“Augmented Reality”. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in a manner that could be described as euphonious. The term sounds lopsided and clunky. Definitely not two words that I find compelling or evocative. Those two words are the literary equivalent of a blunt instrument: slow, heavy, and strong. In fact, the term feels like a badly written movie that goes straight to DVD (and that you’ll eventually find it in the bottom bin at a Wal-Mart sale for $2.99). You can’t even make a workable abbreviation out of it; if you say “AR” in the wrong crowd, they will think you are referring to Accounts Receivable or Arkansas.
While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or even by the movie “based on the book”), we likewise shouldn’t judge a technology based on its name. In a similar vein, we shouldn’t be quick to discount augmented reality based on early examples/demonstrations that appear gimmicky. It is easy to miss the full earth-shaking, mind-rattling, jaw-dropping paradigm-shifting potential of future AR as both the technology and the industry matures. We are at the dawn of something new: it is almost impossible to understand the full scope and impact of what is coming. In many respects, it’s as if we have discovered a new country full of promise and hope. This “AR country” offers enormous potentiality for change, as well as many associated risks.
And just what is this augmented reality stuff anyway?
Augmented Reality in its most basic form is the blend of the real and the virtual. Beyond this, there is some contention as to what AR is or isn’t. There’s also the issue of whether any given example could fall under the categories of Mixed Reality, Virtuality, or something else entirely. We could construct various models and/or other litmus tests to determine if something should be referred to as AR, or we could easily adopt any of the more common definitions.
For now, let’s just keep it simple and a little broad. AR is the blend of the real and the virtual which can be experienced through a number of modes or modalities. It usually requires a digital video camera, a monitor, and either a printed marker or a pre-defined image which is tracked (which effectively replaces the marker). This definition is particularly suited to the past and the present state of AR technology.
In the near future, AR will incorporate geolocative, spatial, contextual, interactive, semantic, mobile, massively multi-user, and pervasive technologies. In the long-term AR will evolve into a platform that is extraordinarily dynamic and immersive. The popular/primary interface will include a pair of wearable displays with transparent lenses similar to a head’s up display. The form of these wearable displays will be nearly identical to a contemporary pair of Ray Bans or Oakleys:
This interface will be linked (hopefully wirelessly) to a mobile internet device that is likely to be clipped to a belt or sewn into clothes.
So what does all this mean? Why am I constantly going on about the blue sky potential of mobile augmented reality? With all combined AR elements, we will effectively be able to create an experience that is like a rudimentary Star Trek Holodeck. Interactive virtual objects, information, and life sized avatars will blend with the world around us:
…and will appear like semi-transparent holograms or digital ghosts. We will own virtual pets. Data visualizations will exist for everything from directional floating arrows to information tags anchored to every object (including us). 3D movies will be completely redefined. MMORPGs will be played in public parks. Doctors will see patients overlaid with X-Ray and MRI information. Education will come alive in the classroom….
There are thousands of potential applications and mobile AR experiences that will change nearly every aspect of our lives. A media revolution will occur; we will be thrust into a new information age where we are no longer chained to bulky PCs, heavy laptops and/or power hungry monitors.
This above vision is one that I am pursuing through my company, Neogence Enterprises. Although Augmented Reality has been in existence previously – the list of true early pioneers, innovators, and academics is long – Neogence wants to be at the forefront of taking AR to a new functional level. It may be a few years before our full vision is realized. There are plenty of technical hurdles still to overcome; in the meantime Neogence will aggressively push ahead one step at a time, building up piece by piece. If all goes well, we will be launching the first commercial version of a global mobile augmented reality network on October 10th, 2010 at 1010am Eastern. We plan on releasing bits and pieces along the way with some closed beta testing in the Spring. We want to build this emergent technology correctly and create something that is infinitely extensible and expandable. We intend to focus on the end-user experience and empower you (the user) to create wonderfully original applications and content.
Join us on our journey and help us build the future. In the next week or so, Neogence will open mirascape.com. We will allow for closed beta registration in the Spring. I have some special plans for the first 100,000 unique sign ups when we launch. The future awaits…