to enjoy certain forms of entertainment, from the daily comic strip on your t-shirt to the Dow Jones tracking Tie the combination of digital data and clothing are only limited by the imagination of the user.
The beautiful thing about using AR in clothing instead of nanotechnology is the lack of toxicity and exposure to products that may or may not have long term health implications while maintaining the illusion of programmable matter that nanotechnology will eventually bring to fabrics. By using AR reality fashion and designers can not only better distribute their clothing lines but can also better interact and benefit from web 2.0 and crowd sourcing.
In entertainment one can expect in the next 3-5 years a growth in blended entertainment whereby the user can experience the normal show or if they like add dimension to it by donning AR glasses or some other AR device. This magic show is a prime example of proof of concept and where AR entertainment may go in the not to distant future, at least for live shows. Widespread adoption of this is not likely within the next 3-5 likely within the next 5-10 and certain 10+ years out.
The growth in Augmented Reality in gaming and mainstream entertainment are not likely to change much over the next 3-5 years with only mild adoption of AR technologies. It is likely that over the next 3-5 years AR will continue to be used as a gimmick and a last minute add-on in Movies, Music, and Gaming. While it is possible that some system ala Microsoft's Natal or Sony's motion controller will break out it is highly unlikely as neither of the aforementioned companies is spending any serious amount of money on research and development of actual Augmented Reality. The big changes in video gaming and entertainment are not likely until one looks at 7-12 year projections.
This trend is likely to change sometime around 2015 and by 2020 widespread adoption of AR will be begining ala the Iphone. Some products that you can expect in the next 10 years from AR include true telepresence where the user is projected as a 3-d representation in someone's augmented reality. This is more likely than true holograms simply because of the flexibility in an AR telepresence. With holograms a dedicated projector is required whereever one would like to be projected.
However with a AR suite one can easily invisage some internet company providing a service whereby a user could be "connected" with any other user any where in the world and information could be downloaded to their NPC(nano-personal computer) and projected on to their glasses, contact lenses, or embedded AR device. This not only solves the problem of projectors with holograms but also eases privacy issues with teleconferencing and video phones.
One of the many arguments against dedicated video phones or holographic teleconferencing is that there are times where we do not look our best or do not want to show others where we are or what we are doing, with AR one could set a default digital representation that showed one in any given state and at any given place thus alleviating, what i believe to be, one of the biggest hurdles to public adoption of Augmented Reality.
Other possibilities include augmented reality nannies, coupled with roomba-esque robots, all surfaces will be usable for digital data overlay and are likely to be covered. In the way that banner ads took over the web and were ever present, advertising on surfaces in the beginning is likely to be overdone fueling the filtering business, just as in Opera or Firefox.
In terms of war, which is where it will most assuredly be used, a traditional Heads up display complete with "health" meter, targeting reticules, and range finders is guaranteed.The practicality of a real time responsive HUD can not be overemphasized. Such a thing would be a game changer, at least in relation to standard infantry. As such, one cannot reasonably expect DARPA or the DOD to NOT make this a reality. Such a product is likely less than 5 years away from military deployment and 7-10 years away from public consumption.
Long term one can expect AR devices to continue to shrink and become more powerful and practical as the processors and cameras responsible for their function are tied to Moore's Law like most electronics. Contact lenses are already being FDA tested on rabbits and the first embeddable chips are no more than 10 years away. Inside 20 years it is likely that children will be playing AR laser tag wherever they please not bound to some stinky building with clunky weapons that are far from accurate or responsive. It is also likely, if you are still driving, that your routes, danger signs, and all visual input will be augmented with digital overlays providing information on road conditions, nearby drivers, destinations, etc.
While many of these things already exist in singular devices or add-ons to existing vehicles these are not the same things one is talking about. All of these "abilities" will be software enabled as the hardware for AR is standardize-able.