It’s been a busy spring for Augmented Reality and the last week really topped it off. The 8th annual Augmented World Expo was 3 days of vendors, developers and enthusiastic end-users coming together to talk about, demo and try on the latest AR gear. If there is to be one thing I came away with from the expo it’s that we haven’t yet agreed what to call this thing. Augmented, Mixed or eXtended Reality. Each was used almost interchangeably. It won’t matter what we call if but it sure would help the messaging if we stuck to a naming convention.

The Promise

Trying on Daqri Glasses
Looking Through DAQRI’s Glasses

We all want the same thing. We want a device (or set of devices) that we can look through which will overlay information and interactive elements onto the real world. This information will be easy to access and quickly available. Creating objects and information for AR will be simple, requiring little to no programming. The hardware will be priced in the same range as a smart phone and weigh less. It will be personalized to us and allow access to our virtual assistant of choice.

The Near Future

AR Timeline So FarThis coming year is going to feel a bit like 2016 did for VR. We’re on the cusp of some interesting hardware hitting the market at attainable prices. The big, big players are making moves…Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook are all in varying stages of their AR strategies.

Google announced Google Lens at I/O in May and, assuming it works as well as it demoed, looks to be a key piece of their AR strategy. It plays to their strengths in machine learning and information management. Their continued development of Tango will make AR creation and experiences more accessible. I’d like to see Tango built into the Pixel 2 (hint, hint Google) and any other devices they make from here on out. With a likely hardware announcement in the fall, what more will come this year? Time will tell…

Microsoft released its Windows Creators Update for Windows 10. This update includes tools for the creation of Mixed Reality content. Microsoft is trying to make it as easy as possible to build content for AR (and VR) with tools provided in the OS. An interesting side note, Lorraine Bardeen (General Manager, Windows and HoloLens Experiences) used the term mixed reality exclusively in her talk at AWE. Microsoft has since announced hardware from partners Dell and Asus. We’ll see what else turns up this year…time will tell…

Facebook made it clear that AR is a priority at F8. They promise to provide a platform to create AR experiences with relative ease. It’s still unclear what exactly Facebook’s AR Studio will mean for all of us. Time will tell…

Apple announced, just yesterday, their ARKit at WWDC as a platform for bringing solid AR content to iOS. We’ll see what’s truly possible and hopefully see some hints for what’s to come as developers get their hands on it. Time will tell…

Magic Leap…(this space intentionally left blank)

The Reality

Daqri HelmetThe hardware is clunky, uncomfortable, and heavy. The experiences are neat but less than amazing. It’s ok, it’s early days. There are definite use cases for AR as it exists right now. Head mounted displays are great for industrial design, construction and manufacturing. Environments where having information available while keeping your hands free. The hardware is rugged and includes safety features necessary for those sectors.

Entertainment companies can start thinking about AR for project planning and previz. AR and VR are great ways to show a client what your project is really going to look like. ODG (Osterhaut Design Group) has a pair of glasses coming this fall for under the $1000 mark. This will make head mounted AR hardware accessible to small and medium design studios.

For everyone else, my hope is that we can break through the “3D graphics in our world” demos and applications and really start exploring what AR is and what it can be. Let’s settle on Extended Reality as the common term. Our reality should be extended in all possible ways. Not just looking through our phones at cute animations. We posses a ton of data about the world around us and this data should be accessible to everyone in a variety of forms. Whether we hold the phone up to look through the camera, use a head mounted display or wear smart clothing that tug at us when we’re near areas of interest. Existing displays in public spaces should detect our presence and provide information that’s important to us (and yes, there will probably be ads too).

We’re at the beginning of whatever this becomes. With the right mix of vision, open standards and acceptance we can enhance our everyday lives, be more productive and spend less time looking down at a glowing rectangle. We must be patient and work through the hype cycles and the low points to get to the good stuff. I’m looking forward to it…

VR Evolving

This past Saturday, the 16th, I attended the Los Angeles VR and Immersive Technologies Meetup here at the Brewery. The Creative Technology Center hosted Roy Taylor from AMD and Phillipe Lewicki from HTML Fusion. Both presentations were interesting but I’m not going to get into the specifics of each one here. As I sat and listened to some of the points made I had a few thoughts about the state of virtual reality rolling around in my head.

Stop Waiting for the Big Thing

There’s been tremendous progress in the VR world these last few years and no one denies that. Unfortunately the progress has led to great excitement and great excitement of any technology leads to over inflated expectations. Gamers, Hollywood, educators and almost everyone else are trying to figure out where the big thing for VR is going to come from and how to be a part of it. Content creators are eager for this new platform to take off and deliver on the promises being made. My fear is that the big thing is a ways down the road and the returns on any investment in VR are not going to be all that impressive for a while. If VR doesn’t deliver, enthusiasm will wane and the big investors will look elsewhere for the next new toy that promises the next big thing.

I hope we can all slow down a little bit. Take a breath. Focus on some really interesting and very niche applications for VR. The general public isn’t ready to strap a viewer on their head for more than 5 minutes and they certainly aren’t ready to invest in one for their home. We have a long way to go in teaching the not-so-early adopters what this is, how it works and why they might want it. During one of the talks it was mentioned that Google’s Cardboard is too simple and not enough of an interactive VR experience to move us forward. The truth is Cardboard has significantly lowered the barriers to entry. Nearly anyone can cheaply (assuming they already own a smart phone) and easily have a VR experience. Cardboard is teaching the general populous what this experience is and getting us used to holding a viewer up to our face to peer into a different world (however slight those differences may be). Cardboard is absolutely limited in the experience it can provide but I believe it is an invaluable tool in making VR comfortable and “acceptable” to a great many people.

Focus on the Small

Until the more sophisticated hardware proliferates there’s a limited audience for any content. By focusing more narrowly we can create some really interesting experiences that will help lay the foundation and develop a few basic rules for this new experience. If we want VR to stick this time (and we do) there needs to be a ton of experimentation so we can get to a place where truly great and unique content can be created. We are in that experimental phase and if we try to rush through it VR will be littered with re-purposed movies and reformatted video games offering nothing truly unique or inspiring. The money to develop content or hardware will dry up and we’ll wait another decade for the next daring entrepreneur to resurrect a world of technology that has limped along.