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Augmented reality: technology that brings UX to the next levelThe term “augmented reality” was coined by Thomas Caudell, a Boeing researcher, who employed the word combination to refer to a head-mounted display for wiring. The meaning of AR has gradually expanded, and now it denotes the real-time integration of digital data into user environment or live video content. The driving force behind augmented reality is apps that can be built in FLARToolKit, Metaio, ARPA and other 3D programs. How does augmented reality software work? Basically, vendors tie visual information to an object (AR marker) on the screen or in the real world. You need to download an AR app onto a web camera-enhanced device. The camera then transfers the marker data (a set of geometric shapes or a barcode) to a smartphone/tablet/computer. Once the augmented reality plugin receives the information, the program is executed.
Augmented reality effect can be achieved with the help of certain technology solutions:
- Holograms (3D displays);
- Patterns (basic AR marker recognition);
- Location (GPS-based applications for accurate positioning);
- Surface (responsive tables, walls, floors, etc.);
- Outlines (movement sensors that allow you to interact with non-existing objects).
Here are some notable examples of AR apps and gadgets:
- Google Glass is a smart device that is worn like ordinary glasses. A small computer is embedded into its lens, providing permanent access to emails, notifications and other data from a desktop PC. Google Glass is getting popular with surgeons who broadcast operations for their students and colleagues, field workers and sports coaches;
- SnapShot is an AR application that allows users to virtually furnish their houses via iPhone, download best pictures or share them in social networks. The app browses photos from the web catalogues of popular brands like IKEA, Pier 1 Imports and the like;
- ModiFace. Shopping for makeup and cosmetics can be tricky since you never know whether eye shadows or a lipstick would complement your skin. The ModiFace vendors offer a customized AR solution for women to virtually try on cosmetic brands’ products, hairstyles and color contact lenses.
Augmented reality in businessAccording to Gartner, AR can be implemented to showcase objects of potential interest (like tourist attractions), navigate specialists who work in a hazardous environment and access real-time data
What industries will certainly benefit from adopting AR solutions?
- E-commerce and retail. An augmented reality app is one of the best e-commerce solutions for better customer experience. Back in 2012, PrestaShop became the first platform to successfully utilize Webcam Social Shopper. The app turns a PC or smartphone camera into a digital mirror and allows users to try on clothes from an online store. Although the software cannot help you determine the actual fit of a clothing item, it’s perfect for matching colors. Banana Flame, a UK-based e-commerce website that employed the Webcam Social Shopper solution, increased conversion rate by 50%;
- Education and training. Augmented reality opportunities for companies spread far beyond the already-mentioned use of Google Glass in operating theatres. Boeing utilized AR-enhanced tablets to train engineers, and the test group worked 90% more accurately and 30% faster. Beijing Research Center for IT in Agriculture took advantage of the D’fusion framework to design an agricultural virtual training system. The scientists implemented the Lua script language, as well as 3D Max and Maya solutions, to construct a realistic model of a strawberry. It remains to be seen whether Chinese farmers will actually use the app. Still, we cannot deny the project’s potential;
- Healthcare. A great example of AR usage in healthcare (and training!) is the Anatomy 4D application which runs on both iPhone and iPad. The app developers encourage users to take an exciting trip inside human body and learn how its organs and systems function. The app’s commercial appeal is uncertain, though it can be used in classrooms, medical institutions and hospitals. AccuVein, the vein viewing solution that displays a real-time map of a patient’s vasculature, has already been used on over 10 million people in the USA and proved to be extremely effective (nurses are 3.5 times more likely to find a vein on the first stick). The solution can be implemented by private cosmetologists, plastic surgeons who give Botox injections and state healthcare establishments;
- Transportation. Quite a few AR logistics and transportation applications have already hit the market, including MARTA by VW, ConnectedDrive by BMW, iOnRoad and Wialon. Using GPS data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the software helps drivers perform vehicle repair and maintenance, plan best routes and control fuel consumption. Augmented reality is expected to improve warehouse operations, although no customized software has been developed so far;
- Gaming and entertainment. What is true augmented reality if not games? Whether you capture the Invizimals monsters with the help of a Sony device or deliver messages in a dystopian city (Mirror’s Edge), you cannot deny that the new reality completely changes gaming experience. As a result, almost 500 million AR-enhanced gaming apps will be downloaded annually by 2019.
AR software development challengesCompanies with vast expertise in custom application development offer several tools and platforms for AR solutions. As a rule, augmented reality software is written in low-level languages like C/C++, since image analysis algorithms consume much of available GPU resources. Native development (for Android or iOS) is required; the image recognition process is quite complicated, so it is recommended to use Android SDK and Adobe AIR rather than Flash. Vendors also provide ready-to-use solutions like Metaio Creator and Qualcom SDK for customers who lack experience in coding. Many businessmen choose this option, since an average AR enterprise program in America can cost up to $300 thousand. However, you can reduce expenses by outsourcing AR development to a reliable European company. The major pitfalls of augmented reality development include:
- The lack of interoperability between AR components. As the technology matures, it is expected that users will soon be able to separately view any part of augmented reality environment through an AR browser;
- Single person-oriented experience. Most AG effects can be experienced by only one person at a time, so there is a growing demand for special hardware (like condensed projectors);
- Privacy concerns and insecurity. There’s a strong need for AR IDs and legal frameworks to make sure no hacker invades your personal reality.