Imagine, while shopping, you view a bag of coffee beans through your phone's camera and you see the coffee plantation where the beans were grown or watch a video of the roasting process. Imagine walking through Colonial Williamsburg and using your phone or a set of AR-enabled glasses to view what it would have looked like 250 years ago. Sounds cool, right? This is augmented reality.
Although virtual reality may still garner bigger headlines and maintain a stronger hold on the imagination, augmented reality is actually proving to be a much more practical and realistic means of presenting the digital world. In just a few short years, augmented reality applications have gone from gimmicky tech demos and video games to supporting mission-critical business functions and helping people use products and services in more productive ways.
While virtual reality (VR) aims to create an entirely immersive experience, augmented reality (AR) takes a slightly more modest approach by layering digitally created elements over the real world. This can be accomplished through the use of special wearable devices, like glasses or headsets, that project a digital image onto the lens, or by inserting those same elements into a camera image, like a smartphone screen.
Unlike VR, which generates massive amounts of data and blocks out the real world, AR is more like a filter that alters how people perceive the world around them. This means that AR users are untethered from a purely digital environment; they can walk around and interact with the physical world while still viewing digital elements.
Who Uses Augmented Reality?
The most exciting aspect about AR technology is that millions of people are already using it in some capacity. Many industries have unveiled a new generation of AR applications as devices become more powerful and networks continue to grow their capacity. Edge computing and 5G connectivity have made the technology much more viable, opening it up to a number of new potential users.
From smartphone applications aimed at the individual consumer to more sophisticated data visualization tools used by enterprises to interpret big data analytics, AR technology will continue to reach more and more people in the coming years.
Augmented Reality Applications
In fact, there are already more than a handful of companies exploring ways to get more AR opportunities into the hands of consumers and businesses alike.
It's worth checking out the way AR has already been used for movie promotions, by the USPS (in 2014!), by IKEA to imagine how furniture would look in your home, and much more. From marketing opportunities to sharing information, the potential for commercial and entertainment use is significant.
Social media applications use AR to create those fun filters we see on so many pictures.
The WWF created an app allowing users to explore landscapes and see wildlife (thereby boosting interest in their organization and, hopefully, donations to save these areas).
Modiface has an app used by popular cosmetics brands that allow users to see how shades and makeup products will look.
And Manchester United Football club created an AR experience that enabled fans to sit with the coach.
Currently, there are plenty of companies beginning to explore the opportunities AR will provide for customer engagement and experience as well as marketing and sales. The only limit on what companies can and will create will be imagination, now that the technology is finally catching up.
Why is Augmented Reality Important?
There are a few key advantages to augmented reality, but one of the most important is usability. True AR interfaces provide an intuitive and elegant user experience for a variety of services and technologies. As touchless interfaces become more versatile, AR applications can be paired with them to create truly innovative methods of interaction and make existing data and systems far more user friendly than they are today.
For decades, digital interfaces have been limited by the amount of data and interactive elements that can be presented upon a single screen. With AR applications, however, those elements can be displayed in a variety of innovative ways that make them much easier to manage and understand. The technology is already redefining the way people interact with digital applications, and it will only become more intuitive and efficient in the future.
Top 7 Augmented Reality Trends for 2021
There are a number of significant use cases for this groundbreaking technology, but it’s also important to consider how it’s already impacting the world in terms of raw numbers. In fact, the augmented reality market is expected to hit $70-$75 billion in revenue by 2023. So, exactly where is AR headed in 2021 and what can we expect?
As noted above, Manchester United's squad already found a way to utilize AR, and with event cancellations due to the Coronavirus, the entertainment sector is eager to find ways to supplement and drive income with both virtual and AR events and experiences. In the sports world, the uses range from broadcasting to in-stadium experiences, and it won't be long before concert venues, theme parks, and other event venues pick up on the trend.
3. AR in the Classroom
One of the challenges facing schools today, in addition to remote learning due to the Coronavirus, is expenses. From budget cuts to infrastructure expenses, students are missing out on out-of-school learning experiences. Similarly, some districts simply can't provide the learning opportunities that require expensive equipment or components. However, even in 2018, research suggested that 95% of students had smartphones. While typically disallowed in the classroom, 2021 might be the year they are recognized as a valuable tool for improving learning outcomes.
