All About AR – A Quick Guide to Augmented Reality

2016 has been a memorable year on a number of levels. The unusually high level of celebrity deaths, Brexit and the bizarre / horrifying (delete as appropriate) Trump vs Clinton election in the US. To name but a few.

And then there was Pokemon Go!

Yes, 2016 has also been the year when kids and adults alike have been seen wandering the streets, smartphone held out in front of their faces, on the hunt for digital monsters that might be lurking in the neighbour’s garden, the pub car park or dairy aisle of the local Morrisons.

And while this may seem like no more than a passing, slightly weird, craze – born from a simple looking mobile app – what we witnessed was one of the first truly global adoptions of the technology known as augmented reality.

And it won’t be the last.

Where the Digital and Physical Worlds’ meet

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology to make digital or virtual items appear within a real world setting.

Essentially, this is achieved through the use of a specific AR viewer or possibly an app on your phone. Look through an AR viewer and you will see the world before you – much as though looking through a camera lens. The difference however, is that AR adds digital graphics or information to the screen.

In the case of Pokemon Go! this superimposes a small animal, as though it were standing, flying or generally buzzing around before you in the street.

Great fun (if you like that sort of thing) in the context of a gaming experience. But somewhat pointless beyond that.

But the Pokemon app nevertheless serves as an ideal example of how AR technology currently exists, how it works and, furthermore, the remarkable potential that it possesses as the physical and digital worlds move ever closer together.

Augmented Reality is Not Virtual Reality

The concept of virtual reality (VR), where we immerse ourselves into a virtual world – usually by wearing enormous goggles and some heavy-duty gauntlets, if TV and film are to be believed – has been around for decades. It was even the subject of a 1992 movie (The Lawnmower Man).

These days, VR is indeed used as an immersive gaming experience, as well as numerous practical business applications, such as virtual tours of a premises, or to present a new product.

AR, however, is different. Rather than step entirely into a digital, computer-generated environment, AR operates very much in the real world. Albeit adding virtual elements to it. And it’s for this reason, that the potential for AR is likely to outstrip that of its older, and more well-known, technological cousin.

AR’s Possibilities

In a sense, the possibilities seem ‘virtually’ endless (pun intended). And certainly considerably more than merely adding a few cute monsters to our suburban landscape.

From a marketing perspective, AR seems the perfect component to brand build in a smart-tech, GPS controlled world.

Consider for a moment that you are walking along the high street of an unfamiliar town. Viewing the street through the lens of your camera you could see a whole range of additional information; from brands and advertising to info on nearby attractions, restaurants or shops.

The information could be just about anything; reviews, contact details, opening times, historical information.

Projecting this technological arc forward just a little bit then we can envisage a world in which information and graphics are incorporated into all kinds of scenarios and environments.

A GPS windscreen on a car, perhaps? Directions overlaid onto the road ahead to keep drivers from the distraction of looking at a screen. Or even additional safety information – distance between you and the car in-front, for example.

Corporate Adoption

At present, AR’s usage is perhaps seen in the context of individuals receiving information (for practical use or entertainment) in their general day to day lives.

But what of the more corporate implications?

AR offers extraordinary new potential to change the way we work and the way businesses operate.

  • Training – AR has already become a tool to aid training, with Zurich Insurance adopting the technology to help train managers within their organisation. An AR phone app enabling trainees to access in-depth learning tools simply through scanning a ‘learning card’ and opening-up videos, instruction manuals and tips, for example
  • Efficiencies – Taking the Zurich example a step further, the adoption of AR technology has offered the potential for greater efficiency of operations in relation to their clients. Their prototype motor claims SOS card, for instance, which will enable the claims process to get underway almost instantly, following an accident.
  • Marketing – Enabling information, adverts and other marketing tools to ‘come to life’ when your AR viewer scans a poster in the high street, or even when it detects the brand image on display.

Augmented Reality is still an idea in relative infancy within our world. But make no mistake, it is at the forefront of our near inevitable merging of the digital and physical domains. Whether the ability to track a golf ball, or hockey puck on a TV screen (or to instantly see whether that player was off-side in football), to the display of everyday info before our eyes, wherever we may be.

Pokemon may have been a gentle introduction to mass possibilities of AR, but as the technology develops apace, so we will surely see its impact grow.