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Mixed Reality Is On the Horizon — The Current State of AR

Technology

Isadora Teich wrote this article

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Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) have been hot topics and exciting realms of digital innovation for some time now.

This year is presenting numerous challenges due to COVID-19. However, in the face of these challenges, many scientists, inventors, and innovators are continuing to pursue bold ideas.

Let’s take a look at the exciting things happening in AR, from the wacky applications to the new companies to watch so far in 2020!

AR vs. VR vs. MR

Before we dive in, it’s important to know the difference between AR, VR, and MR. Many people confuse them because they have similar elements.

However, these are not interchangeable terms!

Virtual Reality plunges users into a whole new world. This is completely immersive, and tricks users into experiencing the sensation of being transported somewhere else entirely.

 

Augmented Reality, on the other hand, does something a little bit different. It blends fantastical or larger-than-life elements in with reality. Pokemon Go is perhaps the most famous example of AR technology. It shows you the street you are on, with the addition of different Pokemon perfectly overlaid.

 

Mixed Reality is the ultimate evolution of VR and AR. It allows you to interact with a fantasy world and the real world simultaneously in fascinating new ways — most of which have yet to be explored.

Google’s AR Dinosaurs

To start, let’s keep it light.

Did you know that Google has added 10 AR dinosaurs to Google search? This means that when you Google certain dinosaurs to research, you can get a lifelike understanding of how exactly they would look standing in your backyard.

Last year, they started doing this for a range of animals, including cats, tigers, and bears. Now, this list includes dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and Triceratops.

While this is an interesting development with the potential to be incredibly cool in the future, so far, its bugginess has made it a meme in tech circles. While the animals are supposed to scale to accurately fit their environment, this is a complex order.

Sometimes, people who try to use it end up with dinosaur-sized ducks waddling around their homes instead.

You also might be wondering why you have never come across this feature if its been about a year in the works publicly.

Likely, this is because Android users can only access it if they have an ARCore-supported device. And only iOS 11 and up users can access them, too.

AR Advancements In Entertainment

One of the most prominent ways that the everyday consumer will likely interact with AR is for entertainment.

Pokémon Go creator Niantic Labs is partnering with Punchdrunk, the UK-based production company known for its immersive non-linear live theater installations to change how we think of live entertainment.

Rather than having audiences sit around a stage and watch a performance, they are aiming to create immersive AR-infused experiences that audiences can interact with in their own way and at their own pace.

“I believe that Punchdrunk and Niantic can create something that has never been done before. They do it in AR, we do it in real life. Collide the two and I think we will blow people’s minds; bend the rules of genre and redefine the norms of mobile gaming,” says Felix Barrett, Artistic Director of Punchdrunk.

What Barrett is referring to is mixed reality, of course.

However, Niantic Labs is not only working with Punchdrunk. One of their other projects is a mobile AR gaming experience based on the popular board game Catan.

Niantic Labs told The Verge:

“Currently, we have more than 10 new games in development including prototypes for AR wearables, each with unique and innovative gameplay, centered around outdoor exploration, movement, and social interaction.”

With no end in site for many social distancing measures, it’s likely to be a while until it’s safe for individuals to gather in force for concerts and live performances in real-life.

This feels like the perfect conduit to keep these experiences alive via a whole new medium amid new possibilities.

AR, VR, And The Healthcare World

COVID-19 is forcing us to restructure our lives and our society in general.

Many things which we took for granted for decades can now put us at risk — leading to an almost overnight switch to remote-working, and minimizing unnecessary contact with others becoming a safety measure.

As the leading concern of the healthcare industry is maintaining public health and safety, it makes a lot of sense that COVID is inspiring companies in this sector to take on new approaches to providing healthcare.

Even Pre-Covid, harnessing new technology to benefit human health has always been one of the main objectives of modern medicine.

These companies are leading the charge when it comes to incorporating VR and AR into medicine:

FundamentalVR

 

This UK VR company was founded in 2012. Since its inception, it has earned accolades such as the Interactive Innovation Award at SXSW 2019 and even worked with the Mayo Clinic. They offer flight simulator-like training to help surgeons. The approach lets surgeons rehearse and improve their techniques in a safe and controlled environment. It even includes haptic elements for a more realistic faux-physical experience.

 

Augmedics

 

This Israeli-American company was founded in 2014. It has created Xvision, an AR headset that will be used to help surgeons perform surgeries. Xvision adds a 3D representation that allows surgeons to see the patient’s anatomy through skin and tissue as if they had X-ray vision. Augmedics plans to start distributing it this year.

 

XR Health

 

This company, founded in 2016, created technology that is currently being used around the globe in hospitals including the Sheba Medical Center in Israel and the Hoag Health Network in the United States. XRHealth is the pioneer of virtual reality clinics that provide remote care to patients.

While COVID has definitely fueled the fire in a push for more and more virtual experiences and tools, this technological revolution was already well on its way.

A Virtual Fitting Room

One interesting example of an everyday and useful AR tool is SWEET FIT.

This augmented reality virtual fitting mirror scans a person’s figure and then displays a virtual outfit on their body. My Size, Inc’s proprietary MySizeID measurement technology utilizes several algorithms that are able to accurately calculate and record measurements.

Developed by the French company My Size, Inc, it is currently available in France only, but the company has plans to expand.

