In the past few years, both virtual and augmented reality technologies have enjoyed a constant buzz as the components needed to bring them into reality constantly mature. Though less talked about, however, augmented reality (AR) is where the real advancement has been happening, and truly set to go mainstream through AR smart glasses.
Augmented Reality (AR) smart glasses are computerized wearable glasses that add a layer of interactive digital information on top of what you would normally see in the physical world. By doing so, they enhance your perception of the reality without replacing it.
Most of us have been introduced to AR technology through popular smartphone games and apps such as Pokemon Go and the suite of filters offered by Snapchat. Moreover, with Google and even Apple launching smartphone-powered AR platforms*, that is, ARCore and ARKit, this technology seems to have a bright future and many applications.
In this article, we will highlight what AR smart glasses are in more detail and some of the many ways AR technology is being applied.
What Exactly Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality can be described as the technology that merges virtual reality with your actual real world surrounding through live video imagery. The live video is normally enhanced through computer-generated graphics and then overlaid onto your reality via AR smart glasses/headsets or through the display on mobile devices.
What is the difference between augmented and virtual reality?
Augmented and virtual reality are similar technologies that have the amazing ability of dramatically changing how we perceive the world. Where the two differ is how they alter the perception of where we are.
For instance, virtual reality has been described as capable of transposing the user. That is, VR takes the user to a whole new world by blocking out the room through googles, helmets or headsets – whether to the moon or at sea. Some users have reported experiencing the actual feeling of flying or going up a flight of stairs while using VR headsets. Some good examples of VR devices include the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Google Cardboard.
On the other hand, augmented reality takes the environment you are in and adds smart elements to it with as little distractions as possible. You are not transported elsewhere. On the contrary, it simply enhances your current state of environment by adding useful information and often uses clear glasses.
Currently, there are a barrage of companies offering AR smart glasses in the market, with Samsung almost ready to launch its Monitorless AR glasses which can connect to PCs and smartphones wirelessly to act as a mobile screen.
Interestingly, Apple, who have been conspicuously silent about VR technology as a whole, are now showing a lot of interest in the augmented reality industry.
However, it is too early to speculate whether we can expect a pair of AR glasses from Apple. Or at least more AR features built into the next generation iPhones.
Is there a difference between smart and AR glasses?
All AR glasses can be called smart glasses, but not all smart glasses can be called AR glasses. Let does elaborate on this a bit more.
Smart glasses are simply wearable devices capable of presenting some sort of information to the user. Just like a smart watch, the type of information they present can vary widely . This can range from a text, an incoming phone call, directions, or even your blood pressure.
Smart glasses offer the convenience of never having to take off your eyes off of whatever you are doing to access crucial information. In this light, smart glasses can be considered as head mounted displays (HMDs).
Most smart glasses are built from transparent glasses that project a small floating screen. However, simply projecting information on a transparent screen does not count as ‘augmenting reality’ as it can be easily mistaken.
Augmented Reality (AR) glasses?
Besides being just a heads-up unit (HUD) that project information on a screen, AR smart glasses offer much more. These devices are normally designed to present digital information as if it existed in real life.
This means that smart glasses do not become AR glasses until they portray the capability to sense the surrounding and then present information that is congruent with that environment. In a way that the user will have a hard time telling the difference or get distracted.
You may notice AR glasses being commonly referred to as AR headsets often. Well, to enhance reality via AR, a wide field of view as well as the ability to gather enough information from the environment is necessary. Therefore, the hardware needed for AR technology is significantly more complex compared to a simple smart glass. This naturally makes AR smart glasses much larger and hence the name ‘headset’ being more fitting in many situations.
In the near future, AR headsets are expected to shrink in size. Until then, however, do not fall into the trap of buying a pair of smart glasses being touted as AR smart glasses.
So far, AR devices can be grouped into three broad categories:
- Wearable AR smart glasses/headsets
- Mobile/handheld AR (smartphone AR)
- Tethered AR head mounted units (HMDs)
Although Facebook’s Oculus VR headset and Microsoft’s Hololens were eagerly anticipated by all, only a few could afford them when they recently launched. Now, however, there are AR headsets that come at a third the price of Microsoft’s Hololens.
Most AR headsets that offer a truly interactive experience normally operate while tethered to a PC, but it is only a matter of time before untethered devices dominate the market. For those on a budget, there are cheaper headsets meant to be powered by the latest smartphone and tablets.
Examples of the Best Use Cases for AR Smart Glasses
Augmented reality is now evolving as one of the major drivers of the tech industry globally. In fact, the AR market value is estimated to grow at high pace and reach 100 billion in year 2020 by many estimations.
These predictions might seem too optimistic. However, considering that AR apps, smart glasses and headsets can add value to pretty much any industry, the figures may as well be an underestimate.
AR is showing potential to revolutionize various industries, from manufacturing to design, by solving some of the oldest and most pressing issues.
