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Say a Word for Augmented Reality

When we think about the new and exciting world where the computer reality and the physical world are combined into a unique experience, we imagine ourselves on top of the world climbing the highest mountains, or deep in the oceans watching bottomfish, or shaking hands with celebrities — all these breathtaking experiences made possible by Virtual Reality, the much revered technology of getting a simulated environment to work on your senses.

Its sister technology, Augmented Reality may be less exciting, but it is our great assistant in everyday life. Lying in-between the real world and the virtual reality, it brings elements of the latter into the natural reality enhancing the things we see, hear, or feel.

AR is designed to improve our experience by superimposing graphics, audio and other sensory enhancements over a real-world environment, so it can be applied everywhere: from a simple text-notification to a complicated instruction on how to perform a life-threatening surgical procedure. Augmented reality applications can highlight features, enhance our understandings, and provide the required data when needed.

To better understand the scope of potential applications of AR (and for the sake of my love for categorization), let’s first have a look at the main categories of AR tools:

AR 3D viewers allow users to place life-size 3D models in the environment with or without trackers — simple images that 3D models can be attached to in Augmented Reality.

AR browsers project contextual information onto a camera display, for example, displaying the history of a building when pointing a smartphone at it.

AR gaming tools create immersive gaming experiences around — and on top of — the actual surroundings. The most famous use of Augmented Reality gaming so far is Pokémon Go, a hunt for virtual Pokémon hidden throughout a map of the real world.

Though at first sight the variety of tools if not impressive, they are enough to feed all possible fields and spheres of human activities, including

  • education;
  • medicine/healthcare;
  • military;
  • aviation;
  • tourism;
  • marketing;
  • manufacturing/industry;
  • entertainment/gaming;
  • art and more…

Education Applications

AR has the power to change the location and timing of studying, and to make the whole process more engaging and apprehendable. Adding extra data such as a short bio of a person, fun facts, historical data about sites or events or visual 3D models to the classroom will give students a wider understanding of topics. Even more importantly, AR technology has an ability to render objects that are hard to imagine and turn them into 3D models, making it easier to grasp the abstract and difficult content. AR can give students hands-on experience providing 3D models for practicing their skills: both for technical (such as the AugThat! application) and medical (Human Anatomy Atlas) spheres.

Medicine/Healthcare Applications

Speaking about medicine, it’s impossible to deny that AR can improve future doctors’ training. Besides, it may help diagnose patients or monitor treatment. Ultimately, it may be used in such life-threatening situations as surgery operations by providing things such as interfaces to operating room medical devices, graphical overlay-based guidance, recording and archiving of procedures, live feeds to remote users, and instant access to patient records (see, for example Touch Surgery application). AR tools can also project computer generated images or scanned images onto any part of the body for treatment. Therefore, Augmented Reality can reduce the risk of delays in surgery due to lack of familiarity with new or old conditions, the risk of errors in performing surgical procedures, and the risk of contamination.

Military Applications

Though the application that immediately comes to mind is training of soldiers in a safer manner, Augmented Reality changes warfare in a more subtle, yet valuable way. With AR tools, such as Adroit, all of the maintenance procedures can be loaded into a tablet — or a pair of smart glasses. For example, with the help of such devices any member of the team can become a qualified mechanic — what they need is to scan the unit and let be walked, step-by-step, through each diagnostic procedure. Once the issue is discovered, AR can seamlessly guide them through the repair. This same experience can apply to weapons, equipment, vehicles — essentially, anything, potentially saving time, cost and, ultimately, lives. Imagine how military services can benefit from the ability to recognize any real world object regardless of its size, transparency, lighting conditions, texture, oil, dirt or grime, understand what it is (including each smaller, unique part), and overlay important information.

Aviation Applications

In aviation and airline industry, Augmented Reality may be beneficial both for pilots and passengers. For the former, such applications as Aero Glass can overlay flight paths and instrument data over a pilot’s vision. In this way, pilots will access data without taking their eyes off the skies, and without spending time struggling with physical controls or a touch interface. On the other hand, such experience as Gatwick airport passenger app, where passengers could use AR maps from their mobile phone to navigate through the airport with the help of more than 2,000 beacons throughout its two terminals, can significantly improve traffic flow in the airport.

Tourism Applications

Augmented Reality in tourism has a great potential to enhance travelers’ experiences. We already are used to getting data on destinations, sightseeing objects, navigation, and directions from our smartphones. Apart from this, the newest AR mobile apps can provide additional useful information, guides, and translations. Probably, one of the most exciting AR applications in tourism is AR tours in museums, when every piece of art on display becomes an augmented model. A good example is The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, which uses the Skin and Bones app to show a full live representation of extinct animals based on their skeletons.

Marketing Applications

If used to the point, Augmented Reality marketing and advertising can genuinely delight customers. So far there are two effective approaches to helping users select a specific product: adding useful information about products and brightening natural world with added objects. The first approach is obvious: rather than having potential customers staring at small print labels or Googling information about every individual product, why not utilize AR to highlighting your product’s key features? Is it a special diet product — make sure that your clients see it.

To add objects to the real world is somewhat trickier: it should not be done simply for the sake of the technology, but it should give customers more perceptible freedom to choose. One of the most popular examples of this strategy is the Ikea Place app that scans a room and helps the user design the space by placing Ikea objects in the digital image of the room. Another example is the Visual Artist app by the cosmetic company Sephora that allows customers to try out different looks and eye, lips and cheek products as well as colors right on their own digital face. This is a powerful way to boost sales and to engage customers by trying out new products.

Industrial Applications

Many manufacturers have begun to explore the benefits Augmented Reality can offer in an industrial environment. So far, AR is used in manufacturing to replace traditional documents with 3-D interactive models while assembling units, performing maintenance or repair work, or for quality assurance. One example of such developments is Airbus’s “Mixed Reality Application,” or MiRA that integrates digital mock-ups into production environments, giving assembly workers access to complete 3D models of the aircraft under production. MiRA has been used on the A380 and A350 XWB production lines to check the integrity of secondary structural brackets, which hold hydraulics and other equipment in place.

Entertainment Applications

The key sphere of AR applications, entertainment industry (and gaming in particular) has seen a real revolution induced by the rise of mixed-reality applications. There exist games now, such as Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, that are capable of integrating live camera feeds as well as still photos. The iPhone’s camera captures what is in front of the player in the natural world, and then integrates it into the game. When players are looking at a landscape of mountains, they’ll be shooting down TIE fighters in the same background that actually exists in front of them. Besides from new gaming experience, Augmented Reality redefines our idea of entertainment, making TV interactive or — someday — even allowing us to choose an outcome for a movie depending on the choices we make through AR-enabled devices.

Art Applications

Sometime in the future, augmented reality will reinvent the way we experience art. Though opportunities for showcasing AR works are still emergent, some trends we already can see in various AR galleries and exhibits focused on AR experiences. Snapchat released their augmented reality art platform last year, featuring a virtual sculpture by Jeff Koons pinned to a lawn in Central Park and a call to artists worldwide to submit their own works to the platform.

Augmented Reality technology is still in its infantry, but this provides not only limitations but opportunities: with so many potential applications, it might be easy to find one’s own niche — just let your imagination go beyond the familiar natural world.

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