It’s The End of the Non-Augmented World As We Know It…

As with the Internet itself, some of the coolest tech trickles down from the military. Case in point: years after non-commercial aircraft started using HUDs to overlay flight data in front of pilots, video games followed suit. And, for the last five years, the hype and promise for augmented reality — a hybrid of virtual and actual reality — to spread into virtually every aspect of our daily lives has only grown.

From consumer HUDs, clunky wearable computer packs, hilarious helmets and goofy goggles now to small web cams, portable gaming devices, integrated GPS, and near-free cell phone apps (this is the big one), are we finally on the cusp of the breakthrough that’s been buzzed about?

Above is a demo of TwittARound, an iPhone app that was unveiled recently. The AR app displays live tweets, allowing the viewer to see from where the 140-character message originated. Kinda fun, but also potentially useful: After a natural disaster, rescue workers could hypothetically locate any persons trapped inside buildings or under rubble.

That’s why AR has so much potential to become ubiquitous: 1) the applications for it fall everywhere and anywhere on the spectrum between totally useful and just plain silly (thus, it targets anyone and everyone). 2) the tools required to partake are getting cheaper, smaller, and easier to use.

After the jump, see where you can expect to see a lot more augmented reality, and why:Healthcare:

3ApplicationAreas5.GIF

In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed to the fences with an editorial that said eventually surgeons would be operating on patients with pre-op and real-time image data such as ultrasonographs overlaid onto the patient.

Why?: Computer Assisted or Image-Guided Surgery could prove useful in situations where tissue obscures the surgeon’s view and makes it difficult to determine spatial relativity — “just as the modern pilot can take off, land and fly through bad weather using radar and infra-red picture substitution.”

By 2007, the notion of actually building this kind of system had become even more “feasible” due to “advances in miniaturization and reduced hardware costs,” according to an article in the journal Information Technology in Biomedicine. Still aways away, but not as far away as it was when Interventional Video Tomography (IVT) was being proposed over a decade ago.

Even sooner, as the NYT reports, we’ll likely see X-rays and ultrasounds projected directly on a patients body during consultations.

Why?: 1) Anatomy can be hard to envision for the layperson. 2) If seeing a scan of your rotting lung transposed onto your own body doesn’t convince you to quit smoking, then nothing will.

Top pic via “3 Medical VR: the main application areas and what has been done” by
Professor John Waterworth

Toys and Collectibles

Why?: Michael Eisner’s company Tornante and other investors bought Topps for $385 million. You don’t spend that kind of money unless you see huge growth potential.

Topps changed hands not long after the cardboard card manufacturer started exploring augmented reality with tech from Total Immersion, whose i-TAG also powers Mattel’s action figures for the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar

Education:

dino.jpg

Canon is sponsoring an exhibit which just opened a few weeks ago at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. Visitors get a dose of “Mixed Reality,” so in addition to ogling bones and full skeletons of prehistoric creatures, they’re using a “hand-scope” to view 3D renderings of huge dinos. [more info here, via Not Just Reality]

Why?: Getting kids’ attention is tough. Dazzling them with flashy, immersive, interactive tech could engage more kids (and adults) for longer periods of time.

Even adult-specific education and training will likely see more and more AR training. Check out BMW’s vision for aiding and guiding its mechanics:

Marketing: (like, a lot)

Maybe you’re familiar with the forthcoming film District 9?

But have you played the Multi-National United Training Simulation game online?

Developed by Trigger, an LA- and Shanghai-based company that builds big Flash-y sites for Hollywood blockbusters, the MNU game is simple enough. As with that GE Smart Grid interactive AR, you begin by printing a 2D image on a piece of paper. From there, though, you can click a few actions. Nothing mind-blowing, really, but certainly light years ahead of film sites from even 3 years ago.

Why?: Anything to capture peoples’ attentions. Duh.

Forget simply checking on the number of plays your preview gets on YouTube. Studios want to gauge attention even deeper, at a micro-level. Trigger can provide companies like Sony with hard user data. Its “Replay” game analytics dashboard collects and displays any number of game-metrics, including total # of players, number of game plays, time spent playing, etc.

Should MNU get insanely popular — which is not out of the question considering it has ARG elements — expect Sony (and every other studio’s) next sci-fi or action release to follow suit.

