A computer generated visual effect to the real world.
Do you ever remember being asleep or uninspired in class? Mundane lectures, repetitive tasks, and tedious homework have been bane of many passing through grade school for generations. How can we reinvigorate education using cutting-edge modern technology? Augmented reality technologies have the potential to revolutionize public education around the world.
Aurasma, a London, UK based startup that was acquired in 2012 by HP, has been the industry leader in creating augmented reality programs for use in business and education. Aurasma’s software, which is open source and thus accessible to both teachers and students, has gained attention for helping to bring life to classwork material and for creating new ways to learn outside of the classroom. Current users of Aurasma in education use a program with which students can scan a homework problem, revealing a video of a teacher showing how to solve it, and to record book reports or notes on sections of books that can be accessed by scanning the particular title or page of the book. “Aurasma includes an intuitive, drag-and-drop [augmented reality] creation studio... we are laser-focused on ease of creation, and users with no formal technical training can build, launch, share, and track their own augmented reality campaigns” said the head of Aurasma, Annie Weinberger. These unique and innovative ideas are just breaking the surface: the possibilities are endless, and only time will tell how much more interactive and exciting work in the classroom can become through the use of augmented reality.
The first ever use of augmented reality was an astounding twenty-three years ago, when the Rockwell International Conglomerate developed groundbreaking astronomical navigation software for the US Military. The software, called the Debris Correlation program, overlaid calculated trajectories of orbital debris and a constantly refreshed map of the positions of satellites to detect debris dangerous to these satellites. Presently, as navigation technology has reached an almost perfect degree of detail, it’s the ideal time to start implementing augmented reality technology in geology and navigation.
One pioneering augmented reality navigation technology is Wikitude’s Wikitude Navigation suite, first introduced in 2010. Wikitude is one of a few closed-source augmented reality platforms, and it was the first to enter the field of commercial navigation. Using user-generated and Google-collected street view maps, it is the first platform that will allow users to get directions with a street view picture of their route. Wikitude’s CMO Andy Gstoll summed up the impact of its navigation suite: “Augmented reality navigation systems hold tremendous potential for developers working with wearable display technology…. Hands Free navigation without the use of maps provides numerous practical and safety benefits.” As of now, it has only been used as a mobile app, but it is expected that this app will soon be available on several augmented reality wearable technologies.
Medicine is a field in which precision is a must, and in which a single mistake can create a life-threatening situation. Surgery and location of tiny subcutaneous veins (those entirely under the skin) have been an issue in the medical world, especially in remote areas where access to electricity can’t be taken for granted. However, augmented reality implementation has proven an easy fix to this problem too.
The Near-infrared Vein Finder is a groundbreaking technology that simplifies locating veins and even smaller parts of the nervous system. It uses visual electromagnetic radiation which is on the borderline of being classified as infrared to project a map of the nervous system onto the skin, and to use the dimensions of the body part being observed to carefully calibrate its map. This technology is still in its early phase of development; it still costs around $15,000, and it is still not any more effective than conventional techniques in placing catheters or sensory tubes into the body. However, it makes the case for augmented reality in medicine. Surgeons could rely on similar projections all over the body to prevent errors, and could even rely on robotic surgery technology that uses augmented reality viewpoints to carefully pinpoint exact locations of the body that require care.
The fields of commercial and industrial design have traditionally been at the forefront of imaging technology. The first Computer Aided Design software was used to design parts for airplanes, and ever since, computer-generated artistic renderings, in-depth blueprints and plans, and tensile-strength and destructive-testing software have all become available for people in all fields. Just as industrial and commercial design led the way for technologies widely used today, they will pave the way to the widespread use of augmented reality.
The first use of augmented reality in design was by Boeing in the 1990s. They used a simple head-mounted display so that workers on the factory floor could superimpose drawings of parts onto unfinished assemblies and make individual modifications to ensure that they fit together correctly. It was once crude and basic, but it has since blossomed into one of the leading manufacturing technologies. Factory workers from companies ranging from those making large machines, like Volkswagen, all the way to companies making electrical parts and computer chips, like Texas Instruments, make use of head-mounted displays running augmented reality programs.
