AR Comes of Age


Earlier this year we spoke to AV Magazine about Augmented Reality as it applies to proAV – sectors from retail to education, museums to design and more. Read our entire interview here:

Augmented Reality comes in two flavours. 2D AR adds labels and images – I usually describe it as a dynamic infographic overlaid onto the real world. 3D AR allows you to place objects into a scene – think furniture into apartments, cars into showrooms, buildings into landscapes.

It is this second aspect of AR as a medium that some time ago grabbed the attention of INITION. It is engaging, we use it to help brands communicate a message and develop a tech-savvy personality. As 3D for communications is INITION and SuperCommunications’ area of expertise I’ll base our responses around 3D AR for marketing purposes. It’s exciting times with a raft of new devices currently being developed

1 To what extent is AR technology maturing from its niche roots to a mainstream solution?

Until around ten years ago AR was the domain of research labs and specialist fields like brain surgery and military head up displays.  The tipping point for marketing came when webcams became commonplace and clever software improved frame rates to the point where lag was all but eliminated. The result was an almost magical rendering of objects moving in space as if glued to real world features. This was engaging and AR exploded onto the marketing scene as a new and alluring way for brands to communicate.

2 What are the main challenges to wider use/adoption? (could be lack of headsets to technical issues around occlusion and physical sensors?)

The central challenge for software is building a realistic 3D representation of surrounding objects from a 2D camera image. The virtual device must understand the physical reality around it.  Humans are very, very good at this and we are hard to fool.  When devices succeed in persuading our senses of a reality that’s made up, the results are compelling.

The hardware challenge is simply ubiquity, the widespread adoption of devices capable of convincing. Samsung’s Gear VR, Microsoft’s Hololens and Google’s recently hyped Magic Leap are all tackling the headset challenges. This space is where Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality combine, sometimes referred to as VR/AR or Mixed Reality.

Whilst immersive technology has been maturing, INITION has been adopting tablets and mobiles as augmented windows onto the world.  Tablets have unique advantages and will remain in the mix even after headset devices becomes commonplace and AR has a new suite of tricks at its disposal.

3 What does the apparent lack of success of Google Glass mean for AR development?

Google Glass was never an ideal platform for 3D AR due to its field of view being limited to the corner of our vision. AR ideally requires line of sight.  Even 2D AR is at its best when a greater area of our vision is available for labelling.  Glass was thus limited as a game changer for AR, and possibly this formed part of Google’s rethink. Microsoft may for once have stolen a march here.

4 What does AR do well as a solution? And what is it less good at?

Done well, as a communication technology, AR achieves that heady state where the technology disappears and leaves a sense of something magical happening.  AR is engaging and the devices are low cost, making it ideal for events and touchpoints.  It is also versatile.  We can point the camera at the audience and make them the protagonist of the story, or we can hand them a tablet and turn them into directors of the action.  It’s an ideal medium for storytelling, the ultimate aim of a good branded experience.

5 What impact will depth-sensing cameras devices have?

Depth cameras have been utilised for various types of AR for around 10 years.  Some of INITION’s earliest experiences simply placed branded objects into the hands of participants and let them play.  Now similar technology such as Leap Motion (not to be confused with Magic Leap) is allowing mixed reality to bring our own hands and bodies back into vision again.  Anything that gives the software a better sense of the space and objects around it helps to convince the user of the veracity of the scene.  Believability again is key.

6 What do corporate client/users need to know about the cost of an AR application?

Although the technology alone can be very engaging, part of INITION’s ethos is to make sure we’re deploying it for a reason.  Technology as a gimmick will only work once or twice. All our briefs are different, and each experience use technology in different ways, thus projects are costed up individually.

As the devices are inexpensive, the bulk of investment being in creative, design and development, distributed deployment is feasible. Arming a sales team with augmented iPads to bring to life the mode of action of a drug in front of doctor’s eyes is economically viable. Rolling out an in-car mixed reality experience across 200 car show rooms is similarly achievable.

For longer term adoption you have to work out what tangible benefit the technology enables that wasn’t possible previously.  An augmented mirror that allows wearers to try on virtual watches or glasses has potential for retail.  It couldn’t be done before.  It is in arenas like this that AR will flourish in the long term.

7 What application (s) have you worked on recently – with a bit of detail about the application / why it was innovative – plus a hi-res image, ideally.

One way to find novelty is to combine groundbreaking technologies in new ways.  We recently 3D printed an innovative turbo engine part for a client event.  We brought it to life by augmenting the intake, internal airflow and exhaust patterns as a sequence of AR animations to show exactly how the innovation achieves improvement in performance.

Many adopters are also yet to realise the scalability of the technology.  Imagine gazing down at the original berth of the Titanic and seeing the hull of the ship being constructed, relaying its own story as it is fitted out and then launched in front of your eyes.

8 Could you provide some best practice tips to explaining how AR works – and how to work with AR?

3D AR is the most engaging flavour of augmented reality, and has a suite of new devices in development.  An exciting future lies ahead in the world of experiences and communications for brands that want to align themselves with tech by adopting this new medium.