Not only can students use AR to explore science in their surroundings (growth cycles, species ID, geometry, and other coursework, but in many cases it can also supplement field trips, historical, or regional social studies learning. While the initial cost of equipment seems significant, the long term savings and opportunities are even more impressive.
4. AR in Medicine
Again, the need for social distancing in response to Covid-19 may be seen as one of the biggest drivers for new technology and advancements. Even in the medical field, in hospitals, med schools, and your doctor's office, you'll start to see the ways that AR can benefit patients and doctors alike. From assisting with blood draws (finding a vein) to improving diagnoses the potential is massive. Not only might AR assist doctors, but it can also assist in the case of an emergency by providing information about life saving measures.
5. AR in Your Car
From a safety perspective alone, AR in your car is something the big automakers are hoping to realize in the next year. Imagine driving and getting real-time data from your GPS or about road conditions and hazards, your speed, or any mechanical issues, directly in your line of sight.
You've likely seen something similar with a heads-up-display (HUD), but AR can bring so much more information in a way that lets drivers keep their eyes on the road. Further, it's suggested that AR might even move to the rearview mirror with blind spot vehicles projected there to prevent crashes.
While the safety features will put many drivers at ease, the opportunity also exists to send drivers data about the area they're driving through, features, sites, and even your standard rest area information (gas, food, lodging). Imagine a road trip where you can get a lesson in geography, geology, or even history as you're driving.
6. AR Your Workout
Any runner or cyclist can tell you that the indoor version of their workout, on a treadmill or stationary bike, is pretty brutal when compared to being outside. While Strava and Peloton both already offer AR experiences (via screens that show different terrains/locations/events), expect this to grow even more.
For runners, apps like Zombies, Run! already allow an AR experience (gamified), via audio, while running outdoors. However, expect to see real-time data, like in your car, visible to runners and cyclists alike including speed and distance appear soon.
And it's not just runners and cyclists who'll get some great benefits, gyms may use it soon to assist members on equipment and provide AR training sessions.
7. Increase in Mobile AR and Accelerated Growth with 5G
What will make much of this possible is the increase in the use of mobile technologies, like smartglasses and smartphones, which will put the power of AR in everyone's hands. However, even with devices in consumers' hands, the power of AR cannot be harnessed without networks that can handle the amount of data and speed with which it will need to be transferred. Much of AR relies on complex and responsive networks, and only 5G, paired with edge computing can provide that kind of capability. The need for speed will drive faster 5G adoption in many areas and, as we have seen with other technologies (like the growth of data centers), the availability of the technology will also drive the industry.
The Future of Augmented Reality
Augmented reality applications are already being put to use in a number of industries. Despite the relative youth of the technology, the future is looking pretty bright across a variety of industries.
The healthcare industry will drive much future growth in the augmented reality market, largely because AR presents so many unique opportunities for patients and health providers. Whether it’s medical students using training programs to practice surgical techniques or doctors being able to observe a patient’s vitals and refer to images from MRI or CT scans during treatment, AR technology will help to bridge the gap between digital data and the medical professionals who utilize it. Not only will improvements be seen in treatment in care, but it may have the potential to impact access to specialists and providers in regions that face scarcity issues.
Military AR Investments
Of course, government investment will always be a major factor in the technology’s development and growth. The US military has been experimenting with different augmented reality trends for several years in its effort to deliver actionable data to personnel without overloading them with choices. By incorporating data drawn from multiple sources, augmented reality devices will allow soldiers to identify threats, access GPS data, and obtain remote views of the battlefield. Perhaps the most noteworthy (and expensive) success in this regard is the F-35 fighter jet’s $400,000 helmet, which not only allows the pilot to look through the plane itself, but also identifies and provides information about any object in the pilot’s field of view.
