Advances in hardware are not the only reason why augmented reality will become embedded in our day-to-day lives within a decade, says futurist Mark van Rijmenam.
He believes augmented reality will have a far bigger impact on our society than virtual reality, and it will become the main entry point into the metaverse.
“In the coming years, AR devices will become as normal as carrying a smartphone with you.”
The market for augmented reality is expected to reach $97.76 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights, illustrating just how important the technology has become.
READ MORE: Augmented Reality (AR) Market Size, Share & COVID-19 Impact Analysis (Fortune Business Insights)
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On his website, The Digital Speaker, van Rijmenam details how a number of trends are converging to bring about a near future in which “augmented reality will radically change our lives.”
Chief among these is the investment being poured into the 3D internet, or Web3, as it has been dubbed by its proponents. Augmented reality will be a big part of the future of digital experiences.
“AR will be the new reality. Lines will start to blur, and soon VR and AR will merge into extended reality (XR), and you no longer have to change devices if you want to switch between virtual or augmented reality.”— Mark van Rijmenam
An example is the ability to import virtual avatars from other platforms and use those images in augmented reality. This AR technology is not new. It has been used with apps like Snapchat and Instagram for some time by using augmented reality “face filters” — virtual objects that users can add to their own faces in real time and express themselves differently online.
“The use of this technology could improve the hybridization of virtual meetings,” van Rijmenam says. “If one person on your team used a VR headset to attend a meeting while you attended without one, an avatar that has been previously created with AR representing that individual would be at your meeting.”
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Advances in spatial audio are also deemed vital to maximizing the immersion of AR experiences. Meta’s Spark AR Studio, for example, lets users mix multiple sounds to create new ones.
“This makes it possible for people to create AR experiences that enhance how we experience sights and sounds. With that in mind, we can create an AR effect that will respond to human interaction.
Taking that a stage further, there are emerging use cases which fuse digital and physical content.
Meta is also developing a platform for viewing digital collectibles in augmented reality. Users will be able to import their NFTs into Instagram Stories as 2D virtual objects and combine them in AR. Van Rijmenam suggests, “this will open up new opportunities for collectors and creators to interact with their NFTs in ways beyond the limited capabilities of current digital wallets.”
The role of AI will play a key role in improving AR’s performance.
For instance, the AI app ClipDrop allows users to quickly digitize an item in the real world into a 3D object for use in everyday programs like PowerPoint Photoshop and Google Docs.
“3D scanning could be used to import real-world objects into metaverse environments, speeding up the pipeline for offering items for virtual trial experiences,” thinks van Rijmenam.
AR and AI can be combined to form a tool that automatically designs something. The app SketchAR is one example of how this technology works. This app allows users to freely draw in augmented reality, but they can also have an AI draw for them. The app works by allowing you to trace drawings by placing virtual images on the screen of your phone or tablet.
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For van Rijmenam, this demonstrates that it is possible to use the real world as a source environment when designing structures in 3D space.
“Shortly, AI may be able to design and create structures for use in real-world applications,” he says.
Another factor pushing AR forward is WebAR, which developers can use to create AR experiences in a web browser. Its use can bridge the gap between virtual and physical worlds to help the user see and interact with virtual elements while they are in a real-life environment.
“Although in its infancy, WebAR can potentially be a significant way for people to interact with online content,” says the futurist.
There are also growing use cases in retail, medical, education and manufacturing environments.
One example cited by the author is using heads-up displays to project information onto the road as you drive. This feature can help drivers stay aware of hazards and follow GPS directions without looking at the screen. Other uses of AR include entertainment and information-based applications like 3D car manuals.
Business applications of virtual reality technology are endless, particularly in fields where users need to train or educate their workers. The shift towards virtual reality will completely change how we interact and engage with others.
Moving AR to the mainstream though still means some technical impediments need solving. One of these is occlusion. This is how an AR system must sometimes hide digital objects behind real things to achieve a realistic experience. Another problem is devising hardware that we will actually all want to wear.
We would need smart glasses that are easy to wear and preferably fashionable, and provide a nearly 180-degree field-of-view (FOV) to match that of humans.
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“Although the technology is improving, the high costs of AR glasses (the HoloLens and Magic Leap cost a few thousand USD, and the Kura Gallium will cost around $1,200) and the challenge of occlusion will prevent mass adoption in the short term.”— Mark van Rijmenam
In 2021, Snap’s AR Spectacles were the most advanced AR glasses available with an FOV of just 26.3 degrees and a 30-minute battery life. Early in 2022, Kura announced its Kura Gallium AR Glasses with an FOV of 150 degrees, 95% transparent glasses, a weight of only 80 grams, and a resolution of 8K per eye.
“Although the technology is improving, the high costs of AR glasses (the HoloLens and Magic Leap cost a few thousand USD, and the Kura Gallium will cost around $1,200) and the challenge of occlusion will prevent mass adoption in the short term.”
Every debate of this sort looks to Apple to save the day. Will its AR Glasses, which no one seems to doubt are in advanced R&D, do for AR what the iPhone did for mobile video?
Augmented reality glasses will soon be as comfortable and easy to use as any other eyeglasses,” insists Van Rijmenam.
“AR will be the new reality,” he believes. “Lines will start to blur, and soon VR and AR will merge into extended reality (XR), and you no longer have to change devices if you want to switch between virtual or augmented reality.”
He thinks this will happen by the early 2030s, while at the same time ushering in the metaverse.
“Smartphones and laptops will likely become unnecessary, as will separate VR and AR devices, because for our entertainment, socializing, or work, we simply put on our sleek XR glasses. Companies offering rich AR experiences will be better prepared for the future than their competition.”