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Augmented Reality - Fad or Future?

Augmented Reality overlays the world we’re experiencing with real time, digital information – travel directions, weather, what’s around you – think Iron Man or Minority Report or yes, that’s right - Google Glasses!

When Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014 it made the statement, “we’re making a big bet that AR and VR will become a part of people’s everyday life.” With the Rift headset due to launch in March this year, it’s time to take stock: where is AR now and will it be the next big thing?

In our first event for 2016 we explored: 

  • What exactly is AR and how does it differ from VR?
  • How can AR be applied in industry? Specifically retail, property development, manufacturing, tourism, art and culture
  • How long will it take for consumers to adopt this technology and what are the barriers (expensive hardware, etc)?
  • What are the risks of this type of technology and how can they be overcome, ie privacy?
  • What’s the next big thing in AR?

With Panellists:
Mark Bergin - Founder, Design 100
Steve Guinness - GM, Plattar
Eleanor Whitworth - Senior Arts Officer, Creative Victoria
Alec Villarreal Wurts - Founder & Director, Augmented Reality Experts (ARE)
Frank Vetere - Professor, Dept of Computing & Information Systems University of Melbourne and Director, Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces
Moderated by Bec Kempster - Chair of the Churchill Club

The Insights…

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmentation is anything in the physical world that is extended virtually by some sort of overlay or digitisation. It requires that we first agree on what is reality – that it’s our physical world, the things that we see that are common in our environment; and where the augmentation is designed by another person to create a specific effect.

It can also be described as a digital layer on our real world - or ‘field of view’ augmented reality, as AR can also be experienced through our other senses. 

In contrast, virtual reality is where the user is completely closed off and in an entirely conceived space. It’s this layering over the real world that makes AR so much more complex than VR.

The public will consume both though without knowing whether it’s AR or VR. We will reach a point where it doesn’t matter which you’re using, just that it’s available and delivering content efficiently. You might be at the Colosseum with an overlaid AR experience or be at home with a VR experience consuming the same content about the Colosseum. 

Can people with visual disabilities access AR?

The bionic eye is an extreme example of AR.  There are ways of augmenting sound and gloves that detect sonar vibration. Haptic feedback is also a method of receiving information for the visually impaired. 

Our phones also allow us to use AR with other senses – such as audio. As technology improves the options will grow. It doesn’t necessarily need to pop up content, it can also pop up sound. 

What are the learnings from the failure of Google Glass?

Question whether it was a failure. Best learnings are achieved by giving to people and monitoring their feedback. Not sure it was meant to be a commercial success. A lot of learnings and benefits from it. We will see other developments as a consequence.

The media focused on the use of Google Glass in public places, streets, etc which are very challenging environments, where privacy is challenged and there’s lots of opportunity for misuse. 

Where are creative industries and artists pushing AR?

A great example in Melbourne was The Arts Centre Fly by Night project. A number of performances were pre-recorded and triggered by markers as visitors moved through a trail in the Centre with their smartphones. The trail was also scattered with real performances – shifting the view of what was real versus augmented. 

AR in wayfinding has also been an area of focus for the culture sector. A recent European Commission project focused on collecting visitor profiles via a short survey, which determined areas of interest within the museum. This data was then used to direct the visitor to certain points within the museum and augmented what they saw. Not an artistic application but a way of influencing how people move through a space. 

A.R.E. are currently collaborating on project with historians for visitors to the Colosseum in Rome. By overlaying digital content they can create scenarios where you can visualize what is looked like 2,000 years ago. This marks a big shift in the culture sector where there’s a big focus in presenting content. 

The Ground Zero Visitor Interpreter Centre in NY has also utilized AR in its exhibition and found that the result was too confronting for a community still suffering post traumatic stress. They had to dial back the level of augmentation because people weren’t ready to deal with it. 

Geolocation & AR

Beacons can be used as sensors to trigger content that accompanies an AR experience. 

An example of an app doing this well is Blippar. It can identify a range of objects in a room using image recognition, then prompt you with ads or offers that are relevant to where you are via AR. For example, if sitting at the football holding up your phone, it can identify that you’re at MCG and serve up an offer for a food retailer. This is just in time augmentation

How do we bridge the gap between the technology and the experience?

