Augmented reality is a view of the real, physical world in which elements are enhanced by computer-generated input. These inputs may range from sound to video, to graphics to GPS overlays and more. The first conception of augmented reality occurred in a novel by Frank L Baum written in 1901 in which a set of electronic glasses mapped data onto people; it was called a “character marker”. Today, augmented reality is a real thing and not a science-fiction concept.
The Current State of Play in Augmented Reality (The Present)
Augmented reality is achieved through a variety of technological innovations; these can be implemented on their own or in conjunction with each other to create augmented reality. They include:
- General hardware components – the processor, the display, the sensors and input devices. Typically a smartphone contains a processor, a display, accelerometers, GPS, camera, microphone etc. and contains all the hardware required to be a an AR device.
- Displays – while a monitor is perfectly capable of displaying AR data there are other systems such as optical projection systems, head-mounted displays, eyeglasses, contact lenses, the HUD (heads up display), virtual retinal displays, EyeTap (a device which changes the rays of light captured from the environment and substitutes them with computer generated ones),Spatial Augmented Reality (SAR – which uses ordinary projection techniques as a substitute for a display of any kind) and handheld displays.
- Sensors and input devices include – GPS, gyroscopes, accelerometers, compasses, RFID, wireless sensors, touch recognition, speech recognition, eye tracking and peripherals.
- Software – the majority of development for AR will be in developing further software to take advantage of the hardware capabilities. There is already a an Augmented Reality Markup Language (ARML) which is being used to standardize XML grammar for virtual reality. There are several software development kits (SDK) which also offer simple environments for AR development.
There are apps available for or being researched for AR in nearly every industrial sector including:
- Archaeology, Art, Architecture
- Commerce, Office
- Construction, Industrial Design
- Education, Translation
- Emergency Management, Disaster Recovery, Medical and Search and Rescue
- Games, Sports, Entertainment, Tourism
The Future of Augmented Reality
Jessica Lowry, a UX Designer, writing for the Next Web says that AR is the future of design and we tend to agree. Already mobile phones are such an integral part of our lives that they might as well be extensions of our bodies; as technology can be further integrated into our lives without being intrusive (a la Google Glass) – it is a certainty that augmented reality provides opportunities to enhance user experiences beyond measure.
This will almost certainly see major advances in the much-hyped but still little seen; Internet of Things. UX designers in the AR field will need to seriously consider the questions of how traditional experiences can be improved through AR – just making your cooker capable of using computer enhancements is not enough; it needs to healthier eating or better cooked food for users to care.
The future will belong to AR when it improves task efficiency or the quality of the output of an experience for the user. This is the key challenge of the 21st century UX profession.