Augmented reality is often lumped together with virtual reality, however this technology has already been around for a while! It appeared in 2006/2011 with the arrival of holographic simulations in fashion, in particular on catwalks.
Modern augmented reality has had some ups and downs. Everybody remembers the flop of Google Glasses, which were seen as too intrusive by the general public, even though they were well received by companies.
Ways of thinking have changed, probably thanks to social networks, and Google is making a new attempt with more minimalist models, making the technology more accessible.
This Silicon Valley firm is not the only one interested in augmented reality. Many companies are attempting to bring this technology into our daily lives, such as IKEA for domestic use (to assist with interior design), and Niantic for entertainment with Pokemon GO.
Augmented reality is now an integral part of our daily lives: you can try on glasses virtually online (glasses are placed over your face using virtual reality), try on clothes virtually (in the same way as with glasses, it is now possible to try on clothes and get accurate measurements, without having to wear them), and even driving (head-up display, holographic displays in motorcycle helmets). Because it is put in the same basket as virtual reality, however, this technology is often associated with gaming and not fully exploited.
What if augmented reality was put to other uses? How about team-building or digital marketing?
Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality simply enhances our reality using holograms or virtual objects. It makes it easy to fill an empty room with a multitude of interactive and informative virtual items.
Even though the devices used to view objects are battery operated and consume energy, the more ecologically minded among us will appreciate the benefits virtualization offers by significantly reducing production. Forget about ink and paper, it is now possible to display virtual posters and flyers, and modify them without reprinting.
Augmented reality can be used for both day-to-day objects and major public events. In order to reduce transport costs and limit the environmental footprint, why not present virtual vehicles at motor shows instead of real ones?
Purists would argue that the sense of touch, a key factor in the creation of sensations, is missing from AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) simulations, and they would be absolutely right!
While an increasing number of accessories, such as haptic feedback gloves, are entering the market, the greatest frustration when immersed in a virtual world is the absence of sensory feedback, particularly in relation to locomotion (no actual physical movement) and haptic response (lack of sensory input in the hands when a virtual object is grasped for example).
This is where AR comes out on top, insofar as users are not totally immersed in a virtual world and can make full use of their bodies. While no sensory feedback is possible for holograms, our synaptic chemistry and balance are able to adapt. The lack of touch is therefore no longer a priority for the body and the virtual experience can be fully appreciated.
In a work environment, virtual reality has a significant role to play in the automotive sector (Google Glasses on Volvo's assembly lines), the medical sector (shoulder operation using Hololens), and training (via holograms).However, the range of possibilities could be expanded and this technology could be applied in other areas.
Up to now, augmented reality has primarily served industrial production, but as it becomes increasingly widespread, ways of thinking are changing. Our experiences with the technology are helping us overcome fears brought about by science fiction and it is becoming increasingly used in our daily lives.
So why not introduce augmented reality more and more into our museums and art galleries? Who has never wished they could be told the history of the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo by the characters themselves? And talk with them virtually? Who has never dreamed of walking with giant dinosaurs and mammoths and seeing information about them in real time (skeleton, musculature, nervous system and blood system)?
Thanks to augmented reality, at the Olympic Museum, it is for example possible for visitors to talk with Pierre de Coubertin as they enjoy the rest of the exhibition. It is also possible for visitors to watch narrated archive videos on the history of the Olympic Games at their own pace, and obtain information, without spoiling the experience for other visitors.
This concept can be applied to jewellery and watch showrooms. With very little equipment, it would be possible to make a watch talk (or its designer at least) in order to share the stages that went into its design, the ideas behind its production, etc.
It is currently possible to realise all of the ideas mentioned above without AR, but with a loss of dynamism and on a far smaller scale than what is possible with this technology. A real room has limits, while a virtual room only has the limits we set for it!
In another area, which is equally suited to the technology, combined with indoor positioning and surface recognition, augmented reality can be a major asset in promoting working relationships.
What could be better than an application that makes it possible to virtually visit your company's premises, displaying key locations and colleagues' offices?
Such an application would enable new arrivals to locate assembly points more easily and rapidly, thereby making their integration into the company smoother.
As we have seen, augmented reality is in no way a substitute for "true" reality. All it does is complete, enrich and embellish it!
This technology makes it possible to stand out, enhance your image and optimise production areas. While use of the technology remains tentative at the present time, the turning point is near and it is up to us to embrace it and allow ourselves to be guided by new applications.
Guillaume Sanchez - Designer/Developer, SQLI Switzerland