AR: Practical, Fluffy & Visionary

Since posting a round-up of current AR projects the other day, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback and engaged in a fair bit of discussion about the subject — apparently it’s a pretty hot topic.

Specifically two interesting projects have come to my attention, and they couldn’t be more different.

Practical Post

So far most AR I’ve been able to find has either been in the alpha stage, or pure gimmickry. So it was refreshing to find something that is practical and useful to average folks, right now, today. It’s not a game changer and it doesn’t redefine any paradigms, but if you need to know if your stuff will fit in a postal box without going down to the post office, this could be extremely handy. [Found on core77]

Finnish Fluff

If Nokia Research had set out to make a video demonstrating how augmented reality could one day become barely more useful than my iPhone, they couldn’t have done better than this concept video. Unfortunately, I think they really mean it. [Thanks to @MichelleGilmore for the heads-up]

If I’ve understood correctly, in the future I’ll need a hideous pair of glasses, a bracelet, cordless earphones and a phone in order to send and receive text messages, surf the web and check the weather. Okay, okay, I’m being a bit harsh, but let’s break it down:

  • The lady only ever sends smileys, which is convenient considering how difficult it would be to actually send text using the proposed interface.
  • Imagine yourself walking down the street in New York with a few hundred people & cars passing you every minute. Now imagine trying to keep your eyes focussed on your music player’s menu and not bump into anyone or get run over.
  • If we accept that she’s able to navigate through her music with her eyes, why does she need a wrist/bracelet twitch to accept an incoming text message?
  • I vaguely remember seeing a study of disorientation caused by goggles back in the bad old days of VR, and as I remember it one of the primary causes of nausea was projecting static, non-moving images over a moving background.

It’s a nicely produced video, and it does have a soft glow of cool, but does it really show an innovative way to improve how we communicate, connect, and navigate the world and our data? Meh, not really. If that’s what the future looks like, I’ll just keep my iPhone, thanks. My tip for the Nokia Research AR team: spend half as much on the next video, and put in twice as much time thinking it all through.

And it’s off-topic, but I’m curious: does anyone understand why the guy in the boat is wearing a kevlar vest?

Fluff with Style

A “one-day” vision video doesn’t have to fall so short of the mark. This video from the architecture faculty of Valle Giulia gives us a feeling for how AR might one day be used to make the study of architecture more engaging, fun and informative.

That’s what an exciting vision looks like! And apparently you don’t have to look like a complete dork just because you’re wearing AR glasses.

Yes, it’s a Game Changer

I loathe the phrase as much as anyone, but AR is a game changer. For us designers, the “game” for the last 20 to 30 years has been two-dimensional planes inside the monitor’s magic box. AR not only gives us a whole new dimension to work & play with, but also breaks the magic box and spills our interfaces out into the world we spend all our time in.

The only question Nokia Research answered above is “how can we get the functions of today’s phone out of the phone?” which to me doesn’t go nearly far enough and is, well, boring. The question I want AR to answer is “where are my superpowers?” Is that too much to ask for?


  1. Yuval Ararat says:

    You forgot that you have to pay for each of these items separately and they will be expensive. so useless + expensive = utterly useless.

    That book glasses trick is nice but its too expensive to put it in glasses, it will go to the kindle type and will be a combination of the LCD and e-Ink that will give you the same experience. and may be 3D-e-Ink but that’s too revolutionary.

    BTW The guy is wearing that vest only because one of the hidden features of the wrist is to blow up things when you draw a perfect circle with the palm of you hand in the air at 45 degrees from the sun.