Last summer, Pokémon GO erupted onto the scene becoming an overnight phenomenon. At the same time, it introduced the world to the concept of Augmented Reality… the blending of digital content with the real world.
Mixing digital information with the physical world isn’t entirely new. Many cars today have a Heads Up Display (HUD) that shows the driver speed and navigation information up on the front windshield. This technology is poised to grow rapidly over the next few years… moving far beyond the windshield. Soon, eyewear will become widely available that perfectly embeds digital content on top of the real world.
The most advanced augmented reality system in existence today is the pilot helmet for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. Costing nearly a half million dollars each, this helmet gives the pilot near super human abilities. For example, in addition to seeing all of the needed flight information, using the advanced cameras embedded all around the aircraft, the pilot can zoom, can see in the dark, the helmet even makes the aircraft appear invisible… if the pilot looks down he is presented video of the scene below.
Fortunately, this technology is beginning to become available even to us civilians. Microsoft has their HoloLens device, Epson has Moverio, and MagicLeap has teased the market with their impressive concepts. Industry experts predict that we sit on the verge of an explosion of such devices. Analysts at Goldman Sachs see the market for growing to somewhere over $50 billion within the next eight years.
One look at a group of people staring intently at their 5 inch phone screen will provide a clue as to why pundits are so bullish on this segment.
Businesses will be the first to identify the value of augmented reality and will purchase entire fleets of these devices for workers. Here’s a scenario. An air conditioning repair person needs to fix a broken hose, but is unfamiliar with a new model she is looking at. Instead of returning to the truck to find the specification book for this particular model, she looks at the model number and asks her augmented reality headset to query the database for the plans on this model. A camera in the headset captures the model number and searches a database in the cloud for the information. A second later, a detailed schematic is downloaded into the headset. The technician sees the digital schematic drawn on top of the actual system. The headset then draws an arrow to the first screw to be removed. Each step of the repair is illustrated for the technician until the hose is replaced quickly and efficiently.
This synthesis of digital information with the real world will provide each of us super human type abilities. Imagine walking into a job interview with a person
you’ve never met. Your eyewear takes a photo of the interviewer, queries the cloud, and instantly presents you important and relevant facts about him or her from their LinkedIn profile.
Professional applications will take off first, but soon augmented reality will enter our homes as well. Consider a loved one living across the country appearing as if she was sitting on the chair across from you. Not a small video screen of your loved one… a full three dimensional likeness of her sitting in the room with you. Or, a game where alien robots were crashing through your walls attacking you from all directions.
This ubiquitous access to information may sound like science fiction, but one just needs to remember that smart phones only became available a decade ago, and look how far they have come in that time. Ten years from now will the phone be relegated to the museum in favor smart, voice activated, augmented reality eyewear? Time will tell.