To make it easier for you to skim through, here is a summary of some of the best use cases for AR smart glasses and AR technology as a whole:
1. Repair and maintenance
One of the biggest and most important use cases for AR smart glasses is in repair and maintenance of complicated machinery.
Whether it is an MRI machine or a sports car, staff in repair and maintenance industry are starting to adopt AR technology at work. AR glasses and headsets provide useful information on-demand. These include the suggestion of possible fixes to an issue and pin-pointing potential pain points on the spot. Also, instead of having to go through a repair manual, technicians can handle all their tasks hands-free, even when fixing difficult problems.
This use case is expected to advance even more as the internet of things (IoT) or machine-to-machine technology grows. For instance, with the roll out of 5G technology, it will be possible to feed information directly to an AR smart glass.
AR technology has found a lot of application in the medical industry, especially when it comes to training new staff. From operating an MRI machine to executing intricate surgeries, AR have the potential to boost both the depth and effectiveness of medical diagnosis, research and training.
For instance, students at the Western Reserve University in Cleveland are now learning anatomy with the help of an AR headset. This allows for a more interactive and 3D learning experience.
3. Design and modeling
AR headsets are now enabling all kinds of designers; from interior architects to engineers to visualize various final products while still in the creative process. Through AR glasses, designers are able to step directly into the design space and visualize how things might look in vivid detail. More interestingly, they can even make virtual changes to a model on the spot.
AR headsets can even help with large projects such as urban planning. Where designers can create and present entire city layouts to interested stakeholders. In short, AR technology is bound to shine in any design or modeling tasks.
In the recent past, there has been an increasing tendency by shoppers to use their smartphones while browsing for products.
They are usually looking for additional information, scanning QR codes or just comparing the prices of different products. AR technology has the potential to radically change how people shop and interact with products.
For example, companies such as Harley Davidson are taking advantage of the AR tech to give their shoppers a more immersive experience. They have created an app that allows users to customize the motorcycles they might be interested in while at the store. They can change colors and other features on the bike.
Some boutiques are also employing AR technology to show their shoppers what they would look like in different outfits without having to actually change clothes.
5. Business Logistics
AR has been touted as a potential game changer in terms of efficiency and saving costs in many areas of business that involve logistics. AR is finding clever applications in warehousing, transportation and route-optimization.
For instance, DHL, the shipping company, is already using smart AR glasses in some of its storerooms. For now, the glasses are used to show workers the shortest route to pick a product for shipping within the warehouse.
6. Disaster management
In the unfortunate case of an emergency, people nowadays reach out for their smartphones for news about the situation, what to do, where to go, where to find their loved ones, etc. Furthermore, when first responders arrive on a scene of a disaster, first they must figure out who needs help and how to give them help on safe grounds.
AR technology holds a lot of promise in managing disasters such as earthquakes or fires. First responders can be notified of possible danger zones and determine the individuals that need most assistance in real time.
For those who need help, AR headsets can provide the necessary directions or best routes to reach a safe area, medics or the police. All these while still allowing the wearer to be aware of their surroundings.
Recently, modern devices such as tablets and smartphones have found widespread use in classrooms. Guess what, there is still some room left for AR smart glasses.
Teachers and educators are making things more interesting in the class by using AR technology to help with some of the subjects.
For example, astronomy students can use AR headsets to view a full map of the planets while maintaining a clear view of the tutor. Similarly, music students may see the various musical notes they are required to play on the spot when learning to play an instrument.
The Future of AR Technology
When Microsoft first showcased the demo for the HoloLens in 2015, they made everyone’s head turn, proving that the world of virtual and augmented reality has barely been scrapped.
HoloLens has jumped leaps since then with the recent launch of the expensive HoloLens 2. Microsoft is trying to bridge the gap between you and your PC by augmenting Windows apps in your reality and is doing a great job for those who can afford it.
In 2016, Pokemon Go brought AR to the spotlight again by bringing Pikachu and Chariard out of the console and directly to your backyard. This instance is one of the best cases of AR finding its way into the mainstream market.
Now, in 2019, AR glasses have made great leaps, with companies such as Immersion introducing TouchSense Force. This technology uses haptic feedback to transpose the player’s hands into the VR worlds. It gets even more interesting, researchers at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab are experimenting with adding scent to AR and VR technologies.
Lastly, besides the obvious entertainment and media uses for AR and VR, other companies such as Solidworks are partnering with NVIDIA, Lenovo, Microsoft and HTC Vive to develop immersive design through AR.
While much of the investment activity, industry buzz and consumer interest focused on virtual reality in the beginning, augmented reality seems set to take its place as an equally powerful technology to virtual reality.
It is not so hard to see how. AR smart glasses provide accessibility by not restricting the user’s vision completely compared to VR headsets. They also come with the potential of untethered usage as seen in the HoloLens 2 and most require less dedicated hardware.
As we go into the future, we expect AR headsets to get smaller, perform better and find their way to be integrated into both people`s everyday lives as well as business processes.