The AR Shopping Experience
AR will become an even larger part of the retail market. Many retail chains have gone to great lengths to roll out augmented reality technology that allows shoppers to use their smartphones to learn more about products and make better choices that suit their needs. Wearable AR devices will allow retailers to send notifications and deliver a customized shopping experience based on consumer preferences.
AR in the Classroom
Augmented reality market size and awareness will continue to grow as it is adapted for educational uses. The interactive nature of the technology makes it an ideal fit for the classroom of the future. An augmented reality device or program can scan materials like books, worksheets, or flashcards and provide additional information and resources for students to engage with on their own terms. Interactive games and activities can also be designed to reinforce key concepts and help students learn more effectively. The technology can also help students with disabilities overcome challenges in the classroom, making education one of the best use cases for AR.
Auto Investments in AR Technology
Automotive companies will continue to be a major force in AR development. Many manufacturers are investing in far more ambitious projects. Paired with other smart city technologies, AR could help to improve safety and optimize traffic patterns to alleviate highway congestion.
The AR Factory
Judging from AR statistics, industrial and mixed manufacturing will also benefit immensely from augmented reality. The factory floor has always been a complex and potentially hazardous environment, but AR technology will provide a new level of visibility. Workers can now use augmented reality devices to have ready access to important technical information as well as identify what machinery is in use and where danger zones are located. Boeing, for instance, now utilizes AR glasses to assist technicians while wiring many of its planes, cutting production time by 25 percent and greatly reducing errors. Expect this to become cross-industry, improving production speeds and product innovation.
AR in the Travel Industry
The extreme portability of AR applications already has an impact on the tourism industry. With AR technology, visiting popular tourist sites will become a dynamic and interactive experience. Smartphone apps and wearable augmented reality devices will allow visitors to museums and historic sites to learn everything they ever wanted to know about them with a quick scan of the area. Imagine visiting the Colosseum of Rome and seeing it as it might have looked in its heyday through an AR display or augmented reality games. As augmented reality trends and technology develop, the tourism industry will surely be one of the leading AR use cases.
AR Smart Glasses and Field Service
Smartglasses will fundamentally transform many field service roles. Field service technicians are faced with the difficult task of working on myriad equipment with varying technical specifications, often in confined or hard to reach spaces. With AR headsets, they will have all of the information they need displayed right in front of them while keeping their hands free to work. Sophisticated sensors will also deliver real-time data about the status of equipment, helping to identify parts that need to be replaced soon or highlighting potential dangers that might not be visible to the naked eye. Field service may not be one of the first areas that comes to mind with this new technology, but it represents one of the best places for growth in the augmented reality market.
Wearable AR Devices
The combination of AR and wearable devices that gather physiological data will continue to revolutionize the way people exercise and train, creating a range of opportunities for ambitious startups willing to think outside the box. Although a variety of smartphone apps are already cleverly using augmented reality games to promote a more active lifestyle, wearable augmented reality devices will take these concepts to the next level while integrating health information to help people customize the ideal workout for their fitness needs.
Augmented Reality and the Data Center
As these augmented reality statistics and use cases demonstrate, the future of AR is already here. To deliver quality AR experiences, companies will need to invest heavily in edge computing frameworks that help them to deliver content to end-users with minimal latency. While 5G technology will certainly help to enhance AR functionality, the interactive nature of augmented reality devices will force many companies to rethink their overly centralized cloud computing networks in order to deliver content faster and gather data more efficiently. Edge data centers will play a key role in these strategies as consumers become more aware of the augmented reality market and incorporate more AR devices into their everyday lives.
vXchnge data centers provide a combination of reliability and connectivity that can help organizations implement their AR services across a variety of platforms. With data center locations optimized for edge computing and direct cloud on-ramps capable of delivering scalable processing and storage quickly and easily, we provide a solid infrastructure foundation for you to build your next generation of digital services upon. To learn more about how we leverage the power of intelligent monitoring to support our customers’ technology needs, talk to one of our colocation experts today.
About Alan Seal
Alan Seal is the VP of Engineering at vXchnge. Alan is responsible for managing teams in IT support and infrastructure, app development, QA, and ERP business systems.
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