How Augmented Reality Works


Limitations and the Future of Augmented Reality
London commuters transport back to 1970s LA with the Elton John augmented reality experience at Kings Cross Station on Jan. 23, 2018. The installation has a self-playing piano and a screen that shows a virtual Elton playing when looked through. Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images for Rocket Music)

Augmented reality still has some challenges to overcome. For instance, people may not want to rely on their smartphones, which often have small screens on which to superimpose information. For that reason, wearable devices like augmented-reality capable contact lenses and glasses will provide users with more convenient, expansive views of the world around them. Screen real estate will no longer be an issue. In the near future, you may be able to play a real-time strategy game on your computer, or you can invite a friend over, put on your AR glasses, and play on the tabletop in front of you.

There is such a thing as too much information. Just as smartphone and internet addictions are concerns, an overreliance on augmented reality could mean that people are missing out on what's right in front of them. Some people may prefer to use their AR iPhone applications rather than an experienced tour guide, even though a tour guide may be able to offer a level of interaction, an experience and a personal touch unavailable in a computer program. And there are times when a real plaque on a building is preferable to a virtual one, which would be accessible only by people with certain technologies.

There are also privacy concerns. Image-recognition software coupled with AR will, quite soon, allow us to point our phones at people, even strangers, and instantly see information from their Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn or other online profiles. With most of these services people willingly put information about themselves online, but it may be an unwelcome shock to meet someone, only to have him instantly know so much about your life and background.

Despite these concerns, imagine the possibilities: You may learn things about the city you've lived in for years just by pointing your AR-enabled phone at a nearby park or building. If you work in construction, you can save on materials by using virtual markers to designate where a beam should go or which structural support to inspect. Paleontologists working in shifts to assemble a dinosaur skeleton could leave virtual "notes" to team members on the bones themselves, artists could produce virtual graffiti and doctors could overlay a digital image of a patient's X-rays onto a mannequin for added realism.

And we'll continue to see a mix of AR-enabled applications. For instance, companies will undoubtedly continue to unleash basic tools like an AR toothbrushing game from Dixie Cups, meant to teach kids basic brushing skills. And in the same breath, manufacturers, research facilities and more will find new ways to make people more and more productive in the face of an aging populace. All of these tools will help nudge the acceptance and capabilities of AR a bit further along this uncharted technological path [sources: Odell, Abraham and Annunziata].

Over the next few years, we'll likely see jumps in the evolution of the AR concept, in terms of both software, hardware, and a plethora of new applications. You might say that the future of augmented reality is so bright, you're going to need shades – and AR-glasses, too.

Last editorial update on Nov 9, 2018 11:28:39 am.

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