Not only is augmented reality used in the assembly of products, but it is also used for maintenance, quality control, and training. In maintenance, augmented reality provides information regarding problem areas, and can generally be used to isolate the user’s vision and direct all attention to the problem area. Companies can also use augmented reality to perform quality control, using semi-mechanized processes to assess the same component of various products to take notice of any deformities and to in turn isolate the deformed product. Lastly, there is really no better way to train employees and adjust them to life in manufacturing than to use augmented reality to simulate the tasks they would have to perform with precision. This has already made for several key improvements in manufacturing technology that cannot go unnoticed. Learning the cognitive and fine-motor subskills needed in the workplace early is a huge advancement that augmented reality will support.
Artistic rendering has always involved the most advanced imaging technology available, so it comes to no surprise that the field has already begun to use augmented reality. Architects and city planners have slowly begun to implement augmented reality to show what a building will look like at the site of its construction. Users can simply wear a head-mounted display and walk around the site to emulate the experience of actually having a building in place. With this technology they can see evaluate the design, and change plans as needed, before the building is actually built.
Similarly, interior design already uses augmented reality. Augment is a Paris-based company founded in 2011 with the goal of implementing a widely-available augmented reality suite. The company has been most keen to “change the way people see and imagine the world around them.” Their first breakthrough was in creating the first augmented reality interior design software, one that allows users to take pictures of the setting in which a new piece of furniture would be placed, and to simulate what it would look like in this setting. This has proven groundbreaking, and companies such as Northern Lighting, a wildly popular Nordic lighting company, have purchased rights to use this technology to significantly enhance their user experience.
The possibilities are seemingly endless, and most of the potential uses of augmented reality have likely not even been envisioned yet.
The most widely used piece of technology today, the smartphone, proves the best way to implement augmented reality on a wide scale. Mobile phone applications allow users to apply augmented reality filters to real life through the use of audio or visual input provided by the phone’s sensors. These include the camera, all hearing and voice recognition components, and location tracking services that the phone possesses.
But how exactly are such complex and interactive apps developed? Several tools, including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors for Android phones, have come with the necessary compatibility to be a platform to support augmented reality apps. A demo posted by Qualcomm on their website showed a partnership with Mattel, a toy company, in which they created an augmented reality game. It was a classic robot fighting game, but where the phone projected the image of the robot onto a printable paper design of a rink. This game could easily be programmed by someone with knowledge of Qualcomm’s software development kit. The phone provides the ideal medium with which to introduce augmented reality to a large audience, and its increased availability means that every month, many new applications are developed to provide an additional dimension to the user experience.
The head-mounted display (HMD) is a 50-year old piece of technology which is resurging thanks to the emergence of augmented and virtual reality programs. In the 1960s, the HMD was envisioned by cinematographer Morton Heilig, when he came to the realization that instead of watching movies on small televisions in living rooms, it would be a much better experience to have an individual display on which to watch the same movie. Since then, many technology companies have experimented with this technology, with current technologies including the Google Cardboard, Samsung’s AR/VR head mount available with some newer Galaxy models, and the Microsoft HoloLens.
The Google Cardboard is a prime example of the simplicity and effectiveness that HMDs can provide. It is simply a cardboard frame for a smartphone, available for under $20, and users can simply place their smartphone into this frame and use it to simplify the use of whatever augmented-reality programs they desire. Some augmented-reality programs that are already available for use with Google Cardboard include YouTube, where users can watch select videos with special quality and experience it as if it was their own experience, Proton Pulse, a unique game that allows the player to direct a ‘proton’ stream at objects in their real life and see what would happen, and a suite of camera apps that allow the user to take pictures and videos which they can experience once again. The Cardboard is a basic solution, but one that is already wildly popular and one that has provided a starting example for what HMDs can evolve into.
