When you hear ‘augmented reality,’ you might initially think about the first-down marker that overlays the field on any televised football game. The markers have become so ubiquitous that you almost forget the players can’t see them when they’re diving for the extra yardage.
If you’re under 25, ‘augmented reality’ might conjure memories of Pokemon Go instead.
But let’s take augmented reality beyond the realm of masses converging on shopping malls and college campuses in search of non-existent pocket monsters, beyond the overlays on a football field, beyond the technology giants like Apple and Google who are bringing augmented reality to our daily lives, and consider the niche players. Plenty of industries, like construction, have the vision to layer an augmented world on top of our own to give architects, engineers and customers a look at what could be before the job is built.
Augmented reality for the construction industry was best displayed at the DIRTT Connext 2016 convention, where a speaker wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) on a stage flabbergasted the audience by building first a room and then an entire office with augmented reality technology. When the virtual office was built, he had audience members download an app on their smartphones that let them see the same augmented imagery through their cameras that he had just created on the stage.
The applications go well beyond the construction niche, however. Entertainment companies are finding ways to interlace augmented reality into video games. Companies that sell to the military have invented HMD capable of superimposing satellite imagery or drone footage into a soldier’s field of vision. That fancy facial recognition that Tony Stark’s Iron Man uses to target and neutralize sadistic terrorists without hitting any scared villagers is a lot closer than we think.
In more identifiable situations, clothing stores can layer shirts, skirts, pants and dresses over your picture to show how you’d look wearing an outfit you haven’t bought yet. Furniture retailers can give you a great visual of how a couch, a chair or a table will look in your pre-existing living space. Across the pond in the Netherlands, an app called Layar can use a phone’s GPS and camera to overlay information on area restaurants, and even identify available jobs inside a building.
The Technology of Augmented Reality
Integrating augmented reality into your business is challenging – the technology is developing and demanding. Not surprisingly, including augmented reality in your website, app, or another format involves lots of processing power, large doses of available bandwidth and high-level graphic functions.
The good news is that most smartphones and tablets contain the necessary software and sensors to accurately project augmented reality to the end-user. But that’s only for visual immersion. There are are also augmented reality environments that include noises, smells and haptic feedback (a fancy way to say “recreating the feeling of touch”).
There are two types of tracking at work in augmented reality: Markerless tracking and marker-based tracking.
Markerless tracking is the type that’s more like the way our own minds work. It involves computer systems using pattern or feature recognition technology to call up information about whatever your camera or other device is looking at. This involves enormous amounts of processing power and even bigger databases full of objects and images for the sensor to run against.
Marker-based tracking is exactly what it sounds like. Say you were looking at restaurants on a street hoping to make dinner plans. Savvy restaurant owners would have a scannable barcode at easy access as you walk by. When you scan the code with your device, you automatically get access to things like a menu, the present wait time, and customer reviews. This uses considerably less processing power as the device is being led to one specific block of information rather than sifting through millions of them.
Those technologies work well in some applications but are cost-prohibitive in others. The next wave of technology might be algorithmic facial tracking, which uses a deep-sending camera to track facial expressions.
Can Cloud Computing Contain Augmented Reality?
This past summer, Lenovo turned heads when it partnered with Wikitude to develop a cloud-based platform for the creation of augmented reality content. The name? The Augmented Human Cloud, which will harness markerless tracking, deep learning recognition and image recognition to generate content.
Obviously, cloud offers a lot of what augmented reality needs most: the computing power to provide lots of graphics and heavy-duty processing without the massive hardware or the infrastructure costs that come with maintaining that sort of environment.
The flip side is that most cloud environments are built quite specifically to be the opposite of what the end-user of augmented reality clients need. That is, the cloud is independent of connected client devices, at least in terms of their display capabilities. Cloud environments are meant to be accessed only by secure channels, not as part of a convenient package for smartphones and tablets.
But if that inconvenience could be overcome, the merging of cloud computing environments and augmented realities could be almost limitless.
Why? For starters, a lot of what makes augmented reality so stimulating is its ability to function at real-time speed. Those kind of speeds are dangerous to try and achieve on even the most dedicate of private servers, but one based in the cloud can achieve those speeds whenever necessary with close to 100% certainty.
On that same topic, consider the immense slowdown in productivity at your office (assuming you’re not in the cloud already) when a software system has to update before it can go back to regular functionality. All of that downtime and potential UX-killing trouble is out the window when you use cloud-based delivery.
The hiccup for now lies in the problems with slowdowns or latency issues on the end-user’s level. Not only can it disrupt the experience, it can cause actual physical illness to the person using it due to motion sickness or other effects.
The merge of cloud computing and augmented reality is still in its infancy. However, as augmented reality becomes more and more a resource for companies seeking to distance themselves from the competition in terms of website and mobile content, advertising, branding and more, innovative cloud hosting firms will respond. The powerful processing, ability to store and parse big data, and instant software updates are all big points in favor of the cloud eventually hosting augmented reality. More companies will be taking Lenovo’s lead in the near future.