You may have heard of a new app taking the smart phone gaming world by storm. Since Pokemon Go’s release, Nintendo’s valuation increased by over $9 billion. It quickly surpassed Twitter and Instagram in daily active users. On top of that, local businesses have capitalized on the growing trend by offering deals and discounts to users who play the game.
Everyone seems to be hopping on board the Pokemon Go train. What is it about this new game that is so engaging that it can have such a tremendous impact? If I had to venture a guess, it doesn't have anything to do with Nintendo's trademark yellow rodent.
At its core, "Pokemon Go" is an augmented reality smartphone game. The same technology that powers this wildly successful game has the capability to become an integral tool for architecture and construction over the next several years.
Augmented reality (AR) has become the hot new buzzword in the tech industry. Simply put, AR is a form of technology that superimposes computer-generated data on top of what a user would typically see in the real world. If AR turns out to be even half as exciting as I anticipate, AR could revolutionize every industry from architecture and construction to retail and education.
Saying that Pokemon Go is an AR application is certainly not incorrect; the image that is displayed on the user’s smart phone is, in fact, computer generated and it is, in fact, overlaid on what the smart phone camera sees. However, I would argue that the whole idea of augmented reality is far more broad than what we have seen from this game. I was recently a guest on KCUR 89.3 to talk about AR, Pokemon Go, and how this new type of technology will change the world.
When we talk about AR as it can be used for practical (not gaming) applications, we are typically referring to hardware rather than software. Products like the Microsoft Hololens, Magic Leap, and the Meta headset are all exciting uses of AR technology that we will hear more about over the next few years. Companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung have been investing billions into new AR technology in anticipation of this new wave. AR has burst onto the tech scene and it is certainly here to stay.
The Microsoft Hololens is a head-mounted AR headset that overlays holograms onto what the user sees. It uses cameras to scan the room the user’s area so that it can overlay elements with careful precision. The image in the headset is projected onto a reflective transparent panel in front of the user’s eyes. This enables the user to see through the image while also seeing the overlaid information.
In my opinion, the Hololens is a fantastic use of technology. The headset sits at a lofty $3,000 and the field of view is extremely small (imagine holding a deck of cards at arm’s length. That is roughly how large the overlay image is in the Hololens), but there is a massive amount of potential packed into this first generation headset. With the Hololens, a user can manipulate holograms and visual elements in their AR display by making gestures with their hands. NASA currently uses the Microsoft Hololens to communicate and direct the astronauts on the International Space Station.
The Meta 2 headset is another head-mounted AR system that is new to the scene. Boasting a 2560 x 1440 high-dpi display and a 90-degree field of view, the headset seems like a fantastic alternative to the Hololens.
While the Hololens is an untethered device that allows the wearer to roam around their room with near-perfect tracking, the Meta headset remains tethered to a PC. This allows for the Meta to have (arguably) greater flexibility with processing power, battery usage, display resolution, and cost. In my opinion, the future of AR won't involve cables.
There is very little public information about Magic Leap. After several rounds of investments, Magic Leap is currently valued at $4.5 billion. They are currently partnered with Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB and they have received investments from giants such as Disney, Google, J.P. Morgan, and China’s e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba.
We can expect to hear more (or rather anything) about Magic Leap in the next year. Magic Leap is rumored to publicly unveil their new device at CES in early 2017. Expect a blog post either about how exciting the new hardware seems to be or about how disillusioned I was about Magic Leap.
What we know is that Magic Leap is creating an AR system that seems to overlay images with better quality than what is seen with the Microsoft Hololens or the Meta 2 headset. Some tech enthusiasts speculate that the Magic Leap system might literally project light onto the user’s eyes. It might also be as simple as a pair of glasses that the user wears in a non-obtrusive manner. Whatever the case may be, the visual quality seems to be miles beyond anything that we have seen from previous augmented reality headsets. We can expect to hear more about what exactly Magic Leap is and when it will be released over the next year. Surely, I won’t shut up about it any time soon.
Augmented reality will be the next big wave of technology after virtual reality. Over the next 5 years, we can reasonably expect to see a surge in investment and anticipation for new wearable computers. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if we replace computer monitors in the future with VR/AR systems that do a better job of providing real-time information. Before long, we may view "Pokemon Go" as an extremely primitive use of AR from a more simple time. Either that, or they will be projected directly onto our eyeballs - a concept that I find as equally intriguing as I do terrifying.