The now sadly deceased author Terry Pratchett once wrote (through one of his characters) that human beings make life very interesting. For example, in a universe full of wonders they managed to invent boredom.
Isn’t that the truth? Here we are, miracles in our own right, sitting on the surface of a gigantic natural spaceship hurtling around a gigantic ball of nuclear fire. Still, that doesn’t help make your commute to work on a Monday morning any less dull.
Let’s face it, reality bites sometimes. But thanks to augmented reality (AR) and its more advanced cousin mixed reality (MR) we can now transform our mundane worlds into anything our imaginations can come up with.
AR? What’s That?
I cover the difference between AR and VR in another article, but to keep it short and simple, AR is a technology that layers digital projections onto images of the real world.
At the most basic level, a fighter plane’s heads up display is a form of AR, but when people use this term it describes something more sophisticated. For example, the Pokemon GO application for smartphones will project an animated 3D model of those ever-popular pokemon into a camera feed of your environment. So it can look like Pikachu is sitting right there in your living room.
There are many subtypes of AR and MR, with the latest generation moving to immersive headsets with sophisticated environmental mapping. In this section of the site you’ll learn all about the software that drives those devices and headsets.
Bigger than VR?
While all the hype in the media skews towards virtual reality, the truth is that augmented reality and its related technologies will probably end up being the more mainstream technology. The main reason for this is simply that for day-to-day life people won’t want to be cut off completely from the outside world. AR provides a hybrid experience that still lets you access those digital wonders without completely detaching from the world.
I actually think that AR is going to have a profound effect on the world of the future. It’s going to change everything from work and leisure to the very architecture of physical objects. In the same way that the car transformed the landscape, AR is set to strip away much of the now-obsolete bric-a-brac that litters the postindustrial world. I’ve written a whole article about this AR world and if that sounds like an interesting topic I suggest that you give it a look.
Gaming in the Real World
Videogames are a huge, multi-billion dollar global industry. Almost everyone is a gamer in one form or another, from people who play casual mobile games like Candy Crush to hardcore multiplayer gamers who spend hundreds of hours in games like Destiny or Call of Duty.
Augmented reality, like VR, is a prime platform to provide people with new ways to play. Pokemon Go is an example I mentioned earlier, but I’ve created a list of six augmented reality games I think everyone should try. The great thing about AR is that most of us already have an AR-ready device nestled in our pockets.
Laying the Foundation
The technical challenges of VR are difficult – there’s no doubt about that. But the challenges of AR and MR make them look small in comparison. Several companies have been working on the hard problems of augmented reality and many of those solutions have centered on hardware, special cameras, motion sensors, and other fancy ways of accurately mapping and digitizing the real world so we can play with it in virtual spaces.
Unfortunately, that means only people willing to buy AR hardware for that purpose can benefit. It’s a pretty hard sell when people are already forking out hundreds and thousands of dollars on more mainstream systems. Luckily both Apple and Google have stepped up to the plate and have created software solutions that repurpose existing smartphone hardware for amazing next-generation AR.
Apple is the first to actually release its platform. It’s called ARKit and if you own a recent iOS device you can already try it out with the many free and paid AR apps available. Google is following from behind with ARCore, an as-yet unproven quantity. Either way, all smartphone users on these two major operating systems will be getting their hands on amazing AR soon.