Coined in 1990 by Boeing researcher Thomas Caudell, Augmented Reality has become an increasingly popular and talked about technology throughout the course of 2016. With the potential of bridging the gap between reality and the digital world, tech giants are looking closer to developing Augmented Reality with investment expected to surpass that estimated for Virtual Reality. To better understand the growing interest and potential of the technology, here are some of its current uses and applications.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
First let’s look at the difference between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). As their respective names suggest, AR is an enhancement of reality while VR is a completely fictitious representation of such. James Hogan, Client Solution Director at Kudor, describes AR as “A graphic overlay -be it 3D graphics or flat 2D visuals- over a real-time view of the physical environment.” AR adds layers of interaction with the real world through devices such as smartphones and tablets. These digital interactions alter the perception of reality creating a new user experience. On the other hand, Virtual Reality is completely computer generated and takes the user into a different space through a head-mounted display which completely blocks the field of view.
Where can we use Augmented Reality?
Entertainment & Education
The first use of AR that comes to mind is most likely gaming and entertainment, especially after this summer’s release of the popular Pokémon Go application. For Pokémon fans, both young and old, seeing their favorite characters come to life and interact with their surroundings was extremely captivating, resulting in a high number of downloads. Released only in July 2016, the game had been downloaded 100 million times by August, according to App Annie, the analytics service for mobile apps. Another trend in entertainment is children coloring books, with applications such as Quiver Fashion and Quiver Education providing printable coloring pages in which characters appear in a hologram like way out of the page when using the Quiver app. Entertainment leader Disney is also working on the release of AR coloring books using even more advanced AR technology that allows you to see the progression of your coloring directly on the 3D character moving on your 2D page. But entertainment is not only about gaming and children books, apps such as Ink Hunter allow tattoo lovers to test their art directly on their body without actually going under the needle just yet.
A Quiver Fashion coloring page before and after using the AR application.
The Customer Purchasing Journey
When it comes to business, there is a different number of domains where AR can be used to enhance and improve processes and increase efficiency. First let’s look at Marketing and Advertising; after conducting some research, it was clear that today the main role of AR in this domain is to bring print advertising to life. Augmented reality turns 2D flat print components into interactive 3D features or clickable ads. Applications such as Layar and Aurasma turn the static print ads into interactive features. Let’s take the example of Porter magazine shown below, it becomes a clickable and shoppable element when viewed through your mobile phone using the AR app Layar.
The cover of the Fall 2016 Porter Magazine seen through the mobile phone camera lens (left) and through the mobile phone using the AR app Layar (right).
Brands such as BMW have also used AR technology to feature 3D interactive ads on 2D print magazines. By implementing a digital element to their print campaigns, brands can finally have a more accurate measurement of the performance of such ads since they can quantify the number of interactions with the ads and other print supports while analyzing the quality of these interactions.
Retail is another major area which has benefited from the development of AR. Whether by allowing customers to project their products onto their physical environment or by projecting an object on the customer him/herself. IKEA is a forward-looking brand using AR to improve their clients’ shopping experience. Through the augmented reality application, the furniture giant allows its clients to project potential furniture options onto their surrounding environment for example a new coffee table onto their current living room setup or a new closet onto their newly renovated bedroom. The application goes even further by becoming an e-shop where customers can easily purchase the chosen items and get them delivered at home. By giving their clients the tools to mix and match different room layouts and styles, IKEA facilitates their customers’ purchasing journey while simultaneously increasing their sales potential.
Finally, another step of the customer purchasing process where AR is beneficial is in after sales services in the form of enhanced user instruction guides or user manual. Hyundai has recently released a user manual to help its customers navigate the car’s functionalities and to help them repair the car.
Businesses also benefit from AR technology during their development process more specifically the design stages. The car industry has been using early versions of AR for this purpose. Volkswagen uses a spatial augmented reality setup to project virtual components of a car’s interior onto a physical full-size dashboard. The technology leads to better results since it allows designers to visualize the product and make improvements based on a real size model. It simultaneously helps reduce costs; as the technology develops and allows for better virtual models, the need for prototypes will decrease reducing spending on materials and trial and error production.
Another area where businesses benefit from AR is in training. Roland Azuma, leader of the User Experience Research (UXR) group at Intel Labs points out that “Training is one of the original usages that researchers pursued in augmented reality’’. Fields such as automotive, military, aviation, medicine and all the areas where industrial maintenance and assembly are needed benefit from AR technology in the training stages. Augmented reality allows real-life practice without cognitive obstacles that come with having to interpret the instructions, text, video, images, etc., and then applying them to the task at hand. Showing the necessary steps and explanations directly on the real objects simplifies the understanding thus reducing the margin of human error.
AR start-up DAQIR was founded with the goal to develop the software, and later also the hardware, for the application of augmented reality at work, more specifically for industrial enterprises. The main goal of the technology developed by DAQIR is to facilitate the daily operations by allowing professionals to enhance their capabilities and be more precise and efficient thanks to the visual knowledge transfer achieved using the AR technology. The DAQIR Smart Helmet provides its users with real time data visualization, thermal vision, step by step process instructions and the ability to connect with an expert or colleague to collaborate, in real time, on a task at hand.
These examples do not represent an exhaustive list of applications and uses of augmented realty they simply attempt to depict some of the present applications of this new technology.