Augmented reality check: Gadgets to change how we see the world

Technology firms are focused on the AR ‘smart glasses’ revolution, conference told

Augmented reality app: In a recent report, research firm Digi-Capital noted that, while virtual reality has tended to hog the headlines, mobile augmented reality is rapidly overtaking it in popularity and is likely to be the main driver of a combined market that is expected be worth up to $150 billion by 2020

Augmented reality app: In a recent report, research firm Digi-Capital noted that, while virtual reality has tended to hog the headlines, mobile augmented reality is rapidly overtaking it in popularity and is likely to be the main driver of a combined market that is expected be worth up to $150 billion by 2020

 

A “disruption tsunami” is heading our way with augmented reality likely to become increasingly commonplace over the next few years in a move that will bring widespread changes across retail, sports, health and entertainment.

That is according to Keith Jordan, founder and chief executive of Dublin-based iTagged, who told delegates at an event in the RDS, Dublin, last week to be prepared for a widespread revolution.

He was speaking at ARVR innovate, an annual augmented reality/virtual reality conference, where a range of speakers, including representatives from Microsoft, the Financial Times and BT Group, outlined technological advances that are about to reshape the way we see the world.

Jordan, whose company is behind a next-generation augmented reality platform used by organisations such as the ESB, says the world is going to change more in the next 25 years than it has over the previous 70 years, with much of the shift due to an increased focus of tech giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook on AR glasses.

“We’re seeing more digital content in the real world and increasingly there is a merging of physical and virtual reality,” he says, predicting that so-called “smart glasses” are going to be the next big thing.

Google meanwhile has heavily invested in Magic Leap, a start-up which has come up with 'light-field' smart glasses that are expected to compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens.

“We are moving from a ‘heads-down’ world where people spend all their time looking at their smartphones into a ‘heads-up’ one where everyone will have smart glasses,” he says.

“Smartphones such as the iPhone will serve as the brains but the glasses will be used for the emotional, vision-led experience,” Jordan adds.

Earlier this year it was reported that Apple is collaborating with German optical instruments company Carl Zeiss on a new wearable. Google meanwhile has heavily invested in Magic Leap, a start-up which has come up with “light-field” smart glasses that are expected to compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens.

“Smart glasses will displace smartphones by 2025 with one billion shipments a year by then,” says Jordan.

Rapidly overtaking

In a recent report, research firm Digi-Capital noted that, while virtual reality has tended to hog the headlines, mobile augmented reality is rapidly overtaking it in popularity and is likely to be the main driver of a combined market that is expected be worth up to $150 billion by 2020.

For those unsure of the difference: with virtual reality, the physical world is replaced by artificial content, whereas with augmented reality, digital information – such as images or text – is overlaid onto the real world.

Mobile app Pokémon Go is a great example of an augmented reality success and up till now, the technology has largely been associated with gaming. However, that is expected to change. Jordan predicts augmented reality will have a huge impact in a number of areas, particularly healthcare.

He envisages a world in which doctors will be able to access patients’ case files via their smart glasses and be able to overlay such information – such as previous bone breakages – over the body to see how an injury is healing.

Jordan says augmented reality will also lead to a far deeper immersive experience in areas such as sports and children’s toys.

But hold on a second. Haven’t we been here before? Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Google Glasses was all the rage?

Indeed it was, but that was before a widespread revolt against so-called Glassholes took place that helped lead to its downfall. The tech giant discontinued Glass as a consumer product in 2015 after privacy concerns were raised over the intrusive nature of the wearable with many users refusing to turn off the device when asked.

What’s changed significantly in the last five years is ‘Generation Minecraft’ has come through and everything they do is meant to be broadcast

Ironically, the product has developed something of a second life with reports that an enterprise version is meeting with great success in the workplace.

Jordan acknowledges problems arose with Google Glass but says things have progressed since it was introduced in 2012.

‘Generation Minecraft’

“Google’s problem was that it didn’t put an LED in the front of the glasses that showed when users were recording so people assumed they were always on. What’s changed significantly in the last five years is ‘Generation Minecraft’ has come through and everything they do is meant to be broadcast. They live online, tagging and photographing every moment of their lives and for them, privacy is dead,” he says.

“In addition, the technology has improved greatly in terms of AR and is only going to get better. There is talk of Apple having 1,000 engineers in Israel working on smart glasses and so things are really developing and fixed experiences are going to die because once people try this they don’t want to go back to what they had,” Jordan adds.

Also appearing at the conference was Jean-François Chianetta, founder and chief executive of Augment, a Parisian start-up with an app which allows users to visualise products in AR.

The company, which has raised $4.8 million in equity funding since it was founded in late 2011, has a client list that includes Coca-Cola, Krups, L’Oreal, Boeing and Nestle.

He notes that while augmented reality for retail was still relatively niche it is on its way to becoming part of the everyday sales process.

“AR for retailers will be everywhere within one-three years,” says Chianetta, adding it played a key role in increasing conversion rates and engaging shoppers, both online and offline.

Adapting to technology

While augmented reality may be taking precedence, virtual reality is hardly dead in the water. Adoption of the technology may have been slower than originally anticipated but it is happening with some formerly old-fashioned companies such as the Financial Times among those embracing it.

The newspaper recently teamed up with Google for a virtual reality partnership last year that has led to the production of a number of short films under the Hidden Cities name.

The content, which is viewable across devices or with a specially-designed cardbord viwer from Google, was well received according to Natalie Whittle, the Financial Times’ weekend editor and a speaker at the event.

“The first programme in the series, which was a documentary on the favelas in Rio has attracted over 2.9 million views and is our most watched video ever,” she says.

“Engagement is a key part of how we measure the success of our content, which is no longer just about how many readers we have ,” Whittle adds.

Almost as popular was a follow-up show, Dublin in the Dark: The Story of Emerald Noir, which was filmed in stereoscopic 3D and centred on the new wave of Irish crime writers and their relationship to the country’s literary traditions.

“The Hidden Cities series is all about new forms of storytelling and ways to engage with our readers. We’re trying to create a culture where people will keep on returning to the FT and will hopefully eventually become a subscriber,” Whittle says.

The Financial Times is not alone in turning to AR and VR to win customers and it seems to be only a matter of time before more brands do likewise.