Augmented Reality for Everyone: The Power of AR in the 21st Century
January 7, 2022
Have you ever seen something that was so beautiful that it took your breath away? I'm not talking about a picture of a sunset or an incredible view. I'm talking about the time you walked through Diagon Alley or saw Hogwarts for the first time. That's what augmented reality is. It's like walking into your favorite movie set and experiencing it!
Furthermore, the last few years have seen the rise of augmented reality. Early adopters like Snapchat, Pokémon GO, and IKEA Place are bringing this technology into everyday life. It's not just for games or furniture shopping anymore! With augmented reality, it's possible to see what a new car will look like in person before you take delivery, watch concerts from anywhere in the world, and of course, catch Pokémon.
The buzz about augmented reality continues to grow and isn’t showing any sign of stopping. A significant reason for this can be attributed to the clamor around the metaverse. You might be wondering what exactly is the metaverse and why is there so much hubbub surrounding it?
The term metaverse was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 Sci-Fi novel, Snow Crash. Here, he envisioned the metaverse as a virtual reality environment where lifelike avatars interacted in 3D buildings.
Cut to 2021; Mark Zuckerberg had his vision of how the metaverse would look like. Zuckerberg’s version of the metaverse resembles a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces. It’s an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. Thus, you might say that the metaverse is essentially a combination of virtual reality, augmented reality, and video. In fact, Zuckerberg is so obsessed with the Metaverse that he even renamed the Facebook Company to Meta.
If Pokémon Go and Snapchat introduced AR to the masses, it's the metaverse that’s making it even popular. And even brands like H&M have joined the augmented reality bandwagon. For one of its launches, H&M allowed consumers to virtually try on apparel and accessories at its New York locations while also offering them discounts.
Their next advent into the AR world was even more remarkable when they partnered with the British artist Faye Wei Wei for fashion designer Simone Rocha’s collection with H&M. The best part? It was done in the form of an AR pop-up book. Pages on the book had to be scanned to view the cast of dancers, models, and artists that emerged from the book’s pages as 10.5cm tall figures. Such magical times to live in, isn’t it?
ARKit and ARCore — What are they, and what can they do?
Leaving these aside, even tech behemoths like Apple and Google jumped into the AR world with their ARKit and ARCore, respectively. There is much hope surrounding this vis-a-vis cementing AR into the zeitgeist. This mass-market launch brings free development tools into the hands of more than 100 million users.
Users will be able to explore and create marker-free immersive experiences, meaning that using QR codes to shore up images will become a thing of the past. This new marker-free era of augmented reality tracks the environment around you using the camera and accelerometer, and gyroscope to provide a real sense of space and even objects.
Another important feature is light estimation. It evaluates the amount of real-world light in the environment, which creators can use to render the virtual content realistically. Shifts in the light are reflected in virtual objects, so a figure in the sunset will darken appropriately. Subtle visual improvements like these stack up to an immensely upgraded experience.
The last prominent feature worth mentioning in ARKit and ARCore is hit-testing, which estimates how far something is and returns accurate distance measurements. This helps with depth perception and placement of objects within planes. Finally, it is worth noting that ARKit allows you to create your own distance visualizer in iOS.
So what are the limitations of ARKit and ARCore? For one thing, neither platform can track arbitrary objects or hand gestures. Also, virtual content cannot be hidden behind real-world objects. So if you created a figure and someone stepped in front of it, the figure would reappear in front. This ruins the illusion of realness and pulls the user out of the experience.
Leaving the gaming and shopping applications aside, augmented reality offers much more to the general populace.
Augmented Reality for the Masses
AR for Visualization
As mentioned above, augmented reality offers immense potential for visualization. It lets users bring concepts or objects into reality that otherwise would not be possible. For example, seeing Pokémon in real life.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, and students learning from home, AR came to the rescue and how! For example, medical students in the USA used HoloAutonomy and HoloLens to learn about the human body by visualizing it. By receiving lifelike models with great attention to detail, students’ learning was not limited by the 2D illustrations in medical textbooks or the meager availability of cadavers.
Apart from this, you could also use AR to visualize the pollutant particles that wreck our systems. This AR experience launched by the New York Times also allows you to compare the pollution across the world.
Additionally, there is also an AR experience that helps adults with autism to prepare for interviews in a secure environment that reduces anxiety and builds competence. Talk about tech-for-good.
AR for Storytelling
Augmented reality introduces different and new perspectives on how we share, tell, and remember stories. This is made possible with immersive experiences unfolding in public spaces and our homes.
One of the more popular experiences came about due to the pandemic. Yes, I am talking about the AR experience that allowed users to explore and virtually try out iconic Oscar dresses from the past five decades. Since events like Oscars and the Met Gala were indefinitely postponed, AR provided users with a unique experience from their homes.
Another tech-for-good experience is taking place at the National Gallery of Prague. The museum uses haptics (virtual touch feedback) to provide visually-impaired people with a unique experience of actually viewing masterpieces. These users can put on a pair of haptic gloves and ‘see’ 3D virtual artworks using a series of vibrations to the hands, palms, and fingerprints.
AR for Annotation
Using augmented reality, you can use annotations as a guide for completing complex tasks, receiving real-time descriptions of what’s happening around you, and navigating through different environments.
The best example of using annotations with AR is at the National Theatre in London. To make its performances more accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the National Theatre employed smart caption glasses. As users wear these glasses, they can see a transcript of the description of the performance.
As things open up worldwide, you can expect to find more AR experiences designed for accessibility.
AR for Navigation and Exploring
With the advancement in technology, how can tech behemoths like Google and Apple be left behind? With the rising popularity of AR among the general public, they decided to take advantage of it. How? By turning their maps into interactive experiences.
Google Maps is carrying this out in the form of Google Maps Live View, which essentially provides users with AR-based walking directions. Users can also hold their phone up next to their surroundings to see directions laid on top of the camera view to make it easier to locate your desired location.
Similarly, Apple Maps also offers users AR-based immersive walking directions. In addition, it also provides users a method of navigating cities like London, Los Angeles, and New York City with an immersive 3D map. This interactive 3D map is also available for driving, thus enhancing your overall driving and navigation experience.
AR Today, Tomorrow, and Forever
Even though augmented reality has been around for a few years, we are only seeing its true potential now. With a gamut of use-cases across numerous industries, the reality is undoubtedly augmented and virtual too 😉 (or wait, is it all meta now? 🤔)
We at Mutual Mobile have been developing immersive AR experiences for various use-cases. So if you’re on the lookout for creating such an experience for your organization, no one is better than us to pull it off!