The company says that this tool has broad uses for the apparel, e-commerce, DIY, shipping, and parcel delivery industries. It not only gives people a way to try on clothes, while in-store fitting rooms are closed due to COVID, but it also may potentially eliminate some of the waste associated with so many online shoppers sending clothing returns back to companies via mail.

Industrial Applications

It is likely that these technologies will transform most industries to some capacity. While most people tend to think of AR in terms of video games, the truth is far broader (and much more interesting). In fact, research shows that most companies in this vein are not working on consumer-facing products at all.

The 2020 XR Industry Insight report by VR Intelligence states that 65% of AR companies are now focused on industrial applications.

 

Only 37% are working in the B2C space currently. While most people think of AR for entertainment or gaming, (thanks mostly to the Pokemon Go craze) it actually has a lot of powerful industrial applications.

For example, it can be used to give workers training and practice in dangerous environments or using expensive equipment without risk. It can also be used to relay important information in real-time.

Overall, this can boost productivity and lessen risk.

AR in manufacturing aims to produce efficient operations by cutting down production downtime, quickly identifying the problems and keeping all the services and processes going. Engineers assembling complicated machines such as planes and jet fights can can work faster and more accurately with the aid of AR glasses that use depth sensors, cameras, and motion sensors that overlay images into real world. Engineers are able to see right down to the bolts, cables, part numbers and instructions on how to assemble a specific component.

For teams working together in an assembly line, they can use an AR-enabled mobile app to scan QR codes to view live video feed with graphics, images, and use it to repair machines.

Airbus has been using augmented reality in manufacturing for several purposes under the brand Smart Augmented Reality Tool (SART) since 2011. Although this technology can be used in many applications, aircraft programs use it more often.

AR Smart Glasses for Business…And Fashion?

Google confirmed in a blog post recently that it’s acquired North, the Canada-based smart glasses maker behind Focals. Released back in 2018, Focals was focused on creating a stylish, unobtrusive pair of prescription-compatible smart glasses.

But with this new partnership, the legacy Focals product is now defunct, with refunds being offered to current customers and the Focals app itself removed from both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

If we were to put on our conjecturing hats, one might conclude that Google is getting ready to completely integrate the IP somehow into its own Google Glass project, which has reemerged to serve the enterprise sector.

Thereby, re-entering the consumer smart glasses game, as this move could open up Google’s horizons to reaching fashion-conscious consumers, too.

Bringing us all just one step closer to AR smart glasses for the everyday consumer.

Mixed Reality and Magic Leap

Having received more than $2 billion in funding, the Florida-based startup Magic Leap is one of the biggest, best-funded players in mixed reality currently.

However, Covid19 ushered in drastic cuts to Magic Leap’s workforce, leading to many consumer-facing products that were only half-realized crashing to a halt. It’s most ambitious project, The Last Light, was meant to demonstrate that first-generation mixed reality could tell powerful, engaging stories using today’s relatively entry-level tech.

The Verge reported:

According to current and former employees, it was just weeks away from a successful debut. Then, the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a crashing halt — and The Last Light, along with much of Magic Leap, crashed, too.

 

A narrative tale meant to entrance the user, Kayah’s story takes place on an island-like floating stage. As she moves through the story, memories begin appearing on the real walls of a viewer’s room, creating the illusion of small inset dioramas.”

Most mixed reality experiences, including Magic Leap’s best-known prototypes, try to realistically blend virtual objects into users surroundings.

Projects like The Last Light were meant to keep Magic Leap’s creative side alive, as the company has mostly shifted from its original mission to bring mixed reality to the mainstream to instead serve business customers. For the record, this is a shift that often happens in the technology startup, especially when there’s investors involved and a high return is expected.

Complications from Covid19 aside, the reality is that mixed reality is dependent on affordable tech that can truly support it — especially when it comes to widespread consumer adoption. We’re still waiting on this to happen, but The Last Light had promised to be an intriguing in-road towards this endeavor.

Currently, the company (albeit with half its pre-Covid workforce remaining) is still working on a Magic Leap 2 device said to be released in 2021, but gone is the consumer focus that was previously at the company’s core. And it remains to be seen whether or not The Last Light will ever see the light of day.

iOS Goes AR

Apple seems to have gotten (and kept) the memo when it comes to consumer-driven Augmented Reality. The key, it would seem, would be to offer it on devices users are already using at scale.

On that front, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the upcoming release of Apple’s iPhone 12. This is largely due to its new built-in AR enabling feature, the LiDAR scanner.

Leaked designs show the tri-camera setup will be gone with the addition of a fourth sensor designed specifically to measure accurate real-world depth.

This will drastically improve the performance in existing and future augmented reality apps. Everyday iPhones will become a ready-to-deploy tool for users (and developers) a make AR a more prevalent part of our daily lives.

Want to learn more about the LiDAR scanner and the new iPhone coming this fall? We have a whole blog post about it!

Final Thoughts

AR, VR, and MR are closer and closer to becoming intertwined with the fabric of our daily lives, with each technological advancement these companies make.

With applications ranging from life-saving surgery to gaming, the potential of these technologies has not even begun to be fully tapped into yet. It is an exciting new frontier full of countless possibilities.

What excites you most about these new technologies? Which problems do you hope that they will one day solve?

Talk to me.

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