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What is Augmented Reality?

What exactly is Augmented Reality, or AR? It feels like we are just becoming familiar with Virtual Reality (VR) and the headsets from Sony, Facebook/Oculus, and Valve/HTC. Now along comes AR. Augmented reality is a technology that blends virtual objects with actual reality around you. It overlays extra information or “meta information” on top of the real world. Unlike VR, when using AR you can actually see the world around you, so the good news is that we won’t be stumbling over coffee tables. Whereas VR completely immerses the user in a virtual world including both vision and sound, AR complements the world around you by using a mobile device screen or clear headset. While we can expect AR to be used for gaming, it is also being used for many other applications including education, shopping, business productivity, and health apps.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are viewed as the next disruptors in the technology field. And you don’t need an expensive headset and gaming rig or console to try it. Many of the first examples of AR run on iPhones or Android phones. Your phone or tablet uses sensors and cameras to recognize things in the world around you like the floor or table surfaces. As developers look for help creating 3D environments, tools like Unity for 3D game development are also leading the way (shameless plug: we have a class for that!). There are already many interesting examples of where AR and VR are headed, whether in gaming or beyond. Ikea’s Place app uses AR to place couches, chairs, coffee tables and other furniture in your home so you can see what it looks like before you buy. Try different fabric or paint colors. Night Sky is an app that overlaps star constellations onto the night sky. See star maps and move through time to see how they shift even years into the future. Of course, gaming is along for the ride with AR versions of Minecraft in development along with children’s books such as The Hungry Caterpillar (my kids had that book). Real-time strategy games including an app called The Machines are already out for iOS.

As Apple and Google release development kits alongside smartphones designed for AR, it is important for creative professionals to understand the tools available. By learning tools like Apple’s ARKit or Unity, students understand what is possible and are prepared to take advantage of these exciting trends. Facebook and Amazon are also investing heavily into both AR and VR to not be left behind. A story about Amazon on the news recently said they were looking to release a pair of AR glasses during this holidays season. Facebook bought Oculus for $2B so the stakes are high for all these tech companies. Currently we still have to wear dorky headsets for AR like Microsoft’s Hololens, but the time is coming when they will be integrated into normal glasses. For interesting applications of AR in business productivity, look at what Silicon Valley company Meta (www.metavision.com) has been doing since 2012. Their technology is used for training and design applications for the aerospace and auto industries, for example.

We are excited to see what our students make over time with the various AR tools, whether using the dev kits from Apple, Google, Facebook or Amazon. Maybe the kids will unleash the next viral game like Pokemon Go! Perhaps by combining their creativity and imagination with the technology they will come up with something the world hasn’t even thought of yet.

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