Augmented reality, while everyone has probably heard of it, many people may not know what it is or what the magnitude of its implications could mean. It could be just the thing that transforms the way we think about data, process information and interact with our world as we know it. Augmented reality can be defined as a live view of the real-world environment whose features are augmented by computer-mediated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality and the way people interact with their environment.
The idea of augmented reality is preconceived in several films such as Terminator (2003), where a character is embedded with a heads-up display unit that continually scrolls updated data through a visual overlay and Minority Report (2002), which is set in the year 2054 and highlights a futuristic augmented reality.
While these pop culture references make augmented reality look extremely complex and futuristic, digital media technologies are progressing at alarming rates, and it may come as no surprise that augmented reality is now upon our doorstep. Being part of the demographic cohort known as Generation Y, I am situated right in the middle of the advancement of these new technologies and I am highly fascinated and intrigued by the products that are being conceptualised and the impacts that such technologies may have upon society.
If we take a quick look at today’s society and technology we can see where this type of technology has emerged. The convergence of technologies has being the main driving force behind this new technology. Smart phones today function as all-purpose information systems, incorporating television, e-mail, Internet, GPS, voice recognition, gaming, and many other everyday devices (Starner et al., 1997). The way in which we interact with the world is clearly becoming more computerised and convenient, with information available literally at our fingertips. It is only a matter of time before the action of taking your smart phone out of your pocket and manually searching for this information is overridden by simply talking to a wearable computer device such as a pair of glasses that displays all this type of information ‘right before your eyes’.
So how far away is this technology?
Well, actually, this technology has been used since early 2000’s with soldiers wearing head-mounted displays in the field since 2005 and jet fighter cockpits using heads-up displays (Brandon, 2010). Both of these displays overlay important target and navigational information that allow the user to make crucial split second decisions.
Turn on your TV to a NFL game and the first-down line you see showing how far the attacking team must progress to get a first down layered onto the field is a small scale yet first hand evidence of augmented reality in today’s society.
This year IKEA released their 2013 catalogue with an augmented reality application designed to recognize varies pages in the catalogue and overlay animated 3D furniture (Oswaks, 2013). All you have to do is look at the catalogue with your smart phone camera via the application and it visualizes the item right there on the page, showing you exactly how it works. Other interactive content such as films and how-to-guides appear on the screen. Pushing this idea even further is Mitsubishi and Metaio who have created an application that allows users to see products in their actual size inside their home. All you have to do is select the product and point your smartphone at the location in your house where you would like to see it (Breeze, 2012).
LEGO have also implemented augmented reality commercially. In any LEGO store around the world, customers can hold a LEGO box up to a ‘digital box’ & watch a 3D animation of the product in every detail, creating a fascinating technical experience (Metaio, 2010). While these examples highlight ‘mobile’ augmented reality, it is evidently useful & convenient for accessing data. However, mobile augmented reality is a small stepping-stone for revealing the main significance of augmented reality, which is to further interaction using our vision.
Leading the charge in developing a mainstream augmented reality is Google Glass. Google glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display that displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format. Check out the video below to see exactly how it will feel.
Sixth Sense is another notable wearable augmented reality device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data (Mistry, 2009). Pick up a book and a projector displays reviews on the front cover, pick up a packet of chips and the projector displays nutritional information. Once such devices hit the market, it is this type of technology that we will be using to interact with our world and society.
So how will it impact us and what is the significance of augmented reality?
It is clear that we are rapidly progressing towards a world of total transparency and interaction. We’ll soon be recorded, broadcasted, face-recognized and socially connected by a wide array of devices. This provides both positive and negative aspects for the implementation of augmented reality into our everyday. Children will use it in school as a learning tool (Brandon, 2009). Architects will use augmented reality to see how new constructions will look feel and affect the area they are developing (Brandon, 2009). Military organizations will use augmented reality technology to analyze the sound of gunfire and receive insights regarding the type of weapon being used and from what vantage point. People will conveniently follow augmented reality manuals, making repair and construction of appliances such as cars, ovens and printers simpler and cheaper (Breeze, 2012).
Scientists are already implementing augmented reality to restore vision to the blind. The Argus II sends visual information wirelessly via electrical impulses to a chip implanted near the patient’s retina, producing a low resolution, black and white image (Gonzalez, 2013). While this may not seem too impressive, this technology will only get better. While augmented reality has many positive outcomes that extend beyond this short list there are also several negatives and criticisms towards the notion of augmented reality and devices such as Google Glass and SixthSense.
