The changing landscape of augmented reality

By Alexandra Etienne

Augmented reality has been around for longer than we think, but it’s still a new field for most of us. Head-mounted displays with visually coupled systems were being used by the military back in the 1960s and 1970s.

But it wasn’t until the 1990s that we started having motion-stabilised displays and fiducial marker tracking, like ARToolKit with its now famous Hiro marker. With the arrival of location-aware phones in 2008, companies like Layar started working on ‘outdoor information overlay’. In its December 2009 issue, Esquire featured AR on the cover, catching the public’s attention.

It still took a while for AR to really come into the public’s imagination. And this happened… with a Pokémon. Well, with lots of Pokémon. The Pokémon GO app exploded on the scene in 2016. Everybody had to catch them all! But most importantly, people from outside the tech industry started talking about augmented reality.

Pokémon GO was instrumental in bringing the world of AR to the masses

So today AR is trending. But why? Maybe it’s because we have dreamed about the possibilities, and now we are starting to consider them as real. This tech could actually have useful purposes that will help society develop. AR taps into our natural tendency to want to evolve even further. Plus, it has that cool factor that will help promote it for massive user adoption, for widespread uptake around the globe.

Who are the big players in AR?

With Hollywood and the gaming industry behind it, it’s no wonder that augmented reality is considered a hot topic. But there’s more. Another reason why AR is becoming popular is the financial backing, support and innovation from big players in the tech industry. This plays an important role. AR is predicted to have a market revenue of $90 billion by 2020, with VR largely behind with a $30 billion forecast.

So let’s take a look at some of the contributions of the big players in the field, from early successes to the most recent developments.

Google

Google introduces its Glass Enterprise Edition

Google has made so many efforts in the field of AR and VR that it’s hard to know where to begin. It released Google Glass in June 2013, and although some pretty interesting developments have been made – for example in wearable socio-affective aid and disability – these smartglasses haven’t been a major success. Last year, it announced an enterprise version of Google Glass so we’ll have to wait and see.

The long but steady path into AR continued with Project Tango, back in June 2014. Although discontinued, Project Tango was one of the most advanced AR computing platforms seen. Google Cardboard was way more successful than Tango; its low-budget and accessible feel appealed to users around the world. There have been more than 10 million Cardboards shipped. And although you can technically use it to display AR, it was first conceived (also in June 2014) as a VR device. …read more

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