18 November 2016
What happened to augmented reality?
From Google Glass to Microsoft HoloLens: is AR revolution around the corner?
Much has been said in recent years about augmented reality (or AR). From the hype caused - and largely disappointed - by Google Glass, to the planetary obsession of the last summer: Pokemon Go.
Augmented reality is nothing but “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view”. In other words, it is the integration of any real environment through virtual objects. It must not be confused with “augmented virtuality”, which occurs when objects or individuals appear on a virtual background and interact dynamically in real time (it is the case of the Kinect for Xbox 360) or with “virtual reality”: a different place where users are absorbed and completely estranged from the real world (for example, the Oculus Rift viewers).
The most talked AR device is Google Glass, a pair of eyeglasses with an optical head-mounted display that shows information and data within the user's vision field. It’s well-known: the product is having a difficult gestation and is struggling to take the final steps that could bring it to retail market, remaining halfway between a prototype for developers and an expensive hi-tech gadget. Its main competitor, Microsoft HoloLens, which makes use of holograms, has to face a similar issue. Its viewer, based on the Windows Holographic technology, has been designed in collaboration with the NASA. Finally, there is Sony SmartEyeglass, with a more basic design and features similar to Google Glass. Its lenses feature the Holographic Waveguide technology for displaying information.
But why are these innovative products struggling to reach the market? They are all experimental concepts, not yet well defined, as confirmed by the geek community that has been involved in the design phase to gather feedback.
However, the possible applications of these products are already before everyone’s eyes, especially with regard to the professional field: firefighters, airport traffic controllers but also the hospital staff, that will be able to see, for example, patients’ medical records without interrupting their activities. Google Glasses have been redefined just in this professional perspective. After the decision to end the Glass Explorer Program on January 1, 2015, in fact, Google Glass Enterprise Edition have been redesigned, adapting the apps for the productivity, with longer battery life, a new Intel processor, a support for Wi-Fi 5 GHz and a better streaming of contents.
Of course, the potential so far explored is just a small part of what AR can do, even for consumer market, who might like features such as the translation of signs and billboards in real time or the overlap of directions on the car’s windshield. And then there is of course the entertainment field: video games, like Pokemon Go or the most developed Ingress and, generally, all interactive games that locate virtual characters in real places. We must not forget that the success of AR, unlike the virtual reality and the traditional entertainment dimension, comes from a kind of formula that is different from fun in a strict sense (devertere, i.e. to go away from the world to have access, perhaps, to other worlds). Gaming is not a separated astonishing entity. It is the world we know with an unexpected element: a filter that gives us something more than the simple reality, starting from the same, familiar street glimpse.