Firstly, fractured attention and the overt reliance on augmented reality GPS systems may cause a driver to drift off the road or miss an obstacle that has drifted in front of them. Privacy and identity theft are also at the forefront of augmented reality criticisms. If the large increase social networking in the past decade has taught us anything, it is that the majority of users really don’t know enough about securing information and privacy settings. You could easily be broadcasting information that you didn’t want to and down the track this may prevent you from opportunities such as being hired for a job (Future Conscience, 2009). Furthermore, with augmented reality we will already know a lot about a person even before meet them and we will be able to control what is displayed to them just like how we do on social networking sites.
So this raises the question, is the information presented to us about this person, organization, group or team really accurate? Additionally, movie theatres and sports arenas will have to think about the implications of augmented reality as users who are photographing and videoing with their augmented reality devices are essentially live video transmission studios, bringing a world of ultimate transparency to otherwise private or controlled environments (Brandon, 2009).
More serious negative impacts of augmented reality may be augmented terrorism in which data about densely populated areas and peak density periods is accessible to terrorist groups, allowing for attacks with devastating effects. Augmented bullying may also occur in which a cruel taunt may be projected onto a bathroom wall (Future Conscience, 2009). While there are both positive and negatives to augmented reality, it may require a few more years before concepts are refined and the negative impacts of such technology are fully researched and overcome.
In terms of the influence of augmented reality on interactive and digital media we will see a variety of different features emerge from this new technology. Digital media will turn into a hyper-interactive experience incorporating many dynamic elements. This may be a simple projection into ‘real space’ in which the user navigates an interface and is immersed right within the experience. Instead of interacting with a website we will navigate through a 3D projection ourselves. Artworks and paintings will highly interactive and informative, with information regarding the artist, context and artwork all available as the artwork is being examined. There will be a type of ‘active’ enjoyment, as virtual gaming also starts to emerge. The players will fully immerse themselves in the game as you can see at the start of the video embedded below. As augmented reality improves the amount of information available to us will increase exponentially as people upload, share and explore, providing the public with a never-ending real-time supply of information and insights about the world around them.
In summary, augmented reality will revolutionize the way we understand and interact with our world, providing us with information, insights and data quicker and more reliably then ever before. However, if I can hardly remember my friends phones numbers because of the dependency I have on my smart phone, what happens when I ‘upload’ my whole life to the internet, how conscientious are people really going to be when everything we need to know is spoon fed to us at every instance. It will be interesting to see how much augmented reality devices develop over the next few years and how dependent we actually become on it. Eventually, we may spend as much time looking at recreations of reality as we do looking at reality itself (Brandon, 2009).
Brandon, J. 2009, ‘Augmented Reality past, present and future: How it impacts our lives’, viewed 11 June 2013 <www.digitaltrends.com/features/ge-augmented-reality-iphone-app-past-present-and-future-how-it-impacts-our-lives/2/>
Breeze, M. 2012, ‘How augmented reality will change the way we live’, viewed 11 June 2013, <thenextweb.com/insider/2012/08/25/how-augmented-reality-will-change-way-live/>
dscmailtest. 2010, Minority Report – Personal advertising in the Future, viewed 11 June 2013, <www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bXJ_obaiYQ>
Future Conscience. 2009, ‘Augmented Reality: The good, the bad and the ugly’, viewed 11 June 2013 <www.futureconscience.com/augmented-reality-good-bad-ugly-part-two-the-bad/>
Gonzalez, J. 2013, ‘Augmented Reality used to grant sight to the blind’, viewed 12 June 2013, < http://www.qrcodepress.com/augmented-reality-used-to-grant-sight-to-the-blind/8517232/>
Metaio, 2010, ‘The LEGO Group and Metaio work on the next generation of augmented reality using Intel technology’, viewed on 12 June 2013, < http://www.metaio.com/press/press-release/2011/lego-digital-box/>
Mistry, P. 2009, ‘Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology’, viewed 11 June 2013, < www.ted.com/talks/pranav_mistry_the_thrilling_potential_of_sixthsense_technology.html>
Oswaks, M. 2012, ‘IKEA’s Augmented Reality Catalogue Might Be The Company’s Best-Made Product Yet’, viewed 12 June 2013 < http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/07/ikeas-augmented-reality-catalog-might-be-the-companys-best-made-product-yet/>
Scott, T. 2012, ‘Google glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself (parody of Google’s Project Glass), viewed 11 June 2013 <www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3TAOYXT840&feature=player_embedded>
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Starner, T., Mann, S., Rhodes, B., Levine, J., Healy, J., Kirsch, D., Picard, R., Pentland, A. 1997, ‘Augmented Reality Through Wearable computing’. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.