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Is Augmented Reality here to stay this time?

The technology has been around for years, but after a false start, 2014 could be the year it finally makes a breakthrough.

Image: Pepsi Max UK/YouTube

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few years make. The concept and idea of Augmented Reality (AR) has been around for a while, but it didn’t make quite the impact expected of it when it first arrived in people’s hands.

Essentially a technology which uses images and object recognition to add extra elements like graphics, animations, or video, it was billed as the next big thing when the concept begun appearing on smartphones in 2009.

But devices at the time weren’t powerful enough to cope with the demands of AR – the technology means it uses all aspects of your phone like the processor, GPS, and camera – and few practical uses of it meant it was seen as a gimmick, its use boiling down to advertising campaigns.

Source: Pepsi Max UK/YouTube

Fast forward to today and things are a little different. Smartphones are now far more powerful then they were back then, more diverse and original applications for the technology like Google Ingress and Theodolite have emerged, and a number of companies who have been working in AR are making significant progress.

One of which is DAQRI, one of the world’s leading AR developers which provides custom software, allowing companies, groups and individuals to create their own versions.

Before he founded the company, Brian Mullins’ career was rooted in the very principles of AR, having specialised in human machine interface and computer vision technologies.

His career saw him working as an engineer at the Computer-Aided Operational Research Facility, operated by the US Department of Transportation, and as a consultant to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

But it was an event during the summer of 2010 which convinced Mullins to dedicate all his time towards AR.

“When the iPhone 4 came out, four years ago in June, I dropped everything and started DAQRI,” explained Mullins. “I realised you could do with what you had in your pocket what it took a supercomputer to do back in the late ’90s, back when I got my start in simulation. That was really the ‘aha’ moment.”

The company focuses on three main industries: storytelling (mainly entertainment and advertising), education and industry.

While all areas are important, it’s industry which sees the greatest potential for expansion now since the level of practicality it has for certain jobs makes it useful. If you combine it technology like Google Glass – which has already seen a number of practical uses in the workplace – it would make AR an essential tool.

Source: DAQRI/YouTube

Instead of having to go away and look something up, AR could show you what parts of a machine need to be changed and where those parts are located, or superimpose objects into an area to show how it would look in real-life.

Unsurprisingly, it’s DAQRI’s largest and fastest-growing sector and one that could kick start the AR concept for the general public as it gives the technology a clear purpose.

Developing it for industries will in turn help familiarise people with the concept, which will inevitably make its way back to the consumer. To Mullins, it’s “very clear it [AR] will come full circle,” returning to the general public with new ways for the technology to be used.

For now, DAQRI is working on developing its third version of 4D Studios, its developer kit which allows anyone to create their own AR experience. Currently, it’s invite-only but Mullins said the aim was to make it as accessible as possible so that anyone who has an interesting idea for it can make it a reality.

“If it requires a programmer, or if the tool is bossed into making adverts, then I don’t think you’ll ever open people’s imaginations. I wanted to tap into the same creative passions that get channelled through tools like Photoshop, but for our medium.”

Overall, Mullins is looking forward to seeing how the industry will evolve this year. There are still a number of issues to sort before it becomes common place, but it’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.

“We really have a long way to go, it’s a new tool and medium but I’m really excited to see where it goes,” says Mullins. “I think in five years, you wouldn’t be able to imagine a world without it.”

We can only wait and see.

Brian Mullins will be giving a keynote speech at the Augmented Reality Conference taking place at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin on Tuesday, 15th April. Details about the event can be found here.

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