How augmented reality will change our experiences

By Pete Abbott

Due to the rapid development of new technologies and the increased adoption of these there is now the opportunity for rich environmental data collection. Augmented Reality provides a framework for accessing and interacting with this data. While this is an interesting concept, we need to understand how it can improve our experiences in the realm of human computer interaction in any environment.

Before we can discuss the role that AR will play in our future, we need to first understand what it is.

What is augmented reality?

AR alters the world we see by overlaying digital information on top of our physical environment.

AR and VR are often grouped together when discussing emerging technology because both occupy themselves in the realm of artificial data and our perception of it. But they have a core difference: immersion. VR immerses you in an entirely virtual world, while AR augments the world we inhabit by overlaying digital information on top of our the real world.

3 ways our experience of physical environments will change

Here are 3 ways that AR will change our experiences in physical environments, each based on traditional standards of human computer interaction.

1. Contextual use of data

AR is about improving the connection and interaction we have with each other on a human level - introductions, conversation, dating, we’ve all forgotten someone’s birthday…

When we view visual information about people we absorb it and build a picture of this person in our heads, but to make use of this information we must retain it, or continually refer to an external device. Retrieving important social information from long-term memory often fails us, guess work can land us in awkward situations and relying on retrieving information from a mobile device can build walls when carried out in a social setting.

Imagine being able to walk into a bar and, without having to initiate any preliminary search, being able to see and access the Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Tinder profiles of everyone within your view contextually placed around them. How would we interact with this on a gestural level and what’s the implication this will have on the way we socialise and interact with each other?

In 2016 Blippar announced the addition of AR facial recognition technology to its service, which would allow users to set a mood and share links to recent social media content - all of which would be accessible by someone simply pointing a mobile device at them. This is a move that signals the start of contextual social data in 3D spaces and raises interesting questions around the impact AR will have on our society and how we interact with people.

2. Improved navigation

AR will help us make our environments more legible and relevant by improving our understanding and navigation of physical spaces.

If you have ever used Google Maps, been to a hospital or used the London Underground the biggest challenge is always understanding where you are, where you need to go, and evaluating your path along the way, all of which is often hampered by complex secondary and tertiary information you simply don’t need to see.

Relevance is critical for an effective way-finding system. If the information being displayed is irrelevant or crowded - as it often is - then the person has to think a lot harder to effectively find what is relevant to them. It is this that often creates confusion and ultimately leads to people getting lost.

But what if people could arrive at the London Underground, state their desired destination and then be guided by a personalised augmented digital visual guide that has the sole function of ensuring the person travels their route in the fastest, most direct way possible, and to clearly communicate when they reach a key stage in their journey?

In 2015 the Future Cities Catapult Project explored the idea of connected streets and proposed, through speculative prototyping, how a heads-up display combined with AR could reduce the cognitive load on cyclists while also tackling issues such as blind spots and accident hot spots. This project is an early example of the value AR can have in an urban environment to improve the clarity and safety of a person’s journey.

3. Remove screens as user interfaces

AR will help remove the screen as a user interface creating a more seamless experience with digital information.

Digital interactions on mobile devices and desktops have a disconnect when trying to communicate instructions to users. Screens force users to constantly switch between the physical problem in front of them and the screen offering a solution.

Many of us rely on cars to go about our daily business, but anyone who owns a vehicle understands the frustration of waking up in the morning to find it simply won’t start. But what if the car could communicate to us which exact part has malfunctioned and show us, using AR around the vehicle, where the malfunctioning part is situated, the exact steps required to remove it, how to fix it and even how to use the tools required throughout that process?

In 2016, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) teamed up with motor bike manufacturer KTM to showcase their latest release “Thingworx” in conjunction with their acquisition of the Vuforia AR platform. Their demonstration showed how a junior mechanic could perform complex, high-level maintenance using AR and IoT data. AR in this situation is not only valuable to manufacturers, but is also the first step towards empowering people to perform maintenance on the things we own.

These are just 3 examples of how AR will change the way we socialise, navigate our surroundings, and remove the need for screens in our physical world. This will fundamentally change the way we live and experience life.

What do you think?