One of the things that excites me the most about Augmented Reality is, unlike Virtual Reality, the viewer has more freedom to move in a physical space. The way we react in a physical space comes down to our ability to use our senses, and augmented reality acts as an extension of this with ‘computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, and any kind of sensitive signal (Azuma 1997, Metz 2012). Augmentation also means enhancement of human abilities.’ (Ariso, 2017). When we wear a headset or a pair of AR goggles, we are not replacing our vision, unlike Virtual Reality, we are only enhancing it, and adding things to the real world. McLuhan spoke about this extension of the human body, describing the concept of a ‘global village’ where ‘we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned’ (McLuhan, 1964). We can see this happening already, with fun games utilising the technology to apply filters to our faces in Snapchat and Instagram – extending our physical appearance to the digital world and beyond purchasable cosmetics.
These games don’t fascinate me as much though, and neither does the classic example of Google Glass, where a text message pops up in the corner of your eye. It’s definitely practical and perhaps a time-saver, much like a smart watch, but it’s not fully utilising the technology and our needs as humans for sensory input and control…yet. I really like Apple’s AR Kit implementation on their product website. You can view products such as the Mac Pro and latest iPhone in Augmented Reality, right in your home. This goes a step beyond what Snapchat does with its digital filters though, as reflections and shadows are dynamically represented in the product, so the lamp in the corner of your room will reflect off the aluminium chassis of the Apple Mac Pro. Using a combination of depth sensors, cameras, and on new Apple products, the LiDAR sensor, a realistic, scale representation of the product is placed on your desk. This is where the technology can actually change the way we interact with the word around us, and whilst Apple are using the technology to showcase the product, enticing the user to purchase it, it can only be assumed that these augmented computers on our desks may actually become the product itself.
Despite this, other forms of augmented reality are fun, with examples such as Liverpool One’s ‘Chavassic Park’ dinosaur exploration, where you could walk around the shopping centre, scan eggs and a Dinosaur would appear, constructing a virtual story world. The technology can only improve with new sensors appearing on smart phones, so maybe in the future my dinosaur can play with someone else’s dinosaur, then perhaps crush Primark under it’s feet. This has now been turned into a website experience, where users can scan various surfaces on the website, and elements will appear on their phone. At this point, however, I do find this implementation a bit of a gimmick – what is exactly enhancing the experience when you’re just bringing what’s on your 15 inch laptop screen, down to your 5 inch phone? However, I’m not exactly the target audience of the ‘game’, so it’s not for me to say…
For the session activity, I decided to make an AR utility, as opposed to a story world, as this is where I can personally see my interest in AR leading to in the future. Using the BlipparAR website, which was simple to use and had lots of options to expand in the future, I created a demo of an AR experience that would show a train timetable when the camera was pointed at a graphical icon. Whilst a simple concept, it has lots of uses. We already have the use of QR codes, where I could walk up to a bus or train station, and scan the code with my phone to view a timetable. However, the demo version I created could be used to almost make an augmented bus or train station, where each bus or train platform could be scanned revealing the timetable, its capacity, delays, and services available; all updated in real time. This could also be implemented in other transport services like Taxis, where I could pan my phone around a specific area, and show all available taxis, and see which one is already going to the destination I want, also having a secondary impact on issues like climate change, where I could go inside a taxi that has an empty seat.
Overall, I do believe that Augmented and Mixed reality will be the way we interact with things around us, and will perhaps make our lives easier in many scenarios, and may also bring some things that have moved online, such as shopping, back into some sort of reality.
Ariso, J., 2017. Augmented Reality. Berlin: De Gruyter.
McLuhan, M., 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man. New York: Routledge.