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How AR will help you see the world in a different light

Originally seen as a gimmick, there are far more practical uses to augmented reality than what first meets the eye.

Image: twnklsAR/YouTube

IMAGINE BEING ABLE to see how new furniture would look and fit in your living room through your phone before buying them. Or get measurements for panels by placing them on your roof virtually, and getting the measurements for them before someone calls over.

That’s the basis of augmented reality (AR), and it’s something you will be seeing more of as the months go by. Chances are you’ve already come across some variation of it, if not through your phones, than through other mediums.

Probably the most obvious example would be post-match analysis of a football game or any other sport for that matter. Any time someone puts up a line showing how a player was offside, markers to highlight a player or drawing boxes to show space, that’s a form of AR.

asreal-630x223 In this match between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao back in 2011, the use of lines were to show how Barcelona player Alves was kept onside by the last Bilbao defender, Koikili. Source: Thejournal

It’s a simplistic example, but it’s a useful way of providing context and extra information to what you already see.

The other practicalities for the technology is a little more advanced than explaining the offside rule (although it would certainly help). For a doctor, it could mean information about specific organs or body parts, while for mechanics or engineers, it could be looking and highlighting specific parts of an engine or machine.

While for the ordinary person, it can mean virtually fitting in furniture into your room to see how it would look (and if it would fit the room) before you commit to buying it. It also means translating text from another language into your native tongue by showing the image.

A technology that would initially come across as gimmicky already has a lot of uses that are only being explored now.

Source: twnklsAR/YouTube

And that’s just scratching the surface of how the technology can benefit the average person. One example came from the Netherlands Architecture Institute which put together the technology to good use back in 2010. It also marked the first time one of its then-members Ferry Piekart, whose background was storytelling and cultural anthropology, encountered it.

At the time, the museum was looking for new ways to attract people to its exhibitions. One of the major challenges behind the idea was they could only show drawings and concepts images. AR gave it a way to bring these buildings to life.

“For a museum about architecture, it’s really hard to show real things because the real thing is outside and not inside the museum,” explained Piekart. “We noticed that in exhibitions, we could show drawings or scale models or pictures or movies, but never the real thing.”

This was made possible by the institute having one of the largest archives in the world. 200 years of architectural information from the country meant they could take drawings and designs for buildings that were demolished or were never built and bring them to life.

By making a 3D model of these images, it could then use Layar, one of the largest AR companies out there, to place these buildings in the area it was designed for and show people what could have been.

Source: IN10TV/YouTube

However, since it was 2010, smartphones weren’t powerful enough to keep up with the technology. Also, as with any new technology, it meant everyone wanted to create their own AR experiences, which then resulted in users that ranged from the impractical to silly.

One particular example from Piekart was the creation of an AR app which showed you the nearest ATM. You could see the logic behind the idea but there was one problem: the app only showed you where it was, it didn’t provide directions or advice on how to get there meaning you would have to rely on a map.

Instead, it’s better to think of smartphones as personal devices, and design applications with individuals in mind. Also, providing context and giving reasons as to why you’re using the technology is important if it’s going to be a success.

“We designed [it] to be something that people could use on their own because that’s how you need to think about it. You start thinking about an app, you start thinking it’s something that people do individually, you’re behind the screen of your own phone, but then we noticed it actually worked the best in tours.

When we had a guide doing a tour in the city, he was telling things that people were at the same time looking around with their iPhones and seeing what he was talking about. That way, it was much more successful and [people] loved it that way because they needed a little bit of guidance to do it.”

It’s when the average person can get a grasp of what it can really do will it see a proper breakthrough. Although if you want conformation that something has reached the mainstream, look at what your parents are doing.

Piekart mentioned that if something is simple enough for them to understand and they’re using it, then there’s a good chance it’s here to stay.

Last week, I met someone who said with this kind of new technology, it’s all about social expectation… If you want to know about new technology, about whether it will be accepted, you have to look at the older people.

I thought this was fascinating because if your mother starts to use it and it’s simple enough for her and she thinks it’s accepted, then it gets a breakthrough, otherwise it will still stay with the early adopters. But you have to watch your parents, if they start using it, then it’s going ahead.

Something to look out for the next time a new trend emerges.

Read: Will this year be the turning point for Google Glass and co? >

Read: Is Augmented Reality here to stay this time? >

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