You may not know exactly what Augmented reality is, but because of movies and TV, we have all seen it. Iron Man’s targeting system is a good example of augmented reality. Tony has a real image of his surroundings, and all of the possible threats are highlighted and targeted.Remember Google Glass? Those really cool glasses that people wore around? Yup, Google Glass was/is a form of augmented reality. And then there is Pokémon Go, yup this too is a form of augmented reality.
So what is Augmented Reality? To put it simply, augmented reality is when technology is used to superimpose a computer-generated image over the user’s view of the real world, creating a composite view.
Was that a simple definition? Let me try again, augmented reality is when a computer puts something over your real view to help in some form of sight. Better?
The idea of augmented reality has been around for some time. One of the earliest mentions of what we would come to know as AR is from early science fiction literature. In 1901 L. Frank Baum wrote about spectacles that would have an electronic display that overlaid data onto real life.
Movie editors have manually added content to films by splicing images over the already existing film. Because this is done manually and not created from a computer this technically isn’t AR. However, with the growing use of using computers in the editing process CGI or Computer Generated Images were created. When set in reality, CGI is a form of AR.
AR has increasingly become a part of our everyday life, even if we don’t realize it.
We see AR every time we watch the TV. CGI used to be expensive and very time consuming but as technology advances, in some cases, it is now cheaper and faster than setting up a practical effect to film.
We will begin to see AR being used in navigation. Imagine driving a car where the windshield shows a digital overlay. You could easily see a navigation route plus if you need gas, you could ask your car to look for gas stations along the route. The car could highlight gas station on the route as well as over the real-time view as you drove. Other information could also be displayed such as the cost of the gas at each station and their hours of operation.
Tourism has some practical applications as well. Alcatraz has been giving guided tour by cassette tape for a couple decades now. Imagine that guided tour given on your phone with an AR overlay that highlights what the tour guide is talking about. When you tap on an object that is highlighted on the screen all related information about that item could be displayed.
One of the more exciting areas that will soon see more AR is in the medical field. Imagine doctors using a Head-mounted Display (HMD) that gives information while in surgery. Veins could be highlighted as well as organ and areas to make incisions. Doctors who are not in the OR could give input in real time seeing what the operating doctor is seeing. Combined with an MRI and X-Ray and other information, AR will be a major advancement in the medical field.
The same idea could be applied to maintenance and repair. A mechanic could see how the engine is built without taking it completely apart. Even if the mechanic has never worked on that type of engine before, they now have step-by-step instructions that are overlaid on the real engine. With minimal training, every mechanic can be a specialist for every type of car.
But the areas where we will probably see the biggest advancements in AR is with the Military. Fighter pilots already use Heads-up Displays (HUDs) to enemy fighter planes and targets. The horizon is displayed as well as distances and altitude.
Some ground forces use HMDs to send and receive real-time information on where potential threats are as well as objectives and known safe zones. Right now, the HMDs are usually only used by one squad member who passes that information to the rest of the team. As the tech progresses and becomes more advanced and affordable, we will see an increase of this tech being used by every soldier. It’s not hard to imagine soldiers who have easy access to several types of AR. Speculative fiction writers, movies, and video games are a great source of where our military might be heading with AR.
Augmented reality sounds great right? There couldn’t possibly be a bad side to this…
There was rumor a few months back about a mobile game that asked permission to access information on your phone. This included pictures, contacts and a few other things that were completely normal for similar games. Except, it was rumored that this game gave those permissions to the ads that ran in the game. It was also rumored that those ads would be written in a way that your information would be used to target you specifically. Google search uses your frequent searches and website visits to target you with ads, but this is different. Imagine an ad popping up selling a children’s toy, and the child in the ad didn’t just look like yours but was actually yours. I’ll let you imagine all the ways that could get scary quick.
It’s more than possible that this game and it’s sharing of permissions was completely made up. But it still raises questions. Is it possible for something like that to happen? Well, yes. With a little development from the AR tech we currently have, this is possible. Especially if laws that govern such things continues to lag.
Going back to the military, I don’t really see many people looking at AR and thinking that our military having that technology would be a bad thing. AR could potentially be used to help our military become more like a scalpel rather than a cannon. Precision attacks on specific targets would mean less civilian casualties. Less civilian casualties mean less reason for other civilians to become radicalized.
Because this tech isn’t too expensive, our military wouldn’t be the only ones using it. The likelihood that enemy militant groups and terrorist groups will also use the same or similar tech is high. We can only hope that they use AR to perform precision attacks, but there will always be groups who value their ideas more than human life.
So even though there are some glaring negatives with augmented reality, overall it looks like the benefits outweigh them. Regardless of how you feel, we are already rushing down the path to AR immersion in our everyday lives. It will be exciting to see the directions that this tech takes us.
This is only a short list of the potential of AR off of the top of my head. What forms did I miss? Let me know in the comments.