You know those futuristic movie scenes where people move floating transparent computer screens with their fingers? And the ones where students are in a lecture room being lectured to by a holographic teacher? In the movies, that technology seems a long way off, but believe it or not, those abilities are about to become, well, a… reality. An augmented reality, to be specific, which is when a person’s optic view in real time is modified by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, or graphics. Different than virtual reality, which replaces a person’s view with a simulated one, augmented reality (AR) takes elements we see and modifies them (theoretically to enhance them) by adding relevant information like route information for GPS navigating, for example.
A few companies have begun exploring augmented reality technology; most notably, Google’s Google Glass, Sony’s Project Morpheus, and Oculus VR’s 3D headsets. These companies are developing wearables, but the interesting thing is, augmented reality technology is already here and ready to use, with apps like Wikitude, Layar, and Zappar.
Zappar (available for iPhone or Android) recognizes predetermined graphics or shapes and brings them to life on your phone screen. The company boasts clients like Coca-Cola, Nissan, and Disney. Ferrari launched a similar capability earlier this year where shoppers can scan cars in a showroom, customize their own, and take them apart to analyze parts and build. In the desktop realm, zSpace created a tablet style AR computer that works with sleek (sleeker than Google Glass anyways) glasses.
Perhaps the most awe-inspiring execution of the AR experience so far is Microsoft’s HoloLens. It was positioned as a learning tool during a demonstration at the company’s annual Build event this year, and it delivered on this premise beautifully. Why did it stand out? Viewers watched a perfectly scaled human body come to life for doctors and medical students to analyze in real time, complete with an animated beating human heart. AR, it seems, is not just for gaming or locating restaurants – soldiers and doctors will make incredible strides with these developments.
There’s no question that the capabilities of augmented reality are growing. There are a plethora of companies jumping on board to drive the industry, and Google’s recent $542 million dollar investment in secret startup Magic Leap is proof in itself.
Still not convinced? Magic Leap’s other investor is none other than Legendary Entertainment, the movie studio behind blockbusters like Interstellar and Godzilla. Augmented reality might have a real future in movies after all. Stay tuned.