Transportation/Travel:

In the last year, we’ve seen an array of apps, including Wikitude (above), a G1 app which presents historic info, distances and other data based on whatever landmarks are in the viewfinder.

Fun and useful for tourists, but even better imho, are the apps from acrossair which proposes to mashup real-time transit data so you can see where/when municipal buses and trains are coming/going.

Why?: This is perhaps the most practical, easiest-to-use day-to-day application of augmented reality we’ve seen thus far. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the sale of smarthones jumped 34%. Even with the economy in the crapper, the sale of GPS-enabled phones is predicted to keep increasing.

So there you have it. The future’s bright. With ubiquitous AR, every object in reality will become a direct point of entry for more information. That much seems obvious. What’s less obvious, to some, is whether all of this a good thing?

Is there something inherently weird or wrong with seeing the world with Terminator Eyes?

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8 Responses to It’s The End of the Non-Augmented World As We Know It…

  1. Clay says:

    Honestly, the iPhone’s AR potential is the one thing keeping me from buying a Pre instead. Even if nine out of ten potential developers get frustrated by the App Store’s anti-developer policies and walk away, the apps that do make it to release are very likely going to be fantastic.

  2. Coffee says:

    Very Bitchun.

  3. Mister Moofoo says:

    “After a natural disaster, rescue workers could hypothetically locate any persons (who own iPhones) trapped inside buildings or under rubble.”

    ftfy.

  4. ginshirou says:

    Reality quit being relevant with the invention of TV. Why care about the boring reality around you when you can get this fantasy through a screen? Why trust your life to the vagaries of memory when recordings are so much better?

    People already pay hundreds of dollars for tickets to a live event just to end up watching increasingly long chunks of it through the 2.5″ screen of their phone as they record it. We don’t tell stories as often as we used to; why bother, when the experience is recorded and shared with less effort than a twitch?

    AR is just the evolution of TV, bridging the boring reality around you with a fantasy through a screen – it makes anything a live event you can experience through a plastic-and-silicon filter. It’s still the same concept of vicarious experience as television, now made ubiquitous and universal.

    AR is exciting to talk about, sure, but it’s inevitable, just another medium to throw onto the pile. Piece by piece, we continue to free up through technology the parts of our brain we formerly used every minute of every day.

    What’s important is deciding what we’re going to decide to do with these freed-up chunks of thought that AR replaces. When observing the world with our natural senses pales in comparison with doing the same through AR, then what use are our eyes but to view the screens, our ears but to plug them full of speakers?

    I’m waxing dramatic, sure, but only because evolution has a funny way of moving just slowly enough to make dramatic shifts seem mundane. It doesn’t lessen the import of the question: When reality becomes fully subset in augmented/artificial reality, will we still care about reality?

  5. Mary Sue says:

    William Gibson scares the crap out of me, because I just read Spook Country where this kind of tech plays a plot point.

    Of course, he wrote the book back in ’05 and ’06…

  6. Pusher says:

    I manage a retail bookstore, and I lust for HUD/AR glasses three or four times a day. It started about six years ago after I read Snow Crash and really got bad after I read a NYT article about prototypes for just that kind of thing.

    Of course, it’ll never happen at my company, but a quick list of applications:
    - Managers are required to carry around override codes for a bunch of applications. Some of them are ridiculously unintuitive.
    - Right now we’re in the middle of a remodel. I created a pdf map of where every section is temporarily located. Be nice to have that in some other format than a big sheet of paper.
    - On tech support calls, I’m routinely running between components to check serial numbers.
    - Merchandising would be about a zillion times easier if you could look at a blank display and have the finished product overlaid.

    So I make the best of current technology with Evernote, GMail, and an iPhone. Slower, but it still works. Sometimes.

  7. cnawan says:

    “[During] a [terrorist attack], [Military Police equipped with iPhones] could hypothetically locate any persons [with connected cellphones capable of SMS] [hidden] inside buildings or [behind] rubble.”

    There, fixed that a bit more for you

  8. nickelrocket says:

    i love the VR glasses on the engine schematics. first question: why do i need a mechanic now? I could see any car company selling these things as part of a warranty plan and giving you an over view of a diagnostic readout and a list of things that you could fix yourself vs. a list of things beyond one’s abilities. Step-by-step instructions would go a long way to involve the consumer in the care and maintenance of their own car.

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