Augmented Reality: A Step Forwards or Backwards?
What is augmented reality in the first place?
Augmented reality is a modern phenomena that encompasses several different applications. Incorporating elements of the virtual world, augmented reality aims to enhance our view of the world, combining our perspective with superimposed images and graphics. Whilst augmented reality is not as high-tech or immersive as virtual reality, it has proven significantly helpful in day-to-day activities and our everyday lives. The technology differs from virtual reality in that it is not replacing our environment with a digitally rendered image, but rather overlaying our current view with computer generated images (Farkas, 2010). It is a rapidly growing industry which reflects our technological age, heavily accompanied through our growing dependence on smart phones.
Augmented realities have been applied across a variety of different displays, namely smartphones, screens and monitors, even stretching as far as wearable technology. The basic system works through a procedure of sensors, projections and processing, usually in a self-contained device, which fits on a ‘mixed reality’ spectrum. The most applicable augmented reality features tend to focus around a GPS tracking system, as well as commercial uses for businesses. As our digital personalities become more sophisticated, augmented realities can be used to enhance how we interact with the world and shape our future.
The implications of this technology have far-reaching potential for both consumers and businesses, with the opportunity to shape our healthcare and education programs. It is an incredibly wealthy industry that has the ability to control and shape businesses and communities.
Where did augmented reality come from?
Augmented reality was first created in 1968 by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland, who created a head display that was hung from the ceiling, allowing the user to experience superimposed
computer graphics over their field of vision. This breakthrough in altering our view of the world was called ‘The Sword of Damocles’, and would go on to catalyse the existence of augmented reality as we know today.
By the late 1990s and into the 2000s, augmented reality began to evolve with technology, with examples such as Sportsvision’s projection of a virtual yellow line during a live NFL game. By transitioning into entertainment, virtual reality became a much larger and all-encompassing industry, innovating alongside the evolution of computer processing and eventually the internet.
Documented by Augment, AR continued to evolve from an entertainment angle into consumer audiences, radicalising how augmented reality is experienced and used in a day to day setting. As our standards for communication and interaction with the internet have evolved, augmented reality has similarly evolved to suit a modern context. The breakthrough of accessible AR follows the technological trends of media and the smartphone’s monopoly on communication.
Augmented reality has been normalised through the introduction of accessible apps and technology. The creation of Google Glass in 2014 began the trend of wearable AR, with the ability to alter the user’s view of the physical world via overlaying images. This was followed by the similar innovations of Snapchat Spectacles, created to adapt how Snapchat users can record and send photos and videos.
The final revolutionary step in augmented reality was the introduction of this technology through smartphone apps. Pokemon Go created a system where users could explore the real world, as their mobile device projected images of different Pokemon into these environments, creating an interactive gaming experience modelled off the real world. The game became a worldwide phenomena, with over 100 million downloads. It had a total revenue of $268 million as of August 2017, making it one of the most profitable and quickly grown games in smartphone history.
The history of augmented reality coincides almost perfectly with the evolution of our communication and society. By making the technology accessible and normalised, our everyday exposure to AR has increased, fuelling how we interact with our world.
Who benefits from AR?
The applications of augmented reality are far-reaching, meaning there is great possibility for expansion within the field. According to the latest research report by MarketsandMarkets claims that the augmented reality market will be worth 60.55 billion dollars by 2023. The major players in the field of augmented and virtual reality are namely Samsung, Sony and Oculus. Car brands such as Mazda have also ventured into the AR business with the inclusion of a ‘Head’s Up’ display, a glass screen elevated above the steering wheel which projects GPS navigation and driving speed.
The transformative nature of this technology has evolved our social interactions further, incorporating augmented reality on to our handheld devices. Our accessibility through smart phones and other wearable technologies is reflected through the wide variety of apps that have adapted and incorporated this new technology (fig.3). As a result, there is large scope for profitability, both on an economic and social scale.
Moving away from commercial and ‘fun’ applications of augmented reality, there are many real-world uses which benefit areas of health care and education.
In the medical field, augmented reality plays a huge role in teaching and assisting with surgeries. ‘3D4Medical’ is an app that utilises augmented reality so medical students can undergo interactive training. It has the ability to project images of human anatomy, demonstrate their relationship between each other, and even has the ability to perform mock surgeries.
There are also further developments such as AccuVein which has the ability to scan veins within a patient and help to predict and minimise escalations in their conditions. It gives the ability for surgeons to prepare ahead of schedule, whilst the augmented reality can create images of diseases and tumours. According to Deloitte Research, AR is the digital technology in healthcare that is most likely to disrupt the industry.
Ultimately, augmented reality has the potential to benefit a large number of communities and individuals when applied correctly. The entertainment capacity is a highly affluent industry, where the technology is being applied to smartphones and commercial brands. There is also the transformative effects of augmented reality as a tool for education and science, with the capacity to benefit society as a whole.
The only downside, it seems, is the cost of the technology and its accessibility to the public.
Are there consequences?
The glitz and glamour of the technological age can, at times, make it difficult to see past its shining interior and consider its difficulties. Augmented reality is no different. It is a technology that is far and away useful; both for the entertainment and smartphone industry, as well as contributing to education and science. However, with every great innovation there is a price: what is the cost of such futuristic technology?
My primary concern with such technology rests with its medium: the screen. Over the past century we have seen unprecedented evolution in how we use technology, and as such have become much more dependent on it. Augmented reality’s impact on our everyday life, such as gaming apps like Pokemon Go, spike our usage of smartphones and the time we spend viewing the world through a screen. If augmented reality continues its ascension in a public sphere, it is possible that we may lose sight of the natural world.
The obsessive and addictive nature of technology, and gaming apps in particular, further make augmented reality a dangerous possibility. Continuing the example of Pokemon Go, there were many injuries as a result of the fixating nature of the game. This disregard for personal safety will only be assisted by augmented reality, where our view of the world may become permanently superimposed with images.
Furthermore, multiple findings conclude that technology has many negative ramifications. Aside from physical risks seen through gaming apps, sheer exposure and connection to technology can result in depression, over dependence and deficits in social skills. Is living our lives through a screen for the better or worse?
Whilst augmented reality is yet to invade every aspect of our lives, its rapidly growing nature is a reminder of our current addiction to technology, which should be considered before we continue to escalate the presence of AR in our every life.
What’s the verdict?
Augmented reality has revolutionised the world of technology, challenging how we interact with the world around us. As a new medium, AR combines the convenience of wearable technology and smartphones with the imagination of virtual reality, allowing users ‘the best of both worlds’.
At the moment, augmented reality has a concentrated area of benefit. It is clearly a very wealthy industry with the opportunity for even more exponential growth, and has proven itself as a tool to instigate a worldwide phenomenon and involvement. With the capacity for this technology to extend further in to our lives, there is the possibility for wide benefit, but limited by accessibility and cost.
Ultimately, augmented reality has the capacity to affect the internet irreversibly. As our technology continues to evolve and integrate itself within our lives, AR may become the next step in how we use the internet.