The original concept of augmented reality allegedly comes from an unusual source. That source is L. Frank Baum, author of children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (More interesting than the film, in my opinion, and those ruby slippers were supposed to be silver.) Mr. Baum first popularised the notion of AR in his 1901 novel The Master Key, with a pair of glasses that marked whoever the wearer was looking at, according to whether they had good character. It took nearly a century for scientists to truly latch onto the principle. Augmented reality finally produced some tangible advance in the 1990s – yet now it is preparing to break into mainstream commerce. It still faces some obstacles, not least the common confusion with virtual reality – a related but distinctly different technology. So first of all, what actually is it?
What Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality presents users with visual enhancements onscreen to a real, physical environment. For example, one can add an object digitally to a room, to see what it would look like in there. The digital environment can be adjusted or moulded according to the user’s direction. It differs from virtual reality in one crucial respect: it still retains a connection to the real world. Virtual reality, though a valuable fledgling technology itself, is the science of creating an entirely new digital realm. It is a world started from scratch. It has no relation to the user’s physical surroundings.
With its tangible connection to our world, AR provides users with the ability to plan and change human surroundings. It does not involve the bulky headgear associated with VR that block out the real world completely, though less heavy-duty headsets such as smart glasses are often appropriate. Other forms of mobile and wearable technology are also pertinent.
Examples Of Augmented Reality In Business
The phenomenon of AR encompasses numerous different work scenarios. The most common example that the media reports concerns companies such as IKEA. In this setting, AR could be used to map a new furniture product into a room, to see where it might go and what it would look like. This product showcasing principle can translate easily into other sectors too.
Yet this technology covers a highly diverse commercial breadth. The construction sector can now look to AR to project how a new building or extension would look on a particular plot of land. In healthcare, smart glasses are paving the way for better-informed patient analysis. Much like Mr Baum’s glasses above, they could automatically compile information to assist the user –for example, by monitoring a patient’s blood pressure. The athletics industry may operate on a similar basis, perhaps observing and recording an athlete’s pace or acceleration.
However, these are all industry-specific examples. The key factor to consider is how AR might reform general working practices on a cross-sector basis.
In this respect, the technology constitutes a workplace revolution. For example, internal training becomes a far more productive experience when using AR. Interactive graphics and instructions can teach users in a way that printed directions or human directions cannot. Moreover, in a fast-paced economy that requires staff to travel regularly, AR can bring scattered employees together for normal meetings. The ability to communicate face-to-face is a huge boon to the user, allowing them to operate as they normally would.
Finally, AR gives businesses the chance to modify not only how staff work, but the physical office environment itself too. Not only does it offer significant reform to how touring a building can be conducted; you could even construct a plain room which is then adapted, through AR glasses, to whatever purpose you need the room for at that time. One could, for instance, create digital whiteboards on the walls and save them for future use. Further, it could be transformed into a showroom for clients, or boardroom for directors.
The Supporting Cloud
The phenomenon of augmented reality perfectly illustrates the potential of cloud computing. Since AR depends almost exclusively on connected mobile devices, a cloud-based network is essential to making it work. This is where all current and future software regarding AR is built, and subsequently distributed to the world. It means that the requisite data and applications are remotely centralised on a cloud server, and therefore accessible wirelessly through any device. The cloud also offers a fully scalable platform on which to operate such technology. Adapting its capacity as necessary, it is thus far less prone to network downtime and access outages.
We saw this in broader practice earlier in 2016, with the explosion of Pokémon GO over the summer. The software added Pokémon virtually to a real world setting, making them viewable through a smartphone. Commercial augmented reality operates on a similar principle, and the cloud provides the foundation for innovation by supporting it. With the potential to make communication and working life more efficient, interactive and productive, AR is a trend that no ambitious enterprise can afford to ignore.
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