Of course, there are HMDs that are far more interactive, and even those that use their own computing power. All HMDs used in manufacturing have their own computers, and the display serves as a way to relay information collected by another part of the device. Additionally, there are now a few solutions available commercially with their own computers, and none is more significant and well known than the Microsoft Hololens. It is sleekly designed, compact, and includes industry-leading technologies, including a holographic processor and tiny, extremely accurate sensors. Microsoft has created a special software development kit to ensure that as time goes on, apps are developed to increase the appeal and range of functions of the Hololens. Overall, there are two clearly different types of HMDs available today, and each serves a distinct function, with those with computing power obviously serving an advantage for industrial and professional use, while those which are only structural mounts have a clear cost advantage and are ideal for amateurs and those using augmented reality for entertainment.
The use of augmented reality would revolutionize many industries. Augmented reality allows information to quickly be relayed to workers. The technology can quickly overlay information into their field of view to increase their knowledge of the task, in turn leading to higher precision, accuracy, and even facilitate an increased speed of the task at hand. This could make surgery significantly less dangerous, and could increase production on assembly lines or in large-machinery repair.
Augmented reality also has the potential to drastically increase the productivity of daily life for millions. Users with augmented reality software will be able to program it to alert them or remind them of tasks in an enhanced, interactive version of the many reminder apps currently available. Similarly, users will be able to perform or even to analyze and provide information about the tasks that they’re performing, including during exercise to optimize workouts, and during commutes to analyze driving and traffic patterns. Augmented reality will gradually become available to everyone from large manufacturing corporations to any individual with a smartphone, and it will serve as a non-intrusive technology that will provide information, entertainment and overall enhancement to many aspects of our day-to-day existence.
There are a multitude of concerns relating to widescale implementations of augmented reality in all fields and areas. The first is a serious concern brought up by medical professionals and safety personnel, that the use of augmented reality gear would hinder one’s ability to focus or even result in severely debilitating vision issues. At the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference in 2015 in San Jose, a discussion was held on the topic. Evidence was reported at this conference which stated the surprisingly harmful effects that a poorly designed augmented reality interface could have. They can result in tunnel vision, a loss of central vision, or the formation of cataracts. Additionally, medical professionals have said that it’s likely that retinopathy, a condition in which the retina gradually deteriorates and spotty vision is observed, and the leakage of the aqueous humor, a clear but vision impairing substance found in the eye, could be two other effects of a poorly designed augmented reality gear interface.
Another problem with the use of augmented reality eyewear is that peripheral vision could be impaired or even completely harmed. The ability to see out of the corners of one’s eyes is invaluable as all information regarding the the speed and distance of objects is found from peripheral vision.
Lastly, a concern with the implementation of all new technology that manifests itself in the upcoming boom in augmented reality is that it presents itself as yet another tool which would lead to the invasion of privacy of individuals. There are already concerns that augmented reality technology built by large technology corporations, such as the Google Glass, could be used to find the location of its user, and this information could be sold for a hefty profit to advertisers. Many Americans have expressed dismay with their dwindling privacy, and it is likely that legislative action on the national level could be involved to regulate what information can be collected for profit by manufacturers of augmented reality software and interfaces. This would be in line with discussion on privacy legislation for other modern technologies, including those that have already taken place for drones, cellular data usage, and innovations to the use of the internet.
The implementation of augmented reality software on a large scale is one that will overall have an immensely positive impact on modern society. It will enable professionals in many different fields to more effectively perform their jobs, and it will also increase the quality of life and quality of entertainments of many more. It is important that the above concerns are addressed before, however, to ensure that no hiccups are experienced when augmented reality becomes a part of everyday life. Legislation will have to address augmented reality quality standards. Ultimately, augmented reality is a transformative technology like any other: it must first surmount a great deal of social and safety challenges before the immense good it could bring can be realized.
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