There are technologies which will make everybody ‘wow’ when its introduced. There are some which add enormous value to our life. Then there are technologies which will give us goosebumps when imagining it; which can open up a new era of applications; something which can produce a quantum leap in human progress.
I find Augmented/Mixed Reality in the line of latter. In this article, which is first of many, I will try to answer two questions which I myself asked in the past; WHY and HOW AR will make an impact in our life. This is far from a complete answer, but is a honest try.
For those who doesn’t know what AR is; augmented reality is a technology where we mimic the real world using audio and video based objects and project them on top of the reality. Imagine you are wearing one of this device and looking at a virtually designed chair. You can keep that chair near your actual chair and for you, it will look exactly like a real one, except you cannot sit on it. You can walk around it, you can drag it across the room. A similar term virtual reality is when you are not projecting it on top of reality. There the real world will be completely hidden from our eyes. The chair is a simple example, now imagine an entire virtual world with buildings or forests where you can walk around it, interact with it.
As a species, we human beings are lazy as well as greedy. On individual level, these features will drastically affect our potential for progress; but we as a race, had a long journey from being cave dwellers to the point of quantum computing because of these defects. We always want better solution for our problems; never will we be satisfied with the current ones.
Every successful for-profit organization in the world directly or indirectly assist in satisfying our basic needs: Food, water, accommodation, transportation, and in 21st century: information.
Konrad Zuse created the first computer in 1938. Though we can trace back the process of automating computing to centuries, that was one of the first programmable binary computer.
In time, those big noisy room sized machines were followed by personal desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. We invented better and efficient new machines for swift, intuitive and elegant interaction with the user. This chain of platforms will now be followed by Augmented Reality head-wears and may be, highly compact computation-enabled active contact lenses. If we look back at the invention of smartphone on a time when personal computers and laptops were existing, a smartphone era will seems incredibly unavoidable. Like I said before, we craved and searched for better way to communicate and interact. We required better ways to get things done.
The era of AR devices is also fairly unavoidable if you analyze the pattern. Some say; nobody will ever wear a 20th century pilot’s bulky eye-piece like headset in public; that it is a fashion nightmare; that it will be too uncomfortable. 50 years ago, nobody would have imagined that almost everyone will be carrying a 5 inch piece of metal and glass in future.
The point is; when something can add value to our life than anything currently existing, we always find solutions for the issues of discomfort. Yes, people will find it awkward to wear today’s bulky mixed reality devices. But it won’t be like that always. Tomorrows head wears won’t be any bigger than usual spectacles that you buy from showrooms.
In short: We need better solutions for many of today's and most of tomorrow’s problems. So it is improbable for such a device to not to heir personal computers and smartphones.
In the initial period, augmented reality will be mainly used by professionals who can afford the discomfort which accompanies it: Soldiers, drivers (especially motorcyclists), doctors, designers etc. Following are some fields which I believe will be fundamentally revamped by such a devices.
We must have attended lectures in which our professor was teaching complex geometrical problems or multi ringed organic compounds or the shape of a atomic orbitals. Think about all the effort and time which we have to invest to understand the subjects. Sometimes the idea we gathered will be entirely different from what he was trying to convey. Tomorrow’s classrooms won’t be the same. There will be mixed reality headsets which will assist the pupils to learn complex subjects faster and in depth. Imagine when your prof. taught your about glucose, you were able to see a complete magnified, interactable glucose molecule placed right in front of us. Imagine you were able to add new components into it and see the variations in chemical and geometrical properties. This isn’t about any single field. In Fact there will be an entire profession on creating educational contents and software for augmented reality devices.
Today, we build our 3d designs in 2d views. Though most cad, rendering and other software support 3d simulation, all we see at a time is a projected 2d view of the design we are working on. But tomorrow, it will be different. We will create our designs right in front of us, we will see how it interact and merge with the surroundings. Nothing can be more intuitive and effective than creating a physical tangible model of the original structure. Designing a physical model can never fully solve the problems of pressure analysis, simulations and it will take more time for each iteration. But with mixed reality devices, we will be bringing together the positive features of a great 3d modelling software and tangible model simulation.
Disaster Management Teams,Soldiers, Fire fighters
Often after accidental or natural disasters, the casualty rises due to ineffective disaster management. With the current technologies, we have a lot of limits. Trained professionals will be very new to the current location. Native people won’t be well trained for such a situation. Imagine every professional who is engaged in the rescue team have all information available right in front of his eyes: where the building/structure was, what may be the best way to approach a building on fire or which is partially damaged. The augmented reality device will be a data crunching monitor right in front of us without obstructing the quick reaction time nature of such fields.
Technicians and service centers
The complexity of technical products usually increase as technology progress. From the old era refrigerator where we could solve the problem by restarting to modern personal computers where we have to recreate a corrupted partition after retrieving the lost information. Tomorrow’s call centers won’t be guiding you through the troubleshoots using audio communication, but they will be literally walking you through the process. This may be initially noticeable in fields where the product is comparatively expensive where package can contains an AR device. But later stage, AR based assistance will become another functionality given by most companies.
This isn’t a particular field. But those who worked in team projects knows that one plus one doesn’t add up to two always. Many times, the information gets lost in between, our ideas or thoughts will be complex that no matter how effectively you try to convey, the receiver will get only another altered version of your idea. But that will change one day. Team collaboration efficiency will be more than ever.
I can keep on writing about how this technology can drastically change many professional fields. But in general, augmented reality will get involved in every profession where we are introduced to unknown situations, where we have to manage information about new idea, interact with the surroundings and collaborate. Looking at the growth of automation in today’s world, the above given criteria will satisfy most of the manual labor of the future world.
Eventually these devices will be get more and more compact. Fashionable smart glasses are already available in the market. We will either solve the power consumption problems of microprocessors bringing smaller and lighter headsets or most of the computation will be transferred to cloud with a faster communication layers, similar to Li-fi. The only question remaining is “when”.
There will be a time of virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana with 3D visual avatars, who will walk among us. Currently, most progress in augmented reality is happening in smartphone based AR. This may be an unavoidable intermediate stage for this technology. But probably in future, most of the AR devices will be head mounted fulfilling its potential.
It would be impossible to predict all applications of smartphones when we were in personal computer era. In the same way, I think many of the major applications of augmented reality is still a question of tomorrows. Still, the current promises of this field are exciting enough to see its dominant presence in future.
Next few articles will be more about technical side of this field, how the technology is progressing and what are the technical challenges to be solved. I will also be writing about what we are doing in Augniscient, a young vibrant startup, as part of this great revolution.