Ready to start seeing and interacting with your world in exciting, fun, and useful new ways? Augmented reality (AR) devices are here. Long the stuff of science fiction, They’ve become more and more common in our everyday lives. From games to school, science, business, and medicine, AR will change how we see and do things.

AR is a live view of the real-world environment around you, helpful, in context, elements added. These include sound, video, graphics, and/or GPS data. We should not confuse AR with Virtual Reality, which immerses the viewer in a created world.

Augmented reality uses include, as noted on Quora:

  • Info that appears on your windshield so you never have to take your eyes off the road.
  • Interactive displays for sports programs.
  • Apps for museums to provide more detailed information for items in their exhibits, and more. 

Augmented reality devices: A history.

The first known reference to an AR device appeared in the 1994 novel, “Virtual Light,” by William Gibson. In this dystopian story, special glasses sent data straight to the wearer’s brain. The idea behind AR has been around for much longer, and so have AR devices. In the 1950’s NASA and the Air Force began experimenting with “Head-up Displays” (HUD). This helped pilots get information in real-time while flying their planes.

These early AR devices used helmet-mounted glasses to project flight and weapons data onto the pilot’s field of vision. That way, he could focus outside the cockpit instead of looking down at the instrument panel. Results were promising, though the rig was heavy and caused fatigue. Gradually, technology improved and the system became more user-friendly.

With the advent of computers in the 1970’s, AR Developers began making headway. Miniaturization allowed smaller, lighter goggles with improved optics. Meanwhile, powerful processors enabled graphics to sync with the user’s movements. As they turned right, the visual inside their goggles appeared to move right as well. or the first time, researchers could create enhanced landscapes people could interact with. Handheld Augmented Reality Devices like smartphones and tablets also run software for AR applications.

Video games are among the first and most popular uses for AR devices. Players eagerly snatched up new tech and provided helpful feedback. Fancy software and hardware allowed gamers to jump, run and fly beyond the physical constraints of the real world. The 1980’s saw an explosion of interest in AR, with companies like Niantic and LyteShot leading the way.

In 2016, Niantic would go on to create the wildly popular Pokémon GO game for mobile phones. 

Photo: The mobile phone is among the most common augmented reality devices, and Pokémon GO and other games are among the most common augmented reality uses.

Smartphones are often used as augmented reality devices, and the wildly popular game, Pokémon GO, is one of the more popular augmented reality uses. Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 iPhoneDigital via Flickr.

AR uses: It’s not just for gaming anymore.

Not to be left behind, ad agencies are also exploring the how AR could be used to help promote products. Imagine a world with no signs or billboards. Instead, virtual ones appear that are all tailored specifically to your interests.

Today, AR has made inroads into many different areas, including the ones listed below.

1. Retail. Stores and retailers can provide info as you browse. Or, they can flash special messages highlighting sales or offering links for more information.

2. Education. Schools are using it as a teaching aid that allows students to visualize abstract concepts and interact with historical events.

3. Science. Scientists find it a useful tool for research & development.

4. Healthcare. Doctors and other medical professionals practice dangerous procedures and explore treatment options, without placing patients at risk.

5. Manufacturing. Business and industry began to use AR to optimize their plants and make them safer and more streamlined. 

6. Public safety. First responders (Police, Fire, EMT) can run drills and gain new skills without undue risk to life and limb.

7. Architecture. Architects use it to imagine new buildings and “walk” through their designs.

8. The military. Of course, the U.S. military also has a great interest in AR. It’s a powerful training tool for combat, equipment maintenance, weapons handling and wargaming. There are even plans to build Augmented Reality hardware into soldier’s uniforms to give them an edge on the battlefield.

AR’s potential is almost unlimited.

The future of AR and augmented reality devices is almost unlimited. As hardware gets small, it’ll function seamlessly to enhance our everyday experiences. Imagine it coming up with a recipe when we’re thinking about making dinner. Or remembering people’s faces and showing their name the next to you see them.

Augmented reality devices will also help us at the work and act as a personal assistant. AR promises to be one of the “transformative” technologies in our society today.

On the flip side, some experts warn about the dangers of AR. There’s potential for misuse by outside parties. As with any major shift, we need to be careful about avoiding unintended consequences. AR is part of a tech evolution that could propel us into unpredictable directions. As such, it’s important to manage how we implement it with care.

The movie, Minority Report, explored a dystopian future of AR tech in the real world.

An instructive lesson was learned during the introduction of Google Glass. This was the first attempt to make Augmented reality devices available to the public on a wide scale. The results were mixed, with some users loving the device and others finding it too distracting. Google retreated for a while, then in the summer of 2017, they brought it back.

But you won’t be seeing hordes of techies wearing them at your local coffee shop anytime soon. The folks at Google have designed Glass Enterprise for business use. As Wired notes, the factory workers at AGCO, which makes agricultural equipment, don’t care if the eye gear makes them look goofy. Google Glass helps them work more effectively and safely. 

This is hardly a surprise. Throughout history, people have often fought change. Wariness is a normal human response when we come up against something unfamiliar. Fortunately, history also proves that people adapt. When we start to reap the benefits of new technologies, our fears subside into enthusiasm. Every innovation requires time for adjustment. Like anything new, Augmented Reality may feel a bit different at first. As people get used to AR, it’ll become another part of our daily life that we can’t imagine living without. As with the automobile, electricity, and the personal computer, the term “Pre-AR” and “Post-AR” will soon enter the lexicon.

What does the future hold for augmented reality hardware? Let’s put on our 3-D goggles and take a look … It seems likely that AR will increasingly play a major role in our lives. In the near term, there will be continued adoption by corporations and other groups. Likewise, individual use will spread as more user-friendly systems enter the market. Not only will ar devices be seen as cool, hip and cutting edge, they also may provide a competitive advantage to those who use it, both at work and in daily life. Some even theorize augmented reality systems will likely become bio-mechanical, implanted into brain and eye with no external physical devices needed.

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 Smart Citizens/Wikitude via Flickr.

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