The Future Will be Augmented

When my super smart friend Dan Willis asked me to be on his panel at South by Southwest next year, my brain started spinning, trying to imagine what technology will be doing to our lives in five years.

Back in 1992, I helped set up a virtual reality lab at VCU where I was studying design. I’m not ashamed to admit that, at the time, I thought people would be wearing gloves & goggles to conduct their daily business in the Not Too Distant Future. I got over it, of course.

One of the most exciting things I found at the time was a book called Artificial Reality II by Myron Krueger. In it, he put forward the idea of a layer of information projected inside your glasses, synced with the reality outside your glasses. So, for example, you could write a sign in the air with your finger saying “This is it!” outside your house, and save it on a friend’s private channel to help them find your house for the first time. Pretty heady stuff back in 1991, and today almost a reality.

The field’s called Augmented Reality or “AR”, and I’ve been hearing more and more about it every day, but until now, not really paying it too much attention. I took a closer look this week, and here are some of the most striking examples I found, which give a pretty good overview of the state of the field today.

Sixth Sense

Probabaly the most exciting AR application I’ve seen so far, Sixth Sense is unique in that it augments reality by projecting graphics & data out onto the world.

Browsers

An augmented reality browser is software that puts a layer of information over reality, exactly as Myron Krueger foretold back in ’91. I think it’s inevitable that these will become the hub of our digital lives and a software battlefield.

Layar

Nearest Subway

Marketing

Wherever you’ve got a new technology, you’ll always have someone trying to use it to better sell you stuff. Most of the AR marketing is extremely gimmicky so far, so here just a couple of well-done examples.

Lego

Mini Cabrio

Games

I predict that games will be to AR what porn was to the early internet. It’s just too good a match. Maybe it’s just because it’s so new, but AR feels like magic — it’s fun just because of what it is, no matter what you do with it. Employing that sense of magic in play is a no-brainer. I also predict a rash of rather painful real-world accidents, if the Roku’s Reward video below is anything to go by.

ARhrrrr!

Roku’s Reward

levelHead

PITStrategy

Art

It doesn’t seem like there’s too much experimentation going on in this space yet, but as this video shows, there’s plenty of potential.

Tagged in Motion

Weirdness

Of course, just like marketing gimmicks, wherever there’s a new technology there will be someone building disturbing, sleazy software to entertain creepy, sweaty geeks. Ewww.

Manga Girl

What’s Coming?

Augmented Reality is a very young field, and exciting enough that we designers should be keeping a close eye on it. But just like any technological jump, everyone will eventually get used to it, the sheen of coolness will fade, and it’ll go from being a sexy gimmick to an everyday tool. What then?

AR is such a large enough step away from the desktop / window / mouse world we’ve been clicking in for so long, that I’m certain it will totally bend the brains of us experience designers. We’re so used to thinking in 2D layers of information and linear paths of interaction, it’ll be a while before we really figure out how to squeeze the most out of AR experiences. At the moment the space seems to be dominated by academics on the one hand, and money-grubbing marketers on the other. I’d personally like to see a few of us practical, out in the real world, thinking designers make something out of the AR primordial soup, and I’d love to have a chance to get into it myself.

To keep up with the world of AR, check out these blogs:

There’s Got to be More

These videos are surely just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m pretty new to the world of AR. Have you seen anything stunning out there that should be here too? What’s your favourite AR app? Which of your day-to-day tasks do you look forward to having augmented in the future? If you could have any AR app you wanted, what would it be?