Are we using technology for the sake of it – or because it actually enhances the user experience? We are still in learning phase and will hit areas where using AR is completely inappropriate or too ahead of our time. We’re yet to uncover these boundaries and need to be sensitive to this in developing. 

This is why it’s critical to nail the user experience and the customer experience. It’s about having the right brand, the right users and the right experience. 

However, don’t necessarily discount technology when used as a gimmick as it can be an opportunity to introduce new audiences to AR – provided they have the space and context to explore it and learn along the way. 

What are the challenges with AR technology?

The levels of augmentation need to coincide with the experience. The objective is to educate and create an immersive experience that enhances the real world experience for the user. 

The challenge lies in developing applications with an appropriate level of layering, particularly when used in areas like medical surgery. For example CT scans are currently displayed in 2D and on a screen off to the side of the patient. A.R.E are working to create a 3D model that projects into the surgeon’s field of vision to assist in real time with the surgery. What is the appropriate balance of layering? If too strong then it becomes more of a VR experience where the user can’t distinguish between reality and the layers of the model. The experience also differs from user to user. 

When will reach the point where we don’t distinguish between AR and reality?

Google are clearly looking ahead at this and in 2014 partnered with drug company Novartis to develop a smart contact lens. 

Apple have also recently invested heavily into AR – this could form part of our devices. 

AR more likely to seep into our world rather than come in with a big bang – it’s here and we often don’t see it.  

We’re watching rapid transformation from adoption by marketing sector to service, education, medical and industry. 

If we become more comfortable with the VR experience – where we’re completely immersed, then perhaps then we will become more comfortable with moving backwards to a partially immersive environment and we will adapt quite quickly. This will of course require the right design interfaces.

Who drives the AR development process – clients or developers?

Sometimes it’s both – “I want a hologram” or much more thought out. Sometimes developers approach the client with a view to collaborate. Often brands with either a willingness or desire to spend the money on something that will provide a point of difference. They have the budget, an innovation project or a visualisation problem to solve. Best clients are those that are willing. 

An entry level application may cost as little as $5K + service fee

How open are organisations to adopting this technology?

The culture sector and museums especially are traditionally quite conservative. There’s an element that “really want to do something - anything with technology”. There has been history of this, especially early on but the sector is getting better with sharing the learnings from these experiences.

It is a resource poor area and people in the culture space are becoming more canny – understanding that the user interface needs to work and the purpose needs to be validated. The knowledge base is changing and simultaneously the technology is improving. 

There’s also an element of resistance to technology – “we don’t care what our audience wants” but there’s pressure to change this behavior and be more audience focused, particularly around enhancing the pre and post visitation experience

Will AR be a new point of Search?

Blippar is good example of this in action. If you don’t know where you are and hold up your camera at a street sign they’ll tell you and point out where to go for a coffee, for example, in that area. 

There are huge presumptions that the device knows what you’re searching for which requires a lot of smarts. Potentially adds layer of complexity to search. 

How will hand gestures change? We have touch and swiping now but how will you pull up a menu in an augmented world? How do you manipulate an object in an augmented world without a touch screen? A new lexicon of gestural commands beyond pinch and zoom lies before us. There’s a huge opportunity in the contextual space – serving up the right experience at the right time via AR. 

What intel mechanisms exist for measuring customer engagement?

Dwell time. Average dwell time on mobile is currently around 90 seconds. For some AR applications it’s averaging around 7min. Can integrate third party systems to report – for example to measure impact on sales. Google Analytics is also used. 


What’s the future of AR?

Integrated technology. See more innovative explorations into what products can be used for.

Extreme sci-fi visions are not inevitable and we need to engage in discussion about issues like use, privacy and security. 

We are transitioning from marketing gimmick to solving problems.

And finally…

… If you’re not using AR as part of your toolkit then you’re missing out on a very important tool!


References

Melbourze  Zoo Orang-utan Enclosure
REIFY App
Blippar