Ask a random man on the street what they know about augmented reality (AR) and you’re likely to get a shrug. At best, they might start talking about Pokémon Go, the game which became a global phenomenon, and it remains the best example to date of AR capturing the public’s imagination.
If you were to ask a tech industry professional about AR, their answer would be far more detailed and enthusiastic. This is an area with boundless potential and possibility, and it could be on the brink of breaking into every aspect of our everyday lives…
An AR revolution?
The idea of an AR revolution starting to reshape our lives may seem a little far-fetched at first. You might even be thinking that you’ve heard it all before since there was similar enthusiasm for virtual reality at one point. AR is different, though, because of the breadth and variety of its potential applications. Virtual reality was only applicable in circumstances when users needed no input from the real world. AR integrates digital information with the real world, in real time. That creates a plethora of crucial and beneficial potential uses for the technology.
What many people may not realize is that AR is already proving invaluable in many different fields and that they may already have had experience of it. Football fans can hardly have failed to notice that all networks now broadcast games with first down lines visible on-screen. That’s one example of a simple AR application impacting on the lives of real people.
Other examples are less ubiquitous but no less impressive. In the field of archaeology, AR has already made quite a splash. It allows computer-generated models of buildings, monuments, and artifacts to be superimposed upon discovered ruins or remains. Christchurch University in New Zealand developed its CityViewAR app after the city’s devastating earthquake in 2011. The app enables users to see life-sized models of destroyed buildings as they were before the quake’s impact. It also provided instant access to information about the buildings, as app users pointed their phones at them.
These are among the high-profile examples of how AR has already started to be implemented. The potential future applications of this technology are almost limitless. AR could be used to bring the cosmos into the classroom or to enable shoppers to try on clothes virtually. It could even allow the results of home improvements to be visualized before projects start. And nor is this just blue sky thinking: some of the world’s biggest tech companies are already providing AR offerings to their customers, and Google’s Playground app is a prime example.
Breaking new ‘ground
Google has long been at the forefront of AR development. The largely defunct Google Glass project was perhaps attempted a little too soon. Even so, it remains an example of an early foray into this field. Google AR Stickers, meanwhile, have been available to smartphone users for a good while.
Last fall, Google stepped up its AR game. They replaced their AR Stickers app with the new Google Playground, which was rolled out in tandem with their latest Pixel 3 phone. According to the company, it offers ‘a new mode in the Pixel camera to create and play with the world around you’.
The downloadable Google Playground app is a really impressive example of recreational AR. It provides powerful AR experiences to users, utilizing advanced computer vision and machine learning. Those technologies allow the app to recognize the surroundings captured by the camera. As a result, it can then recommend suitable AR experiences and options.
Among these available options are Google’s ‘Playmojis’. They’re animated characters that can star in user photos and videos. They can react to their surroundings and also photo subjects, as well as to one another. What’s more, in selfie mode, Playmojis even respond to facial expressions. There are multiple ‘packs’ of these Playmojis, themed around factors like the weather, animals, and sports. Marvel superheroes can also make appearances in Playground user’s snaps, while Childish Gambino is poised to dance with them in videos.
Google Playground itself is obviously a purely recreational application of AR. It remains to be seen whether this technology really will be the next big thing to capture the public imagination, like Pokémon Go or even YouTube. What it does represent is the continued development of AR into something that could become second nature to people around the world. In a few years’ time, we could all be looking back on the launch of Google Playground as an early step in a revolution, and one which made AR as much a part of everyday life as email, social media